If you were after a sporty SUV with some Ferrari flair, the first car that would come to mind would be Ferrari’s own, the Purosangue. Unfortunately, you’d have to shell out $728,000 for one of those, so for the average consumer, you’d more than likely be priced out of one.
But what if there was something much more affordable but retained some of that Ferrari charm? Fortunately, there is – the 2023 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. Priced from $161,448 before on-roads, it sounds like a no-brainer when compared to Ferrari’s offering.
This crazed version of the brand’s Stelvio SUV has been designed to compete with the likes of the Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, BMW X3 M, and Porsche Macan GTS. Like its rivals from further north, the high-performance Alfa is backed by the motorsport pedigree of its ‘Quadrifoglio’ badge – that’s what you’d call a four-leaf clover in Italian – which first appeared on Alfa Romeo’ models’s racing cars 100 years ago.
Formula 1 fans will know that the four-leaf clover has appeared on Scuderia Ferrari’s 2017-season car, the SF70H driven by Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen. Look even further back to the Targa Florio car the emblem first appeared on in 1923 and Enzo Ferrari was one of Alfa’s four drivers in that event – although it was only on Ugo Sivocci’s car the clover had appeared to ward away the driver’s past misfortunes on the track. Regardless, the links between Ferrari and this famed badge are clear, and it’s under the bonnet that the link is in the Stelvio.
Gone is the 2.0-litre turbo four-pot in the lesser Ti and Veloce models, and in drops a visceral 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 which is based on the ‘F154’ V8 found in the Ferrari California T. Alfa’s flagship engine pumps out an impressive 375kW at 6500rpm and 600Nm at 2500-6000rpm which is sent to all four wheels.
The rest of the driveline is just as serious as its Ferrari-derived engine, with the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission and carbon fibre driveshaft coming courtesy of the well-regarded Giulia Quadrifoglio sedan.
In fact, most of the Stelvio feels like it’s been lifted straight from its saloon sibling and dropped under the moulding of a crossover. Despite the noticeable increase in size and the all-wheel drive system, the Stelvio only gains 200kg over the Giulia which isn’t bad for an SUV. Much like the Giulia, the vented bonnet, sloped roof line, rounded back end and quad exhausts individuates the Stelvio from its German competition.
The purchase of modern SUVs is made for comfortable commutes to work and dropping kids to school, and it’s here where a fundamental issue arises. Cars that are built for the daily commute generally have a soft ride, good visibility, smooth steering feel, and a smooth drivetrain. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio, however, has none of these creature comforts. Its sole purpose is to be the fastest SUV around the Nürburgring, not the most comfortable on the school run.
The firm suspension, even in the softest setting, was rather jarring over Melbourne’s less-than-average road quality on which we tested it. Larger bumps and dips in the road aren’t a problem, but things like small potholes, ruts, and general road imperfections give clues to the suspension being setup for the track where you wouldn’t feel the same jiggles.
It’s clear that exterior form has been prioritised over function as well, with large C-pillars creating blind spots, and a small rear windscreen reducing rear visibility. This makes changing lanes more of a task than it should be.
Then there’s the steering. Giulia Quadrifoglio steering. Unlike most cars, there is zero dead zone, meaning that every movement of the steering wheel is felt through car movement. The sharp steering is fantastic in the low-slung saloon, but feels a bit less comfortable when sitting higher off the ground in this SUV body.
Crawling through traffic feels rather unrefined when compared alongside German equivalents; and rather than convenient buttons adorning the console, there’s a complex sequence of menu screens to control even the most basic of tasks, such as the auto park brake and traction control.
Don’t think too much about fuel saving when buying one of these either, as our car averaged 13.6L per 100km over nearly 2000 kilometres of driving. This included a mix of urban, countryside and highway, with a mix of all drive modes.
The interior quality isn’t up to the same level as its competitors either. We quite like the way the Stelvio shows off its premium car status, with a cabin adorned in carbon fibre and leather, but the glitz and glamour is marred by second-rate plastic air vents and switches which serve as a reminder of the brand’s turbulent recent past.
Flick the car into race mode, however, and all is forgiven. Driver aids disabled, traction control off and the stability control eased back. The steering further tightens, the gearbox drops down a gear, and the valves inside the quad tipped exhaust system open, unleashing an engine that transforms the car from a plain commuter to a proper quasi-Ferrari.
Seamless gear changes in 1/6th of a second, a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 3.8 seconds, and an impressive 283km/h top speed. The sounds of unburnt fuel going through the exhaust catches you off guard, leaving you with an irreplaceable grin as it pops and crackles on the overrun. Each and every sound feels distinct and unique, making this power plant stand out from the likes of the AMG V8 and the M inline-six. We will note, though that the valves only open in race mode, thus stability control and traction control must be off for you to hear that gorgeous V6.
For performance driving, we would recommend going for the $12,000 carbon ceramic brakes, because the standard drilled steel brakes have trouble slowing the 1830kg kerb weight for long periods of brisk driving. From our experience, 50 kilometres of spirited driving is all it took for the distinct smell of overheated brakes to waft through the cabin.
The all-wheel drive system is built for enjoyment, only applying up to 60 percent to the front axle when necessary. Most of the time, however, only the rear wheels are driven. Around tighter corners, a bit of extra throttle meant that the car was rather tail happy, beginning to kick out much like its saloon counterpart before being reeled to its senses by the front wheels.
As properly pushing the Stelvio Quadrifoglio to the limit is the only way to feel its true potential, it prompts a big question: if you’re in the market for a fast car, why buy an SUV? The Stelvio Quadrifoglio feels like it was built to tackle a track record, but would a rational person would choose an SUV for a trackday? Plus, Alfa Romeo itself sells the Giulia Quadrifoglio, which is cheaper and more dynamically adept than the Stelvio.
Rational? No. Forget rationality. If you wanted to make a rational decision, why are you reading an Alfa Romeo review? Logic would tell you to go and buy a German car. Better tech, meticulous build quality, dependability, practicality, and a level of refinement that far surpasses that of the Stelvio Quadrifoglio.
What German cars lack, however, is a level of character that only the Italians can seem to achieve. No one buying a Ferrari is making a rational decision, but do they care? Not really. The same can be said for this.
2023 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio List Price: $161,448
- Performance - 9/109/10
- Ride & Handling - 7.5/107.5/10
- Tech & Features - 7.5/107.5/10
- Practicality - 8/108/10
- Value for Money - 7.5/107.5/10
Pros: Incredible engine with lots of power and character, very quick gearbox, incredibly fast, brilliant chassis, striking design
Cons: Average build quality, dated interior and technology, suspension too firm for daily use, steering too sharp for an SUV, average fuel economy, exhaust valves only open in race mode
In a nutshell: An extremely quick and agile car, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio is one of the greatest SUVs that money can buy. However, if you’re willing to sacrifice practicality and comfort for pure enjoyment, why not buy the Giulia Quadrifoglio?
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Alfa Romeo Australia for six days with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author.
A special thanks to Will Reynolds-Smith for joining the author for this extensive road test.