2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio review: Total thrill, needs more chill

Starting at $79,795
  • Engine V6 Cylinder Engine, Turbocharged
  • Drivetrain All Wheel Drive
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type SUVs

Roadshow Editors' Rating

7.3 Overall
  • Performance 7.5
  • Features 8
  • Design 7.5
  • Media 6

The Good A ripsnorting, Ferrari-sourced engine makes this Italian SUV really scoot. On tracks and backroads alike, it’s quite the performer.

The Bad While most luxury/performance SUVs also excel in calm, daily driving, the Stelvio really falls apart. It’s cramped, uncomfortable and its onboard tech needs help.

The Bottom Line In the right conditions -- i.e., on a great canyon road -- the Stelvio Quadrifoglio excels. But as a daily driver, it’s a really tough sell.

The allure of Alfa Romeo's 505-horsepower Stelvio Quadrifoglio is easy to understand. A Ferrari-powered SUV with incredible performance and looks that could kill. Admit it, you'd swipe right on that.

In many cases, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio makes good on many of its on-paper promises. This SUV can absolutely tear it up on race tracks and canyon roads alike. It turns highway on-ramps into thrill rides and can wake the neighbors with its raucous wail of aural delight.

But taken as a whole -- an $80,000 purchase (OK, lease) proposition -- I'm not sure the prospect of exhilarating Italian performance can make up for the Stelvio Quadrifoglio's many shortcomings.

Performance and poise

Alfa Romeo chose to do the initial Stelvio Quadrifoglio media launch at Circuit of the Americas in Texas, and really, I can't think of a better locale. A long, wide track like COTA is a great place to really experience all the greatness this incredible performer has to offer.

Yet back home in Los Angeles, those thrills are still easy to unlock. The aforementioned Ferrari-sourced engine is the same 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 found in Alfa's Giulia Quadrifoglio, with 443 pound-feet of torque to complement the healthy 505 horsepower on offer. An eight-speed automatic transmission handles shifting duties, and do yourself a favor and play with those huge, steering column-mounted paddles. Slapping through gears is a joy, and the transmission swaps cogs with immediacy and precision.

Alfa Romeo says it takes just 3.6 seconds to scoot this 4,360-pound, all-wheel drive SUV to 60 miles per hour. Turn the drive mode selector to Race and the off-the-line ferocity is accompanied by a robust exhaust roar -- an addictive, distinct sound. Unfortunately, that invigorating aural experience is only available in Race mode, which also kills traction and stability control. I wish there was a way to open the exhaust valves in the Stelvio's less-aggressive Dynamic setting.

Never mind the Alfa badge -- this 2.9-liter biturbo V6 is the work of Ferrari, with 505 horsepower and an outstanding soundtrack.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Even so, it's Race mode you'll want to dial up for truly spirited driving. Steering response is instantaneous, largely thanks to the 12.0:1 ratio, with appropriate weight and high levels of feedback through the wheel. Despite its higher ground clearance, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is sports car-flat while cornering, and quick transitions don't upset the chassis. Large, 20-inch wheels are wrapped in staggered 255/45 front and 285/40 rear tires, which offer loads of grip. The Stelvio largely acts as a rear-wheel drive SUV most of the time, only sending as much as 60 percent of the engine's available torque to the front wheels under instances of slip. It won't do a burnout, but it will kick the tail out slightly around hairpin turns. It's great fun.

The standard brake setup consists of 14.2-inch front and 13.8-inch rear Brembo aluminum monoblock stoppers. These offer tremendous braking power, though they're super hard to modulate, largely thanks to the Quadrifoglio's weird, electronic brake-by-wire setup. Basically, pedal feel never seems to really match the braking force, and even after several days of driving, I can't quite seem to get it just right. Larger carbon ceramic brakes are available as a costly $8,000 option, but unless frequent track use is in your Stelvio's future, I can't imagine needing them.

It's wonderful on a track, but the too-stiff suspension and touchy brakes make the Stelvio Quadrifoglio a chore to drive in the city.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Tough around town

The tradeoff for this excellent dynamic ability, sadly, is poor manners in daily driving situations. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio just feels jittery and jerky most of the time, with a suspension that's way too stiff even in its softest setting and brakes that are seriously grabby. I love the transmission's quick shifts during spirited runs, but wish it'd be a little smoother under light-load acceleration. Really, I just wish this car would settle down sometimes.

Before you go all "but it's a performance car!" on me, remember that similar cars have no problem achieving a great balance of comfort and sport. The Mercedes-AMG GLC63 and Porsche Macan Turbo offer brilliant dynamics when pushed, but both are perfect gentlemen when you're just trying to pick up take-out Thai food or drive home from the airport. I love luxury/performance crossovers because they offer sports car excitement in a comfortable, plush, functional package. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio, however, too heavily skews in one direction.

The Quadrifoglio's comfy, supportive seats, thick-rimmed steering wheel and column-mounted paddles are all lovely.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

So-so luxury, so-so tech

At first glance, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio's interior looks like it'd be a well-appointed, luxurious place in which to spend time. And sure, the requisite leather surfaces and brushed metal accents are there, but so are large swaths of hard plastic, some chintzy trim on the center console and cheap-feeling buttons and dials.

The standard front seats are decently comfortable, with plenty of support for driver and passenger. Carbon fiber Sparco race buckets can be optioned for $3,500, but like the carbon ceramic brakes, I don't really see the point -- especially since these fancy seats can't be heated. Rear occupants, meanwhile, have adequate space, with head- and legroom that's about par for the class. The cargo hold also offers adequate accommodations, with a maximum of 56.5 cubic feet of space on offer, the same as Mercedes' AMG GLC63.

Alfa's infotainment is crisp and bright, but difficult to control. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

Infotainment duties are managed by Alfa Romeo's proprietary system, housed on an 8.8-inch color screen set back in the dash. The menus are relatively straightforward and the graphics are crisp and clear, but the dial controller on the center console leaves a lot to be desired. Not only does it feel lousy in hand, but response times are often laggy, making the system frustrating to use. If you'd rather use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, you can -- both are standard, though oddly, they aren't factored into the Stelvio's base price and show up on the winder sticker as individual $100 options.

Speaking of should-be-standard-on-an-$80K-SUV tech, a number of advanced driving aids are only available as options. If you want adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and high-beam assist, you'll need to opt for the $1,500 Driver Assist Dynamic Plus Package.

No matter the color, this thing looks good.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

How I'd spec it

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio starts at $81,390, including $1,595 for destination. Because this is the range-topping Stelvio model, a lot of would-be options -- including the upgraded infotainment system, premium Harman Kardon audio, xenon headlights, LED taillights, heated steering wheel, automatic climate control and, you know, that awesome engine -- are standard.

If you don't want Alfa's standard Rosso exterior color, be prepared to pay -- my ideal Misano Blue, for example, is $600. From there, I wouldn't add a single option. But ticking all the aforementioned boxes, plus extra add-ons like a $1,350 dual-pane sunroof, $250 roof rails, $400 carbon fiber steering wheel and $200 convenience package, can bring the Stelvio Quadrifoglio as high as $98,690.

That's a lot of money, but not unusual for this class. The Mercedes-AMG GLC63 and Porsche Macan Turbo have lower starting MSRPs, but can be optioned just as high. They're less powerful, too. You could also go for a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk for about the same coin. What it lacks in Italian flair it makes up for in passenger and cargo space, better comfort, fantastic infotainment tech and, oh yeah, 202 additional horsepower. Hmm...

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is as fun as it is flawed.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow

One trick pony

The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a fantastic performance SUV. It can out-handle just about anything else in its class and will never cease to put a smile on your face. Make no mistake, it is absolutely my pick for the best-driving vehicle in its relatively small segment.

But if you're buying a performance/luxury SUV, you're probably looking for more than just a good time on a great road. And if you're only buying this for its performance creds, well, have you seen the better-handling Giulia Quadrifoglio? Or, like, a ton of other actual sports cars?

This range-topping Stelvio is an absolute hoot, don't get me wrong. But at this price point, no matter what you're looking for, you're probably better off with something else.