Alfa Romeo’s history as a car-maker is steeped in performance, a storied legacy highlighted by legendary Grand Prix racers, sexy road cars, and the intimate bond between man and machine. Not exactly what comes to mind when considering most SUVs. But Alfa’s Stelvio Quadrifoglio is no ordinary crossover, and its essence as a performance vehicle is, without question, very strong.
Viewed in isolation, the Stelvio QF is a practical driver’s machine full of speed, feedback, and excitement. Yet what makes it a standout among other hot-rod utes are the very few exceptions it warrants when comparing the SUV to its sports-sedan sibling, the 10Best Cars–winning Giulia Quadrifoglio. Sure, its seating position is a smidge higher, and, at 4221 pounds, the Stelvio QF weighs 470 pounds more than the last Giulia QF we evaluated. But the similarity between their on-road demeanors verges on uncanny.
Upgraded from their standard 280-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinders, both sedan and SUV Alfa Quadrifoglios are powered by the same Ferrari-derived, twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V-6 churning out 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque accompanied by a rambunctious exhaust note. Both feature the same snappy ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. And both can blast through traffic with undeniable poise and change direction with deft control. The Stelvio QF is primarily a rear-driver until its computers detect the need to route up to 60 percent of the engine’s torque to the front axle to prevent slippage. Stand on the brake pedal from a standstill and feed in the power to prime the drivetrain for maximum launch, and this SUV’s rear wheels will slowly begin to rotate while the fronts stay put.
The Stelvio also shares the Giulia’s rather mediocre interior materials and build quality for a vehicle of this price, as well as a somewhat clumsy infotainment system operating through an 8.8-inch center screen and a console-mounted rotary control knob. But the crossover’s body-hugging front sports seats are just as cosseting as the sedan’s, and you get a similarly thin-rimmed steering wheel that precisely communicates a pleasant amount of feedback from the front tires. Large, column-mounted shift paddles click through the transmission’s gears with satisfying quickness, particularly as you move up from the default Natural driving mode to Dynamic and Race (there’s also a lazy Advanced Efficiency mode at the other end of the console-mounted dial).
Adaptive dampers return excellent body control and notably taut ride quality in any of the modes, with the system limiting you to the two firmest settings in the spiciest Race setup for the chassis and drivetrain. The ride isn’t unduly harsh, but a tad more compliance would be welcome on poorly maintained roads. Similarly, we wish the Alfa’s active exhaust system had an independent control toggle instead of merely growing progressively louder and snarlier as you step up through the driving modes. This Italian’s boosted 90-degree V-6, with its raspy blats on aggressive upshifts, is a treat to uncork even in relaxed cruising.
Starting at $81,590-$6295 more than the Giulia QF-and turning in a quarter-mile pass of 12.0 seconds at 115 mph (with a 3.4-second zero-to-60-mph time), our Stelvio was one of the quickest crossovers we’ve ever tested. It’s also the best speed-per-dollar value in the current SUV universe, undercutting the similarly rapid 707-hp Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk by $6105. (A separate Stelvio QF we tested in California, during which it vanquished the Mercedes-AMG GLC63 S coupe and the Porsche Macan Turbo in a comparison test, was fractionally quicker at 3.3 seconds to 60 mph and 11.8 at 117 mph in the quarter.)
Shod with sticky Pirelli P Zero PZ4 performance tires on 20-inch wheels, the Alfa’s 0.94 g of lateral grip on the skidpad and 157-foot stopping distance from 70 mph also are at the sharp end of its field. The considerably lighter Giulia QF may be about 20 seconds quicker around the daunting 12.9-mile Nürburgring Nordschleife, but the Stelvio QF’s 7-minute-51.7-second lap still tops the charts for production SUVs.
Adding $8000 to our test vehicle’s window sticker were a set of Brembo carbon-ceramic rotors in place of the standard iron discs. While we didn’t notice any discernible difference in feel or performance between the two setups, the Stelvio’s brake pedal remains reassuringly firm after repeated abuse and is a touch smoother in actuation than the overly grabby stoppers on our long-term Giulia Quadrifoglio. Unless you’re allergic to brake dust or plan on regularly partaking in track days, skip the fancy brakes and pocket the extra gas money, ’cause you’ll need it. Our test car’s dismal 16-mpg fuel-economy average, 1 mpg less than its EPA city estimate, can at least partially be blamed on our wanting to hear the engine angrily rip through its powerband at full attack.
Additional extras that contributed to our example’s $93,340 as-tested price include the $1500 Driver Assist Dynamic Plus package (adaptive cruise control, forward-collision and lane-departure warnings, and auto high-beam headlights), a $1350 panoramic sunroof, a $600 coat of Montecarlo Blue Metallic paint, $400 for a carbon-fiber-trimmed steering wheel, and the $200 Convenience package (an AC power outlet and cargo-area tie-down rails and netting).
As with our mechanically near-identical long-term Giulia QF, which has spent a significant amount of time in our dealer’s service center during its first 10,000 miles, we’d be remiss if we didn’t note reliability as one of our greater concerns of Stelvio Quadrifoglio ownership. While more than a few classic Alfa owners will say that’s part of the Alfa Romeo experience, we find it more endearing than an all-wheel-drive utility vehicle with a decent 19 cubic feet of cargo space (57 cubes with the rear seats folded down) can look this sharp and drive this well. Potential mechanical issues aside, Alfa’s Stelvio QF is one of the greatest rebuttals to the idea that our increasingly SUV-filled future has to be boring.