Most new drivers are pretty darn useless. It’s not that they lack the skill, they have that, we’re sure. It’s rather a case of the modern car being so good that young drivers don’t get to develop any decent driving skills.
With the advent of traction control, there’s no more unintentional drifting (except if you disable the system, of course) in a powerful rear-wheel-drive car.
Like when you borrowed your dad’s rear-wheel-drive car with a couple of your friends, tackled a corner way too fast (possibly also supplemented by a deft flick of the steering wheel to unsettle the rear) and the back-end stepped out, which you promptly corrected with copious amounts of countersteer, resulting in a delightful power slide, accompanied by a nonchalant‘oops’ – as if you had never intended for that to happen.
Thanks to fancy stability control systems, even the most hapless driver can now ‘pilot’
a high-powered vehicle through a corner faster than our grand- parents ever thought possible in their motoring heydays. In some cases, it’s like handing a loaded bazooka to a six-year-old and telling him to definitely, unquestionably not press the fire button.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nowadays, cars also brake for you. They steer for you. They navigate themselves to a destination. If all goes wrong and you land up in an accident, a trillion and 10 air- bags, fancy safetybelt systems and a whole lot of other what- nots are supposed to prevent you from ending up with a headache, or broken limb.
Back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and a little bit in the ’90s, high performance cars were intent on killing you. They attempted to do this by letting you believe, for a brief while, that you were a driving god. Then, just when you thought the bucket of driving talent handed to you was bottomless… the bucket ran out.
Now the vast majority of modern cars want to wrap you in a cotton ball and save the planet, all at the same time. Safety is paramount, as is emission control and, in the near future, autonomous driving. The future may be bright but it promises to be rather boring from a visceral driving perspective.
What to do if you’re in a bit of a visceral mood then? Well, you buy yourself a first generation Renault Kwid, which had no airbags or ABS brakes, and you could scrape your elbows on the tar in the corners on two wheels. There’s even a mildly entertaining drone from the three- cylinder engine.
Alternatively, you could buy a high-end, high-powered sports car, disable all the safety nannies, and have a go on a mountain pass. But that’s maybe not the best option these days with potholes, congested roads and generally poor level of driver ability prevailing on our public roads.
Thanks goodness for cars like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio and the Jaguar F-Pace SVR. These are thoroughly modern cars. But they are also cars with a soul, and the lure that not even a remote island filled with nubile ladies with regrettable moral standards can offer.
Praise the heavens.
Jaguar F-Pace SVR
Jaguar is an illustrious British brand. Posh cabins, often with half a tree attached to the dashboard and only the most learned cows donating their hide for the seats. And under a long bonnet adorned with a leaping big cat, a powerful engine. That leaping big cat, by the way, represented grace, elegance, performance, power and ambition to move forward.
Since 1945, when the Jaguar logo was first attached to a car that rolled out of the Coventry factory in England, the company has produced some rip-roaring sports cars. Like the SS 100, which was the first Jaguar to break through the then magical 100 miles per hour barrier (hence the reference to ‘100’ in the name). The Jaguar E-Type, still considered by many as the most beautiful car ever made, powered by a 5.3-litre V12. The XK120, XK140 and XK140.
After some tumultuous years, the brand was sold to Ford in 1999 and, sadly, the turbulence got worse. To be frank, during this period only the most diehard Jaguar fans managed to convince themselves that parking a Jag in their driveway was a good thing. Quality of the vehicles, a traditional Jaguar hallmark, and resale values were pretty shoddy at the time.
In 2008, Ford sold the brand, along with Land Rover, to Indian company Tata Motors. You can imagine the naysayers proclaiming it was to be the end of the leaping cat.
It didn’t quite work out that way, history reveals. Tata Motors provided the habitually cash-strapped Jaguar engineers with the one thing they craved most: the budget to once again create great Jaguars.
Fast forward to 2019, and the F-Pace SVR compact SUV. With the motoring world increasingly moving away from sedans and hatches to crossovers, SUVs and bakkies, it’s no wonder the F-Pace is Jaguar’s best-selling model with almost half the share (of all Jaguar models) in major markets such as the USA.
Mercedes-AMG, most prominently, has shown what a big role high performance models play in a line-up, so an SVR (Special Vehicle Operations – Land Rover) derivative was inevitable.
What the Jaguar engineers have managed to create in the SVR though, is truly astounding. They slotted a five-litre, supercharged V8 engine under that bonnet, connected to an eight-speed ZF gearbox. The engine produces 405kW and 680Nm of torque. But those numbers are only part of the story. The noise this V8 makes… well, it’s not a noise. It’s a motoring spectacle of staggering proportions.
It’s a beastly, thunderous roar that makes petrolheads giggle and scares little children, as the rev counter needle blasts towards the 6 000r/min mark. If you press a button on the centre console it opens up the exhaust even more and the noise turns into thunder and lightning. It’s like flipping the bird to an overly politically correct world. We’d call it the Trump button.
The SVR features the same Variable Valve Active Exhaust System, which first made its debut on the F-Type. It’s a performance exhaust system that not only increases exhaust flow, but is 6.6kg lighter than the standard system.
If you thought the SVR is all about straight-line speed and noise and very little else, you’d be mistaken. Besides the stiffer spring set-up, the special 21-inch SVR forged alloy wheels are 2.4kg lighter at the front and 1.7kg lighter than the rear, and accommodate uprated 395mm brake discs.
It features an all-wheel-drive set-up but it’s not a four-wheel-drive system like you’ll find in a run-of-the-mill AWD compact SUV. In the Jaguar, the power is sent to the rear wheels, and power is directed to the front (up to 60%) when the system deems it necessary to enhance grip.
This Jaguar has a naughty streak about it. Even with the traction and stability control systems enabled, you can get it to wag its tail. In a similar German offering, the computers would have intervened at the first hint of loss of grip, closing the taps. Again, a bit more of unbridled Trump there.
Switch off the handling nannies, and you’d better be ready to try prevent this Jaguar from killing you. Dead. The performance is breathtaking. Step on the throttle from a standstill, and this Jaguar blasts out of the blocks with such ferocity and noise, you may imagine you’re strapped into the Apollo 11 spacecraft, blasting off from Cape Canaveral.
In the corners, with Dynamic Drive Mode selected, you can push the Jaguar much harder than the average compact SUV. In slower corners, the SVR tends to understeer first, the nose clearly heavy. On faster, open corners (with plenty of space) you can get the tail out but know that, if this Jaguar bites you in the backside on such an occasion, the resultant smash will earn you some social media notoriety.
Make no mistake: in the right hands, the SVR is extremely brisk. At the Simola Hillclimb in May, two SVRs competed in the Road and Supercar class, and finished fifth and six overall (from 28 entries, including McLarens and Ferraris).
In a straight line, the supercharged SVR completes the 0–100km/h dash in 4.8 seconds, and it obliterates the 60–120km/h sprint in four seconds. It will go on to a claimed top speed of 283km/h.
Still, despite all that performance potential, the cabin is traditional Jaguar… sumptuous luxury, amazing attention to detail, top- quality fittings and, inevitably, a feeling of superiority, topped off with a dash of obnoxious extravagance.
The beautifully crafted racing-style seats, covered in the finest leather, are supremely comfortable, in the front and rear. Three adults may not be so comfortable in the rear though; the design clearly favours two adults, each with their own racing-style seat arrangement. There is a practical 650 litres of boot space available, considerably more than a sporty roadster like Jaguar’s own F-Type, of course.
When you don’t feel like chasing the 405kW engine to the red line (we’re not sure this is possible though), you can waft along in supreme luxury, the ride quality surprisingly pliant considering those 21-inch wheels and the sportier suspension set-up.
In short, the Jaguar F-Pace SVR is not merely a car, even though it clearly started life as a practical compact SUV that had a change of heart. It’s a motoring marvel. Driving it is not like driving a car… it’s the epitome of what performance motoring should be: sheer driving pleasure. Or in Jaguar speak: The art of performance.
It’s even more amazing when you consider the same company is breaking new ground with its politically correct electric vehicle (EV) technology, in the cool, new I-Pace. Thank goodness there are, for now, a few petrolheads left in the Jaguar head office in Coventry.
Alfa Romeo Quadrifoglio
Famed brand Alfa Romeo was born 109 years ago in Milan, Italy. Like many other fledgling European car companies of the time, the brand used motorsport to build its reputation and, ultimately, sell cars.
Alfa Romeos competed successfully in Grand Prix, Formula One, sports car racing, touring car races and rallies. In 1950, the first Formula One championship was won by Giuseppe Farina, in the famous Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta.
The brand has had a long association with another legendary Italian brand, too, when a man called Enzo Ferrari ran the Alfa Romeo factory team before the Second World War, until 1933. Enzo then established his own Scuderia Ferrari Grand Prix team but it didn’t go as planned and by 1937, Ferrari returned to the factory-backed Alfa Corse team.
By 1940, Ferrari was back running his own motorsport parts factory, but the war and the subsequent bombing of his factory saw Ferrari relocate to Maranello. After the war, Enzo decided to start building his own cars and the rest, as they say, is history.
While the famous Ferrari brand has survived some of its own troubled waters through the years, it’s had a relatively easy time of it compared to Alfa Romeo.
Following years of turmoil, quality issues and flagging sales, Alfa Romeo was left in the doldrums until Italian motoring giant Fiat stepped up to the plate in 1986 and took over the brand from the Italian government. This, after Fiat had also acquired 50% in Ferrari in 1969, and upped its shares to 90% in 1988.
Despite Fiat’s best intentions, and despite various motorsport successes, the Alfa Romeo brand continued to decline. The cars were okay but not great. Much-hyped new technologies like the brand’s Selespeed robotised manual gearbox in the 156 sedan looked great on paper but was dismal in the real world, and further served to erode the revered brand’s reputation. Alfa’s sales continued to slump to a low in 2015 with fewer than 60 000 cars sold.
Finally, with the writing on the wall for the famous brand, Fiat’s late chief Sergio Marchionne set the wheels in motion of a major turnaround for the company, throwing some big money behind the development of a new generation of cars.
As we’ve stated before, the motoring world is increasingly leaning towards crossovers and SUVs(and bakkies), so Alfa clearly had to get with the programme and create a suitable contender to compete in the booming compact SUV segment. First, Alfa’s engineers created the all-new Giulia sedan, the first Alfa sedan in recent decades that could compete (and realistically beat) its German rivals.
Next, it the created the Stelvio SUV, named after the Stelvio Pass that links Italy and Switzerland through 48 hairpin corners, said to be one of the most beautiful mountain passes in the world. This SUV has now turned into the proverbial tip of the spear of the resurrection of Alfa Romeo.
The Stelvio’s beautiful body was attached the Giulia’s underpinnings, ensuring it had the dynamic prowess required to do battle with (and stand a chance to beat) the rest of the compact SUV gang. Since 2018, the Stelvio has become Alfa Romeo’s top seller. In Europe it sells double the number of Stelvios compared to the Giulia.
The Stelvio 2.0T Super Q4 has been on sale in South Africa for some years. It is powered by Alfa’s two-litre turbocharged engine that produces 206kW and 400Nm of torque, which s combined with the awesome Giulia chassis. The result is a brisk and sporty compact SUV.
Thanks to steep import duties, though, the Q4’s pricing point is a stumbling block in the local market. At R834 000, you need to be a diehard Alfa fan to fork out that much cash for a beautiful, cool but lukewarm performance SUV.
Similarly, strong resale values have never been an Alfa hallmark and the current range of cars suffers from the same handicap.
In 2018, news broke of the Quadrifoglio, the halo performance model in the Stelvio range. We followed its journey with interest, and when leading European motoring publications declared the new ‘Q’ to be better than the latest Porsche Macan S – traditionally a performance benchmark in this category – we really took notice.
Now the Quadrifoglio has quietly snuck its way onto the local market. Pricing remains a challenge but let’s forget about such irrational details for a moment, and rather look at what makes the Quadrifoglio so, so special.
It boils down to what lives beneath the Quadrifoglio’s beautifully sculpted bonnet, with its striking air intakes: a 2.9-litre Ferrari V6 twin-turbo petrol engine. The engine is essentially a Ferrari 488 V8 mill, but with two cylinders deleted.
The engine produces 375kW of power and 600Nm of torque and it’s linked to a specially tuned ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox
and an advanced, performance-oriented all-wheel-drive system that is primarily rear-wheel drive but can send power to the front axle when required.
Okay, so our first impression of the Q was hardly great. Leaving the Arnold Chatz dealership in Weltevreden Park in Johannesburg in the Alfa, directly after driving the Jaguar, we were left cold by the seemingly low-rate and spartan interior, the muted rumble of the V6 engine (after getting out of the thunderous Jaguar), and a gearbox that seemed at odds with the engine in peak-hour traffic.
This went on for a bit, as we battled through traffic. Finally, the road opened up and we selected Race mode. No electronic interference whatsoever and sharper responses from the throttle, gear- box and steering. But more in hope that the engine would growl, like the Jaguar’s supercharged V8.
Then we floored it, for the first time letting the V6 engine spin past 3 000, 4 000, 5 000,
6 000… all the way to 7 000r/min. Bang!
Next gear… 5 000, 6 000, 7 000r/min. Bang… bang… bang!
Oh. Dear. Lord. DEAR. LORD!
It was a sound that sent chills down our
spines. Where the Jaguar is loud and obnoxious and in your face, the Ferrari engine screams higher, more urgently, more supercar. It’s a mesmerising howl, straight from the heart of Maranello.
Later, on a closed circuit, we gave the Alfa more head… and it became abundantly clear why the overseas media have raved so much about the Quadrifoglio.
This is a sports car, which happens to have the body of a compact SUV. The steering response, the chassis, limited slip differential, the active rear- axle torque vectoring system, the engine, the gearbox, the magnificent paddle shifters behind the steering wheel… this is a driver’s car among driver’s cars. And it just happens to be an SUV.
Our comparative tests confirm its performance potential, too. The Stelvio Q completed the 0–100km/h sprint in 4.4 seconds, and the 60–120km/h dash in 3.5 seconds, beating the Jaguar in both instances.
However, the Jaguar’s huge disc brakes did do a better job in the emergency stops, beating the Italian SUV by some way: the Alfa required four seconds (50.1 metres) to come to stop from 120km/h, while the Jaguar completed the same test in three seconds (48.2 metres).
Although we did not measure lap times (being mindful of expensive, privately owned tyres and an abrasive track surface), there is no doubt in our minds the Alfa will run rings around the Jaguar on a circuit. Back in 2017, a prototype production version of the Stelvio set a new lap record at the famous Nürburgring (also known as the Green Hell), at the time beating cars such as BMW’s M4, Lamborghini Gallardo and the Ford GT.
That record has since been broken by the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S 4Matic but it stands to prove the performance potential of this spectacular Alfa Romeo.
It’s a pure driver’s car, is the Q. A precision tool.
The interior? Yes, it’s got one. There are seats and quite a bit of space, a handy boot and some luxury amenities, too. But (inferior) interior details hardly seem to matter the first time you hear that engine spin to 7 000r/min.
More good news is that overall build quality of the Stelvio is far superior to Alfas of yesteryear.
It’s been a long time since two SUVs elicited as much passion as these two vehicles did among those who drove or, who were passengers in them.
The Jaguar is the Hulk in this comparison. Loud, obnoxious and super powerful, it doesn’t just go through a corner… first, it grabs the corner by the scruff of the neck, roars at it, bends it into a shape it likes, roars gain and then thunders through it. Yet it is also a Jaguar and there seem to be a lot of people who admire the leaping cat brand. In fact, quite a number of bystanders apparently couldn’t care less about 405kW or an active exhaust system; they were simply besotted with the Jaguar because it’s a Jaguar.
Truth be told, at R1 530 000 it represents pretty good value for money considering the massive performance potential, presence and luxury. It should also represent a relatively good investment.
If the Jaguar is Hulk, the Alfa Romeo must be Wonder Woman. Not only is she absolutely beautiful, she packs one mean punch. There are not so many thrills and spills… she’s lean and mean and gets the job done, brilliantly.
When this Alfa Romeo comes across a corner, it first dazzles with its stunning looks. Then it takes up the challenge, instead of altering it, it disposes of that corner in the most elegant, precise way imaginable. Poetry in motion. With an amazing soundtrack to match.
The Stelvio Q did not enjoy nearly the same level of adornment from Average
Joe as the Jaguar. That’s sad because the brand deserves more recognition and better sales. But again, pricing is a stumbling block: the Quadrifoglio sells for R1.7 million – nearly R200 000 more than the Jaguar SVR. Also, considering Alfa’s not-so-great track record with resale values, you’d have to be a true Alfisti to park one in your garage.
In the end, for us, it boiled down to a decision between your head, and your heart. All logic suggests the Jaguar makes more sense. It’s almost as fast as
the Alfa, more affordable, it’s interior is far superior and it will probably keep its value better. And then there’s that delightful Trump button.
If it’s a real driver’s car you seek, a spectacular sports car in SUV dress up, with the (actual) heart of a Ferrari, the Alfa Romeo is better.
We’ll go with the heart on this one.