As one of a dozen Alfa Romeos parked atop a mountain, the Stelvio stands out like a bear in a ballet troupe. The classic Alfas are lithe, supple, dainty and gorgeous. The Stelvio looks like it’s about to eat three of them for lunch.
However, having just the previous day undertaken a 1200-kilometre there-and-back run through the winding mountain roads of BC’s interior, I can report that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a genuine Alfa Romeo. In fact, it is emphatically an Alfa Romeo. It might be about as much Alfa Romeo as you can possibly handle.
First though, a word of thanks to the Alfisti (as Alfa Romeo fans call themselves) who, when asked to turn up and offer opinions on Alfa Romeo’s first crossover, came out in strength with their lovely cars and their strong opinions. Alfa Romeo owners are a passionate bunch, and this is a very rare grouping of cars: for example, one of the two Giulietta Sprint Speciales that showed up is the original prototype model.
Over espressos, enjoyed at a responsible distance, the crowd of purists didn’t seem offended by the Stelvio’s bulk. Instead, they were curious to know what it was like to drive; how fast it was. Happily, the Stelvio may be the largest Alfa here by a long shot, but it is not an Americano – not a watered-down experience at all.
Start with the engine, a 505 horsepower twin-turbocharged 2.9 V6 that’s essentially three-quarters of a Ferrari V8. The Alfa Romeo racing team was where Enzo Ferrari got his start, and in a nice parallel, both the Giulia and Stelvio Quadrifoglio get a little Ferrari-inspired character under their hoods.
When coupled with all-wheel-drive, an eight-speed automatic transmission and wide Pirelli tires, the Stelvio’s engine provides gut-clenching acceleration from a standstill. However, it’s the mid-speed passing acceleration that’s even more impressive. In short passing sections on winding mountain roads, the Stelvio quickly blitzes past semi-trailers, leaving the view clear ahead.
Further, the ride and handling of the Stelvio are excellent. Despite a theoretical ride-height disadvantage over its sedan cousin, the Giulia, the Stelvio corners just as hard, and offers excellent steering feedback. It doesn’t exactly shrink around you, but the pace with which it devours a backroad is stunning.
BMW’s M and Mercedes AMG both offer really fast crossovers that will keep pace with the Stelvio, but there’s something more stirring going on here in the Alfa. Perhaps it’s the way the steering wheel tells you just that little bit more about the road, or the cool feel of the column-mounted paddle shifters resting against your fingertips, or the way the back end squats under acceleration. Others might be as quick, but the Stelvio manages to be more of an adrenaline pump.
There are, however, some missing pieces. Alfa Romeo reliability issues cropped up time and again during the brand’s relaunch in North America. No quibbles with the Stelvio were observed during the week, but this is your warning that your experience may vary.
Despite a new 8.8-inch touchscreen that is quicker and easier to use than previous models, the Stelvio’s infotainment isn’t as polished as the ones from BMW or Mercedes. This model was missing automated cruise control, which is a fairly expensive option.
If you’re willing to take a chance on reliability and value driving experience over on-board entertainment, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is astounding to drive. Even as someone who normally prefers a sedan to a crossover, the blistering performance on display here can’t be denied. Moreover, the Stelvio just feels right. It feels like an Alfa should.
Among a cluster of classic Alfa Romeos, the Stelvio might look out of place. But in terms of the brand’s heritage of passion and exhilaration, it turns out that this crossover is worthy of its badge. It fits right in.
Base price/as tested: $93,700/$109,195
Engine: 2.9L six-cylinder turbocharged
Transmission/drive: automatic transmission/all-wheel-drive
Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 11.2 city/7.9 highway
Alternatives: BMW X3M, Mercedes-AMG GLC63
Alfa’s traditional shield-shaped grille doesn’t translate well to the front end of a vehicle this size. However, it’s doing much of the heavy lifting here, as the rest of the Stelvio, while well-proportioned, is slightly generic. Those four-leaf-clover badges on the fenders are a traditional mark of the fastest Alfa Romeos, stretching all the way back to 1923.
The Stelvio is spacious enough to be practical, though no larger-feeling than its German rivals. Happily, the best seat in the house is the one in front of the steering wheel, with excellent side bolstering, and an ideal driving position. The 2020 model gets a little extra leather in the cockpit, and the improved look and feel of the switches is now worthy of the price-point.
This tester came with the optional carbon-ceramic brake package, which cost $8,250. That kind of money will get you most of the way to putting a classic Alfa Romeo project car in your garage, but they also improve both stopping and handling. Yes, handling – the carbon-ceramic brake rotors are 4.3 kg lighter per corner, and that is unsprung weight, or weight that is not supported by a vehicle’s suspension. The easiest way to think of the improvement is to imagine whether you’d be nimbler in running shoes or combat boots. The Stelvio might look like a bruiser, but dancing shoes fit its personality.
Probably the biggest improvement in the day-to-day livability of the Stelvio is the new infotainment system. It’s still a little on the small side, but was straightforward to use and unremarkable. Here, unremarkable is meant as a compliment, as decent infotainment shouldn’t be a distraction from driving.
The Stelvio’s truck comes with four adjustable tie-downs for securing cargo. Given the performance capabilities here, you’re going to want to use them to keep things strapped down. Total capacity with the seats up is a useful 525L.
The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is neither an obvious choice, nor an inexpensive one. However, it offers a truly thrilling driving experience that belies its crossover roots. It’s not just a vehicle for Alfa Romeo fans. It’s a machine that will convert any driver into an Alfisti.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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