2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio review: Happiest when driven hard
I can't think of an SUV that's more exciting to drive than the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio . It's not the quickest, the fastest or even the sharpest crossover you can buy. But with its raw, raucous demeanor, the Alfa is a total thrill.
The entire Stelvio lineup gets a few notable updates for 2020, much like the ones seen in the Giulia sedan. Alfa's goal is to smooth out some of the SUV's rough spots without taking away from the Stelvio's performance-focused demeanor. And to that end, the company has mostly succeeded.
All of the Stelvio's major updates can be found inside the cabin. A new, 8.8-inch touchscreen is housed in the dashboard, running redesigned infotainment software with reconfigurable displays. Alfa Romeo says the system is quicker to respond to inputs, though it's still one of the laggiest multimedia setups I've tested in recent memory, but at least the graphics are cleaner and the menu structure is easier to navigate. Every Stelvio comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a WiFi hotspot, and wireless phone charging is optional. I prefer to just touch the screen to interact with Alfa's interface, but I appreciate that redundant controls are housed on the console, for folks who prefer to go that route.
Still, despite this improved onboard tech, Alfa's software pales in comparison to what other luxury automakers offer. Audi's MMI and Mercedes' MBUX setups offer a richer set of features, and can be had with customizable digital gauge clusters, too. Hell, even parent company Fiat Chrysler's Uconnect suite is better to use.
While the interior's overall design hasn't changed, a lot of the materials and switchgear have. The steering wheel and gear selector are wrapped in higher-quality leather, and the buttons and knobs on the center console are more satisfying to use.
Unfortunately, the Stelvio continues to trail its rivals in terms of comfort and refinement. The Audi Q5 , BMW X3 , Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class and Porsche Macan are all far more plush inside, with richer leathers and more beautiful wood and metal trim pieces. Most of these competitors offer more space for passengers and cargo, as well.
What hasn't changed for 2020 is what's under the hood. In the case of the range-topping Stelvio Quadrifoglio, power comes from a Ferrari-sourced, twin-turbocharged, 2.9-liter V6, good for 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. This powertrain is the Quadrifoglio's single greatest attribute. Passionate and powerful, the Stelvio is one of the raciest SUVs around.
The best way to experience the Quadrifoglio is in its Dynamic or Race drive modes, where the engine and transmission are on full attack. It takes just 3.6 seconds for the Stelvio to accelerate to 60 mph, and the Quadrifoglio launches hard. The eight-speed automatic transmission changes gears with the urgency of a world-class dual-clutch 'box, and it's endlessly fun to work via the big, metal, column-mounted paddle shfiters, which are some of the best in the biz.
The Stelvio sounds amazing, too, the wailing V6 and throaty exhaust beautifully complementing one another. Each upshift is met with an assertive braap from the four big tailpipes out back, and the burble on overrun is so intoxicating you'll be revving the hell out of this engine just so you can lift off the throttle right before redline.
These sports car antics are felt in every part of the Stelvio. The steering quickly response to inputs, and the action of the wheel itself is perfectly weighted. The suspension is firm, yes, but nicely tuned to reduce pitch and roll while cornering. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio attacks winding roads with a level of composure you wouldn't expect from a compact SUV, and judged solely on high-speed shenanigans, the Alfa is a superstar.
Alfa seems to have sussed out some of the issues with its brake-by-wire system -- thank god. I still don't like the numbness of the pedal itself, but at least the brakes are easier to modulate than they were before, especially at lower speeds. My tester has the $8,000 carbon-ceramic Brembo brake upgrade, with six-piston calipers up front and 14.2-inch discs with four-piston calipers at the rear. Yes, these higher-performance brakes scrub speed at a moment's notice, but they're a little much for daily driving, and that's without considering the price tag.
The trade-off for this superlative performance is that the Stelvio QF is way too harsh for daily driving. In its standard driving mode, the twin-turbo V6 doesn't really want to play ball -- you just get the sense that it's been muzzled, waiting to be unleashed. Great as the chassis is on a smooth canyon road, it makes for a brittle ride over broken pavement.
I can forgive this high-strung nature in the Quadrifoglio more than I can in base Stelvio models -- after all, when you buy a 505-hp SUV, you aren't necessarily prioritizing docility. But when it is time to settle down and just be a luxury crossover -- which, let's be honest, is 95% of the time -- I would much rather run to the grocery store or commute down the freeway in a Mercedes-AMG GLC63.
That said, the Stelvio is at least technologically equipped to make day-to-day life easier, with things like adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and traffic sign recognition all bundled into a $2,000 driver-assistance package. The 2020 Stelvio even has Alfa's traffic jam assist, which combines the adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping tech to make slow slogs on the highway a breeze.
At $82,040 to start, including $1,595 for destination, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is priced higher than the BMW X3 M Competition ($77,895) and Mercedes-AMG GLC63 ($74,745), but slightly below the Porsche Macan Turbo ($84,950). All loaded up like my Rosso Competizione test car, however, a Stelvio Quadrifoglio can almost touch $98,000. Yikes. For that money, I expect far better infotainment tech and a much more premium interior.
I'm glad the Stelvio Quadrifoglio encourages you to drive its doors off as often as possible. But it's an easier sell in something like the Giulia Quadrifoglio sedan. With an SUV body style, customers are inherently prioritizing things like passenger comfort and overall utility, and every one of the Stelvio's competitors do this stuff better.
The 2020 Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a goddamn rocket, and I'll never turn down the chance to rip one up my favorite mountain pass. But while Alfa's made great strides to make the Stelvio nicer to live with, it's the fundamental flaws that'll always make it a tough sell.