by Karl Furlong
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is proof that labels can be awfully misleading. Just as "sugar-free" or "all-natural" may lead you to believe that you're making healthy choices in the grocery store, the reality is that you're probably being deceived. By the same token, even though the Stelvio Quadrifoglio's spec sheet describes this as an "SUV", nothing about this remarkable vehicle feels SUV-like. This is a sports car that just happens to have a taller body and back seats. The first sign that you've been misled is when you press the red starter button and that tuneful 505-horsepower 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 springs into life. It propels this all-wheel-drive Alfa to 60 mph in only 3.6 seconds. It's also blessed with a poised chassis and communicative steering that make this crossover even more fun to drive than a BMW X3 M. As further proof that this isn't an SUV in the traditional sense, the Stelvio isn't even that spacious at the back, while the trunk is smaller than rivals. Alfa Romeo has duped us and delivered an "SUV" only by name - and that's precisely why we're smitten with the Stelvio Quadrifoglio.
Mechanically unchanged, Alfa has shuffled around a few features and added some new colors. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio can now be finished in shades including Ocra GT, Rosso GTA, Rosso Villa d'Esta, or Verde Montreal. Available as a new option are 21-inch five-hole alloy wheels in either a silver or dark finish. Alfa has repackaged the available driver-assist technologies, with the new Active Assist 2 package including features like active blind-spot assist, traffic jam assist, and lane-keep assist.
See trim levels and configurations:
2.9L Twin-Turbo V6 Gas
Besides a new set of optional 21-inch wheels, the 2021 Stelvio Quadrifoglio looks identical to last year's model. This isn't a bad thing as this is one sensuous crossover to look at. The traditional Alfa trefoil grille is flanked by stylish bi-xenon projector headlamps with LED daytime running lights. Numerous sporty touches set apart the Quadrifoglio such as the dual heat extractors on the hood, the quad-exit exhaust outlets, and bespoke rocker panels. Behind those 20-inch alloy wheels are anodized brake calipers with the Alfa Romeo script finished in sporty red. A dual-pane sunroof is available as an option.
The Alfa is similar in size to the BMW X3 M, although it's lower and wider than its German foe. Key dimensions include a length of 185.1 inches, a width (excluding the mirrors) of 77 inches, a height of 66.3 inches, and a 110.9-inch wheelbase. As the sportiest Stelvio of all, the Quadrifoglio has a reduced ground clearance of 7.9 inches. At 4,313 pounds, the Alfa is over 300 lbs lighter than the X3 M thanks to judicious use of carbon fiber, including for the driveshaft.
It's little surprise that Alfa Rosso (red) is the only exterior color that's standard on the Stelvio Quadrifoglio; red is Italy's favorite color, after all. A number of metallics can be had for $600 extra such as Vulcano Black, Vesuvio Gray, Silverstone Gray, Montecarlo Blue, and Misano Blue. Two pricier options are Rosso Competizione Tri-Coat and Trofeo White Tri-Coat which go for $2,200 each. Finally, customers can now choose from four additional colors this year: Ocra GT, Rosso GTA, Rosso Villa d'Esta, and Verde Montreal, all with late arrival.
There is only one powertrain on offer for the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, so Alfa made sure that it gave us something special. The 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V6 unleashes a mega 505 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque to all four wheels, allowing the hot Stelvio to reach 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds before powering on to a top speed of 176 mph. That 0 to 60 sprint time is a significant half a second quicker than the base BMW X3 M and two tenths faster than the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63. Using the Alfa DNA Pro system, you can evoke an even more absorbing soundtrack from the exhaust system. This, together with easily repeatable launches, makes the Stelvio Quadrifoglio one of the quickest and most thrilling super SUVs in the business. The Quadrifoglio is a beast on the track, too, having lapped the Nurburgring in a blistering seven minutes and 51.7 seconds.
The Alfa's Ferrari-derived engine is an absolute gem and one of the best powerplants available anywhere. With 2.9 liters of capacity boosted by two turbochargers, the V6 produces 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. This engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode and aluminum paddle shifters mounted on the steering column.
It's a joy to use this powertrain. The V6 not only boasts exceptional throttle response but the torque is spread over a broad band, making the performance instantly accessible. Rifling through the gears during aggressive driving is an absorbing experience, with smooth gear changes and a satisfying response when using the paddles. The exhaust system serves as a constant acoustic reminder of the power underfoot, with a series of pops as you accelerate, especially in the racier driving modes. Whether launching from a standing start or blasting past slower vehicles on the highway, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is almost unmatched in its ability to entertain in this segment.
Alfa's reputation for agile, athletic chassis tuning remains firmly intact. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is an absolute blast to drive, and that's not only thanks to its remarkable V6 engine. The super fast steering makes the Stelvio feel lighter than it actually is. In fact, it can take a while to adjust to the Alfa's immediate responses. Of course, the Q4 all-wheel-drive system increases your confidence in less than ideal conditions. Under normal driving, all the available power is directed to the rear axle, with up to 60 percent sent to the front when absolutely necessary.
Regardless of what the AWD system is up to, the driver is always aware of the SUV's exceptional body control, even if its weight means that some lean is detectable through the corners. To customize the driving experience, you can toggle the DNA Pro drive mode selector switch, offering everything from the docile Advanced Efficiency mode to Race mode. The latter unleashes a fruitier exhaust note and reduced intervention of the traction control system. Naturally, you have to be more alert when driving the Stelvio in these settings. A powerful Brembo braking system efficiently brings the SUV to a stop from the high speeds it is capable of reaching.
As bad as the Stelvio Quadrifoglio's economy is, it's not even the worst gas guzzler in this segment. According to the EPA, the Alfa will return figures of 17/23/19 mpg across the city/highway/combined cycles. By comparison, the BMW X3 M only manages 14/19/16 mpg while the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 isn't much better at 15/22/17 mpg. A 16.9-gallon gas tank capacity for the Alfa will see it travel in the region of 321 miles before needing a refill.
The cabin of the sporty Alfa makes a strong first impression. It's attractively styled with a lovely steering wheel, racy dials, and well-bolstered sport seats, while the use of carbon fiber trim and red stitching strikes all the right notes. It's when you park it alongside some premium competitors that the flaws make themselves known; there isn't an abundance of space in the back seat and the build integrity leaves some room for improvement. As the range-topper, you do get plenty of standard features, though. These include 14-way power-adjustable front seats with heating, a heated steering wheel, a powerful Harman Kardon sound system, and an 8.8-inch touchscreen interface with navigation. While design flair seems to have been prioritized over practicality, the Alfa's cabin is far from a dealbreaker.
Seating a maximum of five occupants, the Alfa's sporty seats are a highlight. The mix of leather and Alcantara, along with power bolsters and lumbar support for those in front, work well to provide both adequate support and comfort. The cabin does lack the airy feel of other SUVs in this class, though, but space is reasonable. Our only complaint relates to the rear headroom, which will be a problem for occupants over six-feet tall. While the sporty driving position is a highlight, the driver does have to contend with reduced visibility as a result of the Stelvio's bulky roof pillars. There isn't the clearest rear-quarter view, while the rather tiny rear window is another issue.
As standard, the 2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio comes with leather/Alcantara seats in black, which can be had with either red, white/green, or dark gray stitching. However, depending on your choice of seat color, you will be limited in which color stitching you can select. Alternative color schemes for the cabin include Black/Ice and Black/Red. For $3,500 extra, Sparco leather/Alcantara race seats can be specified in the same color choices with woven carbon shells. On the Quadrifoglio, the upper door panels and armrest bolster are also finished in leather. Other sporty touches include satin aluminum door sill plates, a leather-wrapped instrument panel with accent stitching, aluminum sport pedals, a steering wheel with perforated leather inserts, and genuine carbon-fiber trim.
Behind its second row of seats, the Stelvio's narrow cargo area only provides 18.5 cubic feet of space. The BMW X3 M boasts around 10 cubes more space behind its back seats, which is a substantial difference. When the Alfa's 40/20/40-split rear seatback is folded flat, a more useful 56.5 cubes is freed up for larger items.
In terms of storage space for smaller items, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is only average. There is a full-length floor console along with a cargo net in the front tunnel. Both the glovebox and the door pockets are on the small side for a mid-size crossover.
At a base price of over $80,000, expectations are high when it comes to the Stelvio Quadrifoglio's feature count. In most respects, the Alfa delivers. This is the only Stelvio model to enjoy standard 14-way power-adjustable front seats with heating, a driver's seat memory function, heating, four-way power lumbar support, and power bolsters. To keep the cabin temperate, a dual-zone automatic climate control system is standard, while rear occupants get their own ventilation outlets. Along with this, the Alfa comes with a rearview camera, a seven-inch instrument cluster display, a heated steering wheel, push-button ignition, a power liftgate, and the Alfa DNA Pro drive mode selector. On the safety side of things, the crossover boasts blind-spot monitoring with cross-path assistance, tire-pressure monitoring, and forward collision warning. For an added cost, numerous options can be equipped such as adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, driver attention alert, a hands-free liftgate, and heated rear seats. A dual-pane sunroof is available as well.
For the most part, the infotainment system is a thoroughly competitive offering. The 8.8-inch touchscreen isn't large by modern luxury standards, but as we noted in last year's Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio review, the addition of a physical rotary dial and quick responses make it easy to understand and operate. If there is an issue, it's that the small size of some icons can make them difficult to see. The setup includes Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition, navigation, HD Radio, five USB inputs (the two rear outputs are charge-only ports), SiriusXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto integration. A powerful 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system is standard, but you'll need to pay extra for a wireless charging pad.
J.D. Power last rated the Stelvio Quadrifoglio for reliability in 2019, when the SUV managed a rather disappointing score of 72 out of a possible 100. That same year, the Alfa was recalled three times by the NHTSA for issues including a potentially leaking coolant hose, adaptive cruise control that may not deactivate, and a malfunctioning fuel gauge. More promisingly, there have been no recalls for the 2020 and 2021 models so far.
Alfa sells the Stelvio with a standard four-year/50,000-mile limited and powertrain warranty, roadside assistance for four years regardless of mileage, and corrosion perforation coverage for 12 years.
Local authorities have yet to evaluate the Stelvio for crashworthiness. However, as an indicator of its safety, Euro NCAP did evaluate the Stelvio when it was launched a few years ago. In that test, the SUV attained a five-star rating, with adult protection rated at a brilliant 97 percent. This is evidence that the Stelvio is a safe SUV in all its configurations.
Out of the box, the new Stelvio Quadrifoglio comes with a total of eight airbags, including curtain airbags for all outboard seating positions and knee airbags for the front two occupants. It also gets brake assist, tire-pressure monitoring, all-speed traction control, electronic stability control, hill-descent control, hill-start assist, front/rear parking sensors, and a rearview camera with useful dynamic gridlines. More advanced safety equipment comprises blind-spot monitoring with cross-path detection and full-speed forward collision warning. For an added cost, buyers can opt for active blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, driver attention alert, intelligent speed assist, lane-keep assist, and lane departure warning. A highway assist system is also available.
As a high-performance SUV with an emphasis on the driving experience, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a true class-leader. Every major element - the powertrain, the chassis, and the steering - not only excels in isolation but blends together with everything else beautifully. That V6 makes a special sound and turns this into an absolute tire-shredder, but thanks to AWD, there's no need to throw away money on tires while still leaving most rival SUVs behind. The playful, well-balanced chassis is a revelation, and the Alfa has looks to die for. If you want a well-rounded luxury SUV, both the BMW and Mercedes provide stonking performance with more space and better build quality at a cheaper price. But are they more memorable? We don't think so.
In most reviews of premium vehicles, we're used to seeing the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz charge a premium for their vehicles over all other rivals, but the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio reverses this trend. It carries a hefty starting MSRP of $80,750 in the USA, and that excludes a destination charge of $1,595. By comparison, the BMW X3 M starts at $69,900 in the US market and the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 begins at $73,900. Loaded up with options, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio carries a price tag of over $90,000.
The 2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is a standalone variant that sits on top of the regular Stelvio lineup that we review separately - there is no cheaper base model to be found here. As Alfa's halo SUV, the Quadrifoglio comes with a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 developing 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. Paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox and an all-wheel-drive system, it's one of the quickest SUVs on the planet and can reach 60 mph in only 3.6 seconds.
Outside, the sporty Alfa comes with 20-inch alloy wheels, a power liftgate, quad-exit tailpipes, LED daytime running lights, and an optional dual-pane sunroof. The interior is finished in a pleasing mix of leather and Alcantara, while both front seats feature 14-way power adjustment. Other standard items include a 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, an 8.8-inch touchscreen display, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, front/rear parking sensors, and dual-zone climate control.
There are four main packages and a few standalone features that can be chosen to customize the Stelvio Quadrifoglio. For $995, the Premium Package adds features like a 115-volt power outlet, heated rear seats, and a wireless charging pad. A stealthier look can be obtained by selecting the Nero Edizione Package which adds a Miron Black finish to the badging, mirror caps, and grille. Another styling upgrade, the Carbon Package, costs $1,500 with carbon added to the grille, wing mirrors, and steering wheel. To equip the more advanced driver-assist safety gear, the Active Assist 2 Package costs $2,200 and comes with active blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control, driver attention alert, traffic jam assist, and more.
The most interesting standalone features include a dual-pane sunroof at $1,350 and a wireless charging pad for $250.
If you already have over $80,000 to spend on a new SUV, a few options shouldn't be too much of an issue. For that reason, we'd tick the boxes for the $1,500 Carbon package which adds even more appeal to the Stelvio's design, along with the $2,200 Active Assist 2 package as we believe a premium SUV should be equipped with many of the safety items it contains. Finally, while the Stelvio Quadrifoglio SUV looks good in pretty much any color, we'd have ours in the Rosso Competizione Tri-Coat.
If you really want to impress the neighbors and prefer your SUV with an even plusher interior, the GLC 63 isn't a bad way to accomplish both of those goals. It's got a different character to the Stelvio thanks to its 4.0-liter bi-turbo V8 engine, but it is nearly as quick, getting to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds as opposed to the Alfa's 3.6. Both SUVs have mediocre trunk capacities, but the GLC boasts a more comfortable and spacious cabin. The Merc's interior is crafted from finer materials and is more advanced, featuring an expansive 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and a 10.25-inch central display. Both SUVs have rorty exhaust notes and corner more quickly than they should, given their size, but the Alfa's awesome chassis and suspension tuning give it the edge in driving enjoyment. With its lower price and a better reputation for dependability, the GLC seems like the smarter choice, but it's the Alfa that is even more beguiling.
The Alfa officially competes with the smaller BMW X3 M, so is it worth spending the extra money on something larger like the X5 M? At $105,100, the X5 M is comfortably pricier, but that extra outlay does get you a much more sophisticated interior, close to double the cargo space, and a 4.4-liter V8 engine churning out at least 600 horsepower. With the available Competition Package, the big BMW's specs are impressive; it makes 617 horses but will reach 60 mph just a tenth of a second later than the Alfa. Both SUVs have excellent body control and high cornering limits, and whether it's the X5's bassy V8 or the racy V6 in the Alfa, they each sound fantastic. The difference has to do with feel. While the X5 is astonishingly quick, it doesn't communicate much to the driver. It's effective without quite losing that veneer of luxury and isolation. The Alfa is more involving, more of the time. If you need a family-friendly SUV with more space, get the BMW. If you want the most fun you can have behind the wheel of an SUV no matter how much space you need to sacrifice, go for the Alfa.
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