Mountain Wheels: Absolutely bonkers motoring from Alfa Romeo’s racy Stelvio SUV
While most automobiles are rational, carefully designed machines, you occasionally get a ride that’s entirely bat-spit crazy — weird and wonderful in every way.
That’s pretty much the experience with the 505-horsepower Quadrifogolio version of Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio SUV, an insanely fast and absolutely distinctive automobile I called a “beautiful bucket of Italian peculiarity” in my field notes.
And given that it’s now just as much of a family member of the Fiat Chrysler America group as a Jeep Renegade or a Chrysler 300, those with a desire for a truly unusual and largely unbeatable mid-size family hauler might consider Stelvio’s iconic, Italian-made madness.
Do other Jeep-adjacent products get a Ferrari-derived 2.9-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engine? Hell no. Quadrifogolio — the four-leaf clover, a nod to Alfa Romeo’s racing past — is the intensely up-tuned, track-ready rendition of the pleasant and just slightly unusual Stelvio, named for the wild Italian mountain pass you’ve seen a dozen times on “Top Gear.”
With a blazing red paint job and all-wheel drive, my Stelvio Quad came to $88,390, complete with a carbon-fiber driveshaft, ridiculously grabby Brembo high-performance brakes and an absolutely Italian exotic-sounding exhaust system (your regular Stelvio offers a 280-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo, by comparison).
But that price tag is actually not so bad, considering the Stelvio Quad puts out almost as much power as the preproduction, almost $200,000 Aston Martin DBX SUV and is actually faster overall. Stelvio packs a 0-60 time of 3.6 seconds and a top speed of 176 mph.
So I of course set out to see what that was like and had the mixed fortune of driving the Italian stallion here in Colorado last week. In the snow, with the road closures, the holiday traffic and the horrendous side streets in Denver.
Happily, I was able to get a lot out of the vehicle despite the conditions, mostly due to the very thoughtful FCA decision to equip my Stelvio with Pirelli Scorpion winter tires — nicely rounding out the very exotic-looking 20-inch aluminum wheels and their five-hole Olympic ring design.
Any time there was an opening in traffic and a reasonably dry surface, I hammered the Quad as hard as I could, and it absolutely screamed with power, with unholy blurts and blaaaps of exhaust. It also hung on pretty decently on hard-packed snow and ice, making the trip over Loveland Pass to Keystone a very entertaining experience. Cornering on dry roads was wickedly smooth and the steering absolutely immediate.
This sportiest Stelvio also adds perhaps the stiffest race seats I’ve found in a stock vehicle, brutally side-bolstered leather and Alcantara thrones that did in fact get a little tiresome after a while. Clearly, it’s a specialist automobile, and the people who already swap out their stock seats for butt-grabbing Recaros might find this just the right combination.
What is already a pretty distinctive look for an SUV gets rather intensely fine-tuned, with an expressive face featuring a triangular grille and large vents and aero scoops beneath. With massive, LED-rimmed headlamps, it’s probably the fiercest looking vehicle in the FCA lineup.
Summertime drives might make better use of what also seem to be the largest aluminum paddle shifters I’ve ever seen, plus the four-mode drive selector: the “Race” setting evidently enables the full 505 horsepower, which might be pushing it on snow tires in the snow.
As for it being true to the quirkiness that defined Alfas of the past, there’s still a bunch of weird stuff going on. Windshield wipers with self-contained sprayers absolutely did nothing but dump water onto the driver-side window, the flip-up mirrors occasionally stayed flipped-up and the eight-speed transmission was very cranky in cold conditions. It also tends to defer to a pretty high gear for regular motoring, even in its second-sportiest mode, so those epic bursts of power require lots and lots of pedal pressure.
I drove a 2019; the revised 2020 edition promises to shake out a few of Stelvio’s Italian peculiarities and occasionally undercooked Italian engineering, and add upgraded digital instrument layout, more invasive driving safety and lane-keeping tech (thanks, but no thanks) and a slightly revised interior. An 8.8-inch touchscreen display will be standard on all Stelvio models. The system I used was a little confusing and very, very dark, so hopefully this is also an improvement.
Rear seating is equally stiff and leg room passable, and I used the center-split pass-thru to load skis, while a full tie-down cargo rack system in the rear is likely a good idea, for a car this fast. The low arc of a back window also provides absolutely terrible rear visibility, but I suspect you will be going so fast that won’t be an issue.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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