by Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman
There is something about Italian cars that can make a driver feel different. If you are a car enthusiast, especially a sports car enthusiast, they conjure up images of the golden era of sports car racing, when they ruled the tracks, and rally courses all over Europe. Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Fiat, and other Italian marques, meant strong engine performance, quick handling, sleek styling, and the aura of winning.
That special feeling has grown through the years, right up to the current automotive scene, with the same group of players. So it was with this mindset that I approached the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Not a sleek sports car, but rather the current automotive rage of an SUV. Let’s see how much Italian heritage can be infused into this new form.
The best way to approach the Stelvio is from the front three-quarter view. Your eyes feast on that famous triangular Alfa grill, flanked by a pair of cat-eye headlights. And the racy louvers cut into the hood warn of something special under there. Oddly, no fog light grace the front fascia. Another styling cue comes from the 20-inch wheels sporting optional huge bright red brake calipers with Alfa Romeo prominently painted in white script lettering. Meaty Parelli P-Zero 255/45R20 summer tires up front and 285/40 R20 tires in the rear just scream grip!
The rest of the Stelvio’ s looks and lines are somewhat derivative . . . owing to the fact that this is an SUV, and form still must follow function. The vehicle still must carry 5 people with enough leg and head room to serve those passengers and their luggage.
Slip behind the steering wheel and enjoy the look and feel of fine Italian leather. The seats are as good and comfortable as any non-racing seat as I’ve ever enjoyed. Excellent side and bottom bolsters will keep the driver locked into place when spirited driving is what’s on the menu. Most Italian sport seats are designed for trimmer Italian frames, but my very American 44” chest, and more generous behind felt like the seat was made for me. Being a Quadrifoglio, means that the seats, dash and door panels are trimmed in contrasting white/green stitching, and real carbon fiber door, dash, and console accents that look exactly like plastic. Alfa also used carbon fiber for the driveshaft, where the strength and weight savings can really matter.
Unfortunately, outside of the white and green stitching, there’s little color contrast inside the cabin, and the black interior is a bit of a gloomy look. There is an interior color option that puts some red trim in the cabin, however. The large panoramic sunroof is excellent and helps with letting in some light, but I expected the interior have more of an Italian styling flair. The lower door panel storage bins are also a bit of a disappointment being fashioned out of hard inexpensive plastic.
The front seat occupants will enjoy plenty of leg and headroom to stretch out. Rear passengers may feel a bit cramped for legroom but good headroom is built in. The cargo area is spacious, with 18.5 cu. ft. with the rear seats up, and 56.5 cu. ft. with them laid down. The cargo area is also nicely appointed, with an adjustable rack system to tie things down, which is a $350 option, but includes an electric rear hatch as well.
Now for the fun part. Push the red start button on the steering wheel, (which is where all start buttons should be), and the 2.9 liter, twin turbo V-6 jumps to life. It makes 505 horsepower, and 443 lb.-ft. of delicious torque. It puts the power down via an eight-speed automatic and a rear-biased all-wheel-drive system. Mash down the feather-light “go” pedal, and feel all that torque thrust you back into the seat. In just 3.6-seconds, you’ll fly past 60 miles per hour, like any great Italian sports car of today. Keep the pedal mashed, and you’ll be able to achieve max speed of 176 Miles per hour ! In an SUV that weighs 4,360 lbs ! You’ll hear that little voice in your head blurt out, “Yeah baby, now THIS is what I’m talkin’ about !”
This engine, which has some Ferrari DNA built into it, just sings. Even with the twin turbos, there is character in its exhaust note, and is a delight to listen to when in full song. And it is true exhaust sound, none of that bogus piped in noise from the radio speakers. It’s the real deal. It’s . . . Italian.
There are three driving modes to choose from: “D” is for Dynamic, “N” is for Normal, and “A” is for Advanced Efficiency. Another setting is Race Mode for the track. No matter which mode is chosen, you have all the performance you need. But, of course D is the way to go for the full effect of the engine, chassis tuning, and that wonderful sound. It’s the one that conjures up the racing heritage and gets your heart rate up.
Yes, straight line performance is eye-popping, but it’s the extraordinary handling that makes this Stelvio so much fun. I’ve spent an entire day with a 707 horsepower Jeep Trackhawk on a race track at a performance driving school, and while that was a worthy track tool, the Stelvio is so much easier to drive fast with less effort and drama. The near perfect 50/50 split on weight distribution means that the Stelvio always feels balanced, and the dynamic suspension allows for incredibly flat cornering.
The steering is feather light and lightening quick. Toss the all-wheel-drive Stelvio into a corner at speed, and it goes exactly where you point it with accuracy and assurance. Reach the apex, and then add in throttle, and rocket towards the next curve. The Stelvio feels light and tossable in side to side transitions, and never seems to reach its handling limits (at least on public roads). And the Active Suspension System keeps everything planted, even on broken pavement. You can leave it in full automatic, or play with the large shift paddles behind the thick flat bottom steering wheel. All shifts are smooth and sure. And again, the engine roar is delightful to experience. Grip from the P-Zeros feels infinite, and the entire driving experience provides a visceral experience you’ll never forget.
Remembering that everything that goes this fast, Alfa didn’t leave out the “whoa” portion of the driving experience. The test car came with the Optional $8,000 Brembo Ultra High Performance CCM Brake Package. That buys you incredible stopping power with a light feeling brake pedal, with excellent feel. This SUV inspires driver confidence with an athletic feel that is up there with even the most exotic offerings coming out of Europe. I’d have loved to have spent an hour or so on a large track like Road America, but that will remain a dream for another day.
While driving this Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a wonderful and unforgettable experience, all is not great with the vehicle. The entire infotainment system is very disappointing. I’d give it a 3, on a scale to 10. It is especially unfortunate considering its corporate cousin, Chrysler, has one of the best systems in the business. The large screen on the dash offers good information, but most of it must be accessed by using a round i-drive type dial mounted on the console to get to it. Inputting an address into the Nav system is arduous and can’t be handled by voice command. Same thing when using the info screen located between the Tach and Speedo in front of the driver. It is not easily used nor intuitive for the driver.
The base price of the Quadrifoglio is just over $80,000. The bottom line of our test car was a very pricy $96,540. So that always brings up the issue of value. And with all the bells and whistles on this car, it irritated me that certain amenities were left off. Just a couple examples are the fact that while front and rear seats are heated, neither set is also cooled. It has Lane Departure Warning, but lacks the active Lane Keep Assist to steer you back on course. My wife’s $35,000 Hyundai Tucson has those features, so why not a vehicle costing 3 times as much?
Another possible drawback is that the base Stelvio starts at a more pedestrian $40,500. And has the same basic look of the Quadrifoglio. Some folks may balk at spending the big bucks on a model that looks like one that costs half the price. .
In closing, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a driver’s car, that will satiate the tastes of any enthusiast, and whether interested in an SUV or Sports Sedan. I can’t imagine any owner being disappointed in this choice. And since this vehicle is sold in relatively small numbers, you definitely won’t see them sprinkled throughout a crowded parking lot.
Specs and Dimensions
Engine liters (L) 2.9
Cylinder configuration V-6
Horsepower (hp) 505 @ 6,500RPM
Torque (lb.-ft.) 443 @ 2,500RPM
Fuel economy – city (mpg) 17
Fuel economy – highway (mpg) 23
Fuel economy – combined (mpg) 19
Fuel tank (gal.) 16.9
Curb weight (lbs.) 4,360
Exterior length (“) 185.1
Exterior body width (“) 77
Exterior body height (“) 66.3
Wheelbase (“) 111
Front track (“) 61.2
Rear track (“) 63.3
Front legroom (“) 36.6
Rear legroom (“) 35.9
Front headroom (“) 40.2
Rear headroom (“) 38.9
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