ALFA ROMEO TURNS THE WICK UP ON THE STELVIO
Today, SUVs clearly dominate new vehicle sales claiming more than 55-percent of purchases last year. The market share is so prolific that some brands no longer offer sedans in their product portfolio. Ordinarily, car enthusiasts would be totally bummed by that phenomenon but the industry has responded, tuning up these portly family haulers to become vivacious corner carvers. And it seems like everyone, especially luxury brands, offer a hotrod SUV that’s sure to get the kids to school or the playground on time.
Of course there are various levels of performance tuning applied to vehicles that are designed primarily for legal street use. Not surprisingly, the marketing teams do their best to keep the engineers from designing a racecar with leather seating. So although all performance SUVs may begin life with the same mission, the results differ by brand. BMW sprinkles various levels of “M” performance on its X models while Mercedes-Benz and Audi counter with AMG and RS upgrades. Sport brands like Aston Martin, Porsche, Lamborghini and now Ferrari turn the wick up without turning off buyers who are writing a big check for their amusement.
Then there’s that dazzlingq Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio that arrived in my driveway. It was so green and embossed with four leaf clovers that I thought it might contain a leprechaun. But how’s that possible with an Italian machine? The answer is in the model name and the history of race teams from the earliest competitions seeking good luck. Quadrifoglio is Italian for four leaf clover and that shamrock has adorned Alfa Romeo race and performance cars since 1923 when a young Enzo Ferrari was one of the drivers. And Stelvio is the wicked road that climbs 6,138-feet up the Italian Alps through 75 switchback turns to reach the Swiss border at the summit.
As let late John Wayne might intone; “Partner, that’s a lot of name to live up to”. And if the feisty Alfa Romeo was able to answer it could reply; “Sit down, buckle up and let’s boogie”. That’s exactly how I felt sitting in the tall-bolstered driver’s seat facing the big, analog tachometer and speedometer commanding my attention. To the right was the now-common graphic display that fit nicely in the sweeping panel that was trimmed in carbon fiber. The screen looked a bit petite by today’s standards but Alfa Romeo designers resisted the “let’s glue an iPad on the dash” solution that too often take this real estate.
The three-spoke steering wheel fits the hands perfectly and contains the bright red starter button as it properly squares off a bit at the bottom. Behind the wheel are two big shift levers that Alfa Romeo drivers affectionately call elephant ears and they stay in place, just like you’d expect in a race car.
Underway, the twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter, 505-horsepower V6 is anxious to demonstrate its ability to thrill, growling through all eight gears. And if the growl is too subtle for your raptor instinct, reach over and dial in full pop and snarl, but be careful or you may find yourself in an unfashionable orange jumpsuit.
I loved every minute in the Stelvio Quadrifoglio. The steering is weighted like a racecar and perfectly precise. The brakes are marviously modulated and it handles like it’s on rails. You can lift off the throttle for that roundabout, or just drive around it. Back in 2017, a new Stelvio Quadrifoglio rocketed around Nürburgring in 7:51.7 besting the previous time by eight-seconds and is still among the top five production SUVs in the record books. And even with its $92,790 window sticker, it’s a great value in this lofty category.
THE FINE PRINT
2023 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
TYPE: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive
ENGINE: 32.9-liter Twin-Turbo V6
HORSEPOWER: 505 @ 6,500 RPM
TORQUE: 443 lb.ft. @ 2,500 RPM
BASE PRICE: $84,650
AS TESTED: $92,790
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 17-city, 23-highway, 19-combined