For all the professional and amateur drivers out there, the name Stelvio rhymes with excitement. The famous Italian Alpine pass has gained a global reputation as one of the most coveted drives in the world and has carved a spot on the bucket list of most driving enthusiasts. Few roads can compare to the famous mountainside switchbacks.
Naming a vehicle after the famous road meant facing high expectations, but Alfa Romeo wasn’t going to be intimidated by how evocative a name “Stelvio” is. The brand ultimately knocked it out of the park when it launched its compact SUV two years ago. The model channels what the Stelvio pass is all about: excitement. Especially if you slap the four-leaf clover badge on its fenders.
Having driven the Giulia sedan in the past, I already kind of knew what Alfa Romeo is capable of, but it’s always nice to get a refresher and boy what a refresher this has been. The 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is an impressive vehicle. While I’m not generally a fan of what the brand comes up with in terms of design across the pond, there’s no denying that the North American lineup is a small fleet of very handsome vehicles.
The Stelvio is an upsized version of the Giulia, introduced in 2015. The front-end design is virtually the same on both models with the arrow-shaped headlights and triangular grille flanked with two openings in the bumper. Both are also offered with a set of beautiful petal-spoke wheels — the Stelvio offered with a set of contrasting yellow calipers should you make that aesthetic choice. The model ups the utility ante with its hatchback silhouette and while its footprint is similar to the Giulia’s (same wheelbase, but slightly wider), it also offers a convenient cargo volume of up to 1,600 litres.
While the model on its own is already worthy of interest, the Quadrifoglio version makes it even more enticing. The cloverleaf logo swaps the base 2.0-litre engine for a Ferrari-inspired 2.9L, twin-turbo V6 rated at a ludicrous 505 horsepower and 443 lb.-ft. of torque, teamed with an 8HP75 eight-speed automatic transmission. For once, a company understands that you can’t just throw any electronic box into the mix and call it “performance.”
The transmission in the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is tuned to properly serve the vehicle’s purpose. It works in collaboration with the high-performance engine. It doesn’t get in the way, doesn’t lag, doesn’t take (what feels like) an eternity to react, and it allows the driver to enjoy the SUV’s full potential without as much as a hiccup.
To help fine-tune the vehicle’s on-road behavior, it is equipped with Alfa Romeo’s DNA drive mode selector — a clever nomenclature that stands for “dynamic,” “natural,” and “advanced efficiency.” At the top of the dial, the “race” mode completes the selection. At the center of the dial, a suspension function allows you to soften things up if you find the compact SUV a little too rough on the bumps — note that in natural and all-weather modes, the softer damping is automatically activated.
The different modes completely change the vehicle’s personality, a change that particularly noticeable in the accelerator. The further up you crank the dial, the more responsive and nervous the vehicle becomes.
The flat-bottom wheel provides great feedback and the steering has enough weight to it to make you feel like the Stelvio is ready to go wherever you want it to. Everything in the vehicle, form the engine tuning, to the steering’s precision, to the transmission set up, to the suspension has obviously been specifically curated to give the driver the performance he seeks. I think you get the idea and honestly, I’m not gushing — the Stelvio really is that good.
If you need a vehicle that’s more manageable for city driving, the natural mode tames the Stelvio’s behaviour to adapt it to a more urban type of driving. As soon as you hit the open road, twist the dial into the dynamic mode and the vehicle wakes up and sprints into action.
There’s one thing that I was a bit disappointed with. When I picked the vehicle up, I frankly didn’t know what price range it was playing in. I expected it to be in the $60,000 range — which would have made sense considering the starting price on the vehicle is just below the 50k mark. I was shocked when I saw that the Quadrifoglio goes for $114,000 — over double the price of the entry-level model.
In fact, if you look at the three trim level lineup, there’s a $45,000 gap between the middle-ground TI and the Quadrifoglio — quite the impressive step up. On the one hand, I understand that we’re looking at a premium performance vehicle. But even with that in mind, I have a hard time convincing myself that someone on the market for a vehicle at that price point would seriously consider for the Stelvio. Not that it isn’t a devilishly fun vehicle, but in order to be so good, it compromises on certain luxuries people shopping in the segment might not be willing to sacrifice on.
The high-performance compact SUV has a lot to offer and more, but not as much as some competitors in the luxury segment. For instance, the bucket seats need to be manually adjusted — except for the height — and offer no ventilation or heating system. The same features are conspicuously absent for the steering wheel. The lighter, carbon fiber, bucket seats hug you and hold you in place in a way regular seats don’t but finding the right backrest angle manually in a vehicle that has such a standing feels out of character.
This decision was made to help reduce the weight — that’s where you clearly see that the Stelvio banks on its delightful performance rather than on luxury to impress. I’ve personally grown to be addicted to heated seats and it isn’t a feature I would overlook if I were to purchase a new vehicle, especially not in that price bracket.
Aside from the notable absentees, The Stelvio Quadrifoglio offers all the other amenities one can wish for including wheel-mounted controls, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, GPS, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, dual climate controls, etc. Admittedly, the system in the Alfa Romeo isn’t as user-friendly as the Uconnect found in the other FCA products. This one requires a little more getting used to.
One thing I did notice is that Alfa Romeo got creative with the controls. Be prepared to re-learn where everything is: from the push start button located directly on the steering wheel to the turn signal lever that doesn’t actually stay up or down when you activate it, there are a few counter-intuitive features in the lot. Nothing you can’t get used to.
While some companies are willing to put utility forward and compromise on performance to achieve it, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio efficiently combines the two. It does compromise on a few features instead and breaks the $100k glass ceiling—something that might make you think about it twice. It definitely delivers on performance and on usability—it all depends on how attached you are to heated seats.
Model: 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Engine: 2.9-litre, twin-turbo V6, 505 horsepower
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
NRCan rating (L/100km city/highway): 15.4/9.7
Length: 4,702 mm
Width: 1,860 mm
Wheelbase: 2,818 mm
Weight: 1,978 kg
Price: $53,035 base, $114,890 as tested, including freight
Competition: Maserati Levante GTS, Mercedes-Benz AMG GLC 63 Coupe, BMW X3 M
Standard equipment: 6.5-inch display, navigation, leather seats, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, wheel-mounted controls, Bluetooth connectivity, active damping, Brembo calipers at the front