The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio reaches 130 miles per hour quite easily. Don’t worry, this little nugget of information wasn’t gleaned on public roads, but on a track. And whenever a company launches its newest machine at a racing circuit, that shows a remarkable confidence in its product. When that product is a crossover/SUV — not typically the most track-worthy of vehicles — such confidence borders on unshakeable belief.
Before we take our spot on the starting grid, though, here’s a little background. Alfa Romeo is owned by Fiat and is now part of the Fiat/Chrysler organization. The marque left the United States in the early 1990s, with the same kind of quality and reliability issues that prompted Fiat’s earlier departure. Which is something of a shame, because Alfa Romeo has continued to make exciting and beautiful cars on the other side of the Atlantic. As we’ll see, "exciting and beautiful" is a distinctly Alfa thing.
The Stelvio (named after an Alpine road) is the first crossover from Alfa. It’s based on the same platform as the Giulia midsize sedan, which is also on sale in the USA and comes with a range-topping Quadrifoglio version, too. Quadrifoglio means "4-leaf." It’s an emblem used by an Italian racing driver, Ugo Sivocci, who painted a 4-leaf clover symbol on his Alfa Romeo machine for luck.
This was back in the days when crash helmets weren’t compulsory, people used to smoke around gasoline canisters, hay bales were used where we would now have tire walls and guard rails and tragic death was a common occurrence in motorsport. Drivers needed all the luck they could get. In his first race with this emblem, Sivocci won. The Quadrifoglio quickly became part of Alfa Romeo’s performance heritage.
Yes, we’re perfectly aware that precisely no Stelvio owners whatsoever are likely to thrash their rides around a race track, but this closed environment does give some idea of the QF’s full potential. Propulsion is supplied by a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6 developing a considerable 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque. After spinning through an 8-speed automatic transmission, that muscle goes to all four wheels.
Or, more precisely, goes directly to the rear wheels in normal driving circumstances, for the push and balance that accompanies virtually all enthusiast machines. However, it’s a computer-controlled, fast-acting system that can send up to 60 percent of torque to the front wheels when necessary. And the torque vectoring function can adjust the amount of energy that each rear wheel can receive at any time.
Take a corner with a bit too much speed and the QF makes all the necessary adjustments for you. As long as the front wheels are pointing in the right direction, things will probably work out fine. The 20-inch alloy wheels (styled with a nod to earlier Alfa designs) wear wide Pirelli P Zero performance tires, so they also contribute to the exceptional grip.
The noises are thrilling when the revs are high. Turbocharged engines tend to sound a little muffled, but Alfa pitched this one with some sympathy for the devilish.
Step on the brakes and there’s a confident force bringing the scenery back into focus. They’re Brembo brakes, an Italian company that supplies Ferrari, Aston Martin, Porsche, Audi, BMW and many more. Ceramic discs are optional (for $8,000), but the stock system works well enough for anyone who doesn’t have to wear a fireproof suit when they’re driving.
For a steering system using electrical assistance, which most vehicles have these days, there’s a pleasant weight to the steering wheel, and it gives a useful degree of feedback regarding what the front wheels are up to. Getting anywhere near the QF’s limits of stickiness is best attempted in places where you can be absolutely sure no one is coming the other way.
Standstill to 60 mph happens in just 3.9 seconds. Remember, this is a midsize SUV weighing 4,367 pounds we’re talking about. Top speed is 177 mph. In between, there’s a ready supply of acceleration just waiting for a dip of the right foot. Gearshifts work with a gratifying speed in automatic mode, but the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters bring more opportunities to be engaged.
The Quadrofoglio’s suspension rides 0.2 of an inch lower than the standard Stelvio and it’s tuned for greater control, using stiffer springs and different damping rates. The center of gravity feels low for an SUV. If there’s any body roll through the bends, it’s hardly perceptible while sitting in the sport seats up front. They hold their occupants with a firm grasp and plenty of lateral support. The QF feels like it could keep lapping the whole day, and so could its driver.
Beyond the Checkered Flag
Out on regular roads, the QF doesn’t feel too stiff or too extreme. That’s one of the beauties of selectable driving modes that recalibrate throttle responses, transmission shifts, steering weight and suspension behavior. There’s also a Race mode that comes into its own on the track. The big tires produce some noise on concrete freeway sections and it sometimes feels like all that rubber is influencing the steering feel a little too much, but dealing with the normal business of start/steer/brake/overtake is generally a highly pleasurable experience, even if it’s an expensive one.
The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio starts at $81,390. But for all its speed, the QF is far from stripped down. Standard equipment includes 14-way power-adjustable front seats covered in leather and simulated suede (known as Alcantara, it’s often used in performance cars because it’s much lighter than real suede), rain-sensing wipers, a powered tailgate, ambient LED cabin lighting, 8.8-inch infotainment touchscreen, navigation and a 900-watt/14-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound system.
A driver assistance package — with the usual aids like adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and forward-collision mitigation — costs $1,500. Surprisingly, there’s no head-up display available.
Adults will find adequate space in the back seats. Like the regular Stelvio, maximum cargo volume with the rear seats folded down is 56.5 cu ft. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel consumption at 17 miles per gallon city, 23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined. The engine features cylinder deactivation to help with economy.
Not many crossovers make anyone want to look twice. The Stelvio performs that feat with styling that’s typically Alfa Romeo — including the traditional triangular grille — translated into SUV form. The hood vents are simultaneously cool and cooling. Proportions are well-judged and colors are well-chosen (Rosso Competizione is an especially luscious red). The cabin is correspondingly sporty and luxurious. Sweet touches include the engine start/stop button set into the steering wheel and the real carbon fiber trim.
In another show of supreme confidence, Alfa Romeo brought along a 2018 Porsche Macan Turbo for comparison. This was only available for the public roads aspect of our test, but it seemed to have a more fluid character, where everything just felt right, fine-tuned and polished. It’s a wonderful thing. It starts at $78,250, but gives away 105 hp to the Alfa.
It would be great if the Stelvio is a sales success, because it can bring some much-needed flair to the frequently boring and sometimes ugly horde of crossovers. And its driving talents are plentiful. To buyers who have the budget, the taste and the inclination to go for something outside the usual choices, this could be your next purchase.