2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio First Test: Squeak, Rattle, and Roar

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This is a two-ton luxury SUV. It has no business being this quick.

Yet there it is, on the unblinking screen of our testing computer: 3.3 seconds in the 0–60, 8.5 seconds from 0 to 100, and a quarter mile in 11.8 seconds.

The 505-hp Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is nearly the quickest gasoline-fueled SUV we’ve ever tested—it ties the 707-hp Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk to 60 and is an eye blink slower to 100 and the quarter mile. And both those SUVs get pipped by the Tesla Model X P90D Ludicrous in launch mode. But when it comes to luxury SUVs—even ones with performance credentials—the Stelvio simply dusts them.

What’s more, even though it weighs about 500 pounds more than its identically powered Giulia Quadrifoglio sedan stablemate and has a higher coefficient of drag, the Stelvio is quicker to all these milestones.

Looking at their respective horsepower/weight values, this should not be possible. The lighter Giulia uses 7.5 horsepower to motivate each pound, the Stelvio 8.5 hp/pound. Race should go to the sedan, right? However, the Stelvio has all-wheel drive, while the Giulia has rear-wheel drive. In the critical 0–30-mph “launch” phase, the Giulia needs 1.5 seconds, but the Stelvio takes just 1.2 to get there, according to Chris Walton, Motor Trend’s road test editor.

That early momentum helps that 0.3-second gap stretch to 0.5 second by 60 mph—the Stelvio gets there in 3.3 seconds to the Giulia’s 3.8 seconds. Eventually, the Giulia begins to charge back with less frontal area (better aerodynamics) and less weight. By the end of the quarter mile, the Alfa SUV still wins the race in 11.8 seconds at 116.1 mph, and although the sedan is charging hard at a faster speed of 118.5 mph, it crosses the line in 12.2 seconds. Here’s hoping we eventually learn how quick the Giulia would be if they equipped it with the all-wheel drive from the Stelvio.

The Stelvio is more than just jamming 505 horses and 443 lb-ft under the hood of this $97,390 beast and letting it rip in Race mode. (Heck, what kind of SUV even has a Race mode?)

The tricky thing in building SUVs is that they are essentially boxes on wheels. It’s hard to give them personality. Alfa Romeo has no such troubles. Spin the Quadrifoglio’s drive-mode dial to Dynamic and give it full throttle, and you discover a stream of power on instant demand, gearshifts punctuated by a flatulent chortle from the exhaust. You barely need to roll into the accelerator to access this thrust. The engine always seems to be in the meat of the powerband, though it does reach redline too quickly.

But the Stelvio is more than just a straight-line rocket. This thing can scoot through switchbacks in a more composed fashion than many sporty cars. You’d think a two-box SUV would be plagued by body roll under hard cornering, but the Stelvio remains pancake flat. However, while dynamic suspension settings are fantastic for solo torching of back roads, you may sometimes have passengers who thrill to the engine note but who don’t wish to endure an overly rigid suspension—hence the appeal of the Stelvio’s soft-damper setting in dynamic mode. Or you can wimp out and put it in Natural mode.

“The sense of immediacy makes it feel a thousand pounds lighter than it is,” Walton said. “I love the seat, the steering wheel, the real metal shift paddles. It’s gorgeous, and like the Giulia, it offers a romantic alternative to the mainstream. It’s a freakin’ rocket.”

As for stopping, although the $8,000 Brembo ultra-high-performance carbon-ceramic brakes were impressive in their grip and precision at high speeds, they were brutal in everyday driving. You can forget about limousine stops or easing through parking lots. The Brembos are choppy and abrupt in routine traffic, with a disquieting rippling feedback to the brake pedal. When having to make a harder-than-expected stop after a stretch of city driving with light braking, the Brembos groan like an 18-wheeler rolling into a Flying J stall.

“They feel like first-gen carbon ceramics combined with the on/off switch of brake-by-wire,” Walton said. “There’s zero feel, they’re grabby, and when cold, they’re screechy and grindy. It has an extra-firm brake pedal with very short travel, immediate jump-in with zero feel through the pedal, and very little ABS buzz or flutter.”

However, there is no arguing with results. Our 60–0 brake tests netted 109, 103, 107, and 107 feet—impressive for a 4,282-pound SUV. “Every stop was dead straight,” Walton noted.

Keeping you in place under these severe forces are Sparco carbon-fiber-shelled sport seats. With a grip firmer than a straightjacket (size 42 or smaller, please), you’re not going anywhere. And because they are racing seats, they must be adjusted fore and aft manually (first world problems). The cool thing about the skinny Sparcos is that for back-seat passengers, the Stelvio easily passes the 6-foot passenger behind 6-foot driver test.

When testing the Quadrifoglio on the figure eight, Walton noted: “It oscillates between under- and oversteer, never really settling down or remaining neutral. Understeer on the skidpad and oversteer (a ton) on the exit. Steering is sublime and very quick.”

The Stelvio’s figure-eight time of 24.9 seconds at 0.79 g puts it in company of some crazy handling machines. In terms of g’s, it’s on par with the Honda Civic Type R and Nissan GT-R Premium. In terms of circuit time, it mirrors the 2016 Audi S6 4.0T and a Porsche Macan GTS on summer tires.

Speaking of the Macan, it was intriguing to drive the Stelvio Quadrifoglio directly after a Porsche Macan GTS. Although they are in separate universes in terms of power output, their relative prices (my Macan tester rang in at 85 large) put the two in the same consideration set. The Macan was bank-vault silent while cruising while the Alfa creaked. The Porsche engine purred while the Alfa growled. The Macan suspension was subtle and refined while the Stelvio was jouncy and immediate. But one day while in the Alfa, I pulled up alongside another Macan, and the Porsche looked plain by comparison. Then I parked adjacent to another Macan in a lot, and the Alfa’s front countenance simply oozed so much more personality, more fun, more excitement. So you get that benefit.

Now that we have the raving out of the way, we have to address the issue of the Alfa being an Alfa. To be clear: There was nary a mechanical hiccup or electrical gremlin during our loan period.

That said, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio was an aural assault of body panel squeaks and plastic-on-plastic buzzes and rattles. Some exterior panel gaps were more like panel fissures. There is an area of the Palos Verdes peninsula, called Portuguese Bend, that is in a perpetual slow-motion landslide. The undulations and upheavals in its cracked patchwork of asphalt are the equivalent of off-roading while on a paved road. It makes for a perfect test of manufacturing quality in terms of how every piece of plastic, aluminum, and steel fits together—or doesn’t.

In this test, the Stelvio fails catastrophically. The driver’s seat squeaks like a trapped mouse. The center console rattles mercilessly. Plastic mountings buzz. There were mysterious screeches from rearward body panels. I’ve been through this passage in Kia Rios that were quieter. Heck, my 5-year-old Volvo XC70 with 50K on the clock is quieter. If a Lexus factory assembled an SUV with this sort of build quality, the plant manager would be fired on the spot. But hey, (insert clichéd but colorful Italian saying here), it’s an Alfa Romeo, take a chance! No, seriously, take a chance, because it’s a great vehicle dynamically and artistically, squeaks and rattles aside. But perhaps take a chance on a lease, because these first-year builds can be a bit dicey off the factory floor.

For a vehicle so filled with personality, one wonders how it acclimates with semi-autonomous technology. A word about the Stelvio’s adaptive cruise control—it worked great. In following the car ahead, the Alfa carried a more intimate distance than most competing systems, and as such, no one dared cut me off. And the Stelvio’s reaction time to cars braking ahead was spot on to human comfort levels. And it was revvy when pulling away from a full stop—whereas many smart cruise systems are lethargic. For that, it earns a bravo. But that’s about it for semi-autonomous systems; the lane keeping assist was little more than an audible bermp-bermp reminder to get back between the stripes.

Then there’s the sticker price equation. The Quadrifoglio carries a $40,000 jump from a base Stelvio, and nearly every penny goes toward dynamic performance. From a luxury brand, you’d expect a bit of upgrade on interior fitments. But the infotainment system is the same. The stereo is merely adequate; the treble is a wash of distortion, and the bass is muddy. The visor mirror cover is a cheap plastic seemingly pulled from a Fiat 500—a tactile error. The gearshift knob feels yanked from a PlayStation controller. And the climate control fan is loud for the amount of air it’s actually pushing out the vents. There needs to be more than just an incredible engine and chassis upgrade to make the Quadrifoglio worth the extra money. But if you don’t care about that sort of thing and just want an SUV that goes like hell and looks like it, the Alfa is a good place to start.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q4 Quadrifoglio
BASE PRICE $81,390
PRICE AS TESTED $97,090
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.9L/505-hp/443-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,282 lb (53/47%)
WHEELBASE 111.0 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 185.1 x 77.0 x 66.3 in
0-60 MPH 3.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 11.8 sec @ 116.1 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 103 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.93 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 24.9 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 17/23/19 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 198/147 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.01 lb/mile



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