Review: Alfa Romeo's Stelvio Quadrifoglio is an SUV with the heart of a Ferrari
In 2017, after decades of self-imposed exile, Alfa Romeo returned to America, to the delight of stateside driving enthusiasts. After all, to know Alfa Romeo is to love it.
The historic Italian brand has produced some of the world’s most famous cars, such as the 8C 2900, the Tipo 33 Stradale, the Disco Volante, the Montreal and the 1600 Spider Duetto, famously driven by Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate.”
These days, Alfa’s lineup taps that rich heritage with the 4C Spider sports car, Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV, automotive athletes all.
As you might expect, the Stelvio, being an SUV, is the brand’s bestseller stateside, outselling its sedan siblings combined. And no wonder. Like the Giulia, the Stelvio’s base model is reasonably priced, starting at $41,345, and is powered by a turbocharged 280-horsepower four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission powering the rear wheels. All-wheel drive costs an additional $2,000. Of course, that’s the base model; it’s also available in Sport, Ti, Ti Lusso, Ti Sport and Ti Sport Carbon models, not to mention the top-of-the-line Quadrifoglio.
Quadrifoglio, Alfa’s high-performance line, is denoted by a four-leaf clover within the white triangle. The tradition dates to 1921, when Alfa race car driver Ugo Sivocci painted it on the side of his car for good luck. He soon began winning races — until one day he forgot to have it painted on his car, with deadly results. These days, Quadrifoglio means insane performance — and a breathtaking $28,200 premium, but it’s worth every cent.
What that gets you is a Stelvio powered by Ferrari V-8 minus two cylinders and blessed with twin turbochargers, a carbon-fiber driveshaft, an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The result is 505 horsepower and an accompanying mechanical symphony that makes piloting this ball of fury so delightful.
Available steering column-mounted aluminum paddle shifters respond in less than 100 milliseconds, making manual gear changes effortless and fun. The accompanying engine and exhaust note sound as if you’re piloting a race car, when in fact you’re driving a midsize SUV. There is a drive mode selector dubbed DNA Pro, with Dynamic, Natural, Advanced Efficiency and Race modes, the latter a Quadrifoglio exclusive. Yes, Natural and Advanced Efficiency transforms the Quadrifoglio into a respectful citizen. Still, you have to wonder why anyone would want to drive this thing at anything less than full boil.
Normally functioning in rear-drive mode, the Stelvio’s all-wheel-drive system can transfer up to 60 percent of the engine’s torque to the front wheels if there’s not enough traction out back. Being the track monster that it is, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s ride quality is racetrack-ready, which is to say it’s extraordinarily firm. So are beautiful leather seats, with aggressive bolstering to hold you in place during spirited sprints to work, home or play. They’re part of a lavish interior with supple leather and yards of French-stitched seams offset by a flat-bottom steering wheel and quick steering that makes directing this beast fun.
For 2020, all Stelvios get a new standard 8.8-inch center touchscreen and a redesigned 7-inch driver instrument cluster. New tech updates include a Wi-Fi hotspot, mobile app with remote operations, SOS call (private) and roadside assistance, vehicle finder, stolen vehicle locator and assistance, and over-the-air firmware updates. That said, some interior build quality didn’t seem up to the rest of the vehicle. But such is the price of living with an Italian stallion.
Even with the updates, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio remains an amazing value, one that offers a taste of Ferrari at an Alfa Romeo price point while living up to Alfa’s storied performance history. It offers thrills that more expensive SUVs can’t match.
In that regard, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio continues to live up to its name, originally given to one of the world’s great driving roads through the Italian Alps.