Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: September 23, 2019
Whether it’s Friday the 13th, walking under a ladder, or opening an umbrella indoors, these superstitions may seem irrational but there are some people that abide by these enticing yet unscientific laws of nature. Just look at Chinese culture and Feng Shui, or in Alfa Romeo’s case, the four-leaf clover and their racing heritage. Back in the turn of the century, a man named Ugo Sivocci was an Alfa Romeo factory driver, and after an endless string of bad luck during his races, decided to ward away his misfortune by adding a four-leaf clover, or Quadrifoglio in Italian, onto his racing car. He won the next race, and even the one after that. Turns out, the Quadrifoglio really did work. Fast forward to his next race at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Ugo was paired with a brand new P1 racing car that was recently built, and complications prevented the clover from being painted in time. In what could only be described as a Greek tragedy, he went out for a practice run in his new clover-less race car, crashed, and died, cementing Alfa Romeo’s superstition.
Ever since then, the Quadrifoglio, abbreviated to QV (Quadrifoglio Verde, or green four-leaf clover), has been emblazoned on Alfa Romeo’s highest performing vehicles, challenging the likes of BMW M and Mercedes AMG. But it takes more than the image of a green plant to make a car competitive. While we weren’t so impressed by the standard Stelvio Ti with its meager four-cylinder engine and chintzy interior, the Quadrifoglio steps it up a notch. No, I take that back. The QV transformation takes a massive leap forward in terms of driver involvement, chassis feedback, and overall enjoyment. You can thank the new engine for that.
Behind that signature Scudetto front grill and under the bright blue Misano Blue hood, you will find the crown jewel of the modern Alfa Romeo lineup, an all-aluminum 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 derived from the beloved F154 engine in the Ferrari California T. Essentially, it’s Ferrari’s old V8 engine with two cylinders lobbed off, and it makes quite a ruckus. Unlike the rear-wheel drive Giulia Quadrifoglio, this powertrain had to be revised to fit the all-wheel drive Q4 system underpinning the Stelvio. The numbers remain unchanged though, sitting at an impressive 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque, sent through an 8-speed automatic transmission. The result is one of the most spectacularly athletic and livid performance SUVs to date, and we’ve driven quite a few: Porsche Macan Turbo, Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S, BMW X3 M, and the Jaguar F-Pace SVR.
The Stelvio QV is the lightest of the bunch, weighing 46 kg less than the comparative 503-hp GLC 63, and sprinting from 0-100 km/h in a speedy 3.8 seconds. Not only is that the same as the AMG which makes considerably more torque (73 lb-ft more) from its larger V8 engine, but that’s one of the fastest SUVs we’ve ever tested. Casting dizzying spells when launched, you have to realize that the QV’s muscular thighs put it within a hair’s length of dedicated sports cars like the Jaguar F-Type SVR, Mercedes-AMG GT C, and Porsche 911 Carrera S (992), all three of which achieve 0-100 km/h only one-tenths of a second faster at 3.7 seconds. Putting the rest of the sports SUV segment into perspective, the BMW X3 M Competition ($93,000) produces 503 hp, 442 lb-ft, weighs a whopping 193 kg more than the Alfa, and is slower from 0-100 km/h, hitting it in 4.1 seconds. The Jaguar F-Pace SVR ($92,000) produces 550 hp and 502 lb-ft, weighs only 17 kg more, but only gets to 100 km/h in a meager 4.3 seconds.
Add to that the Alfa’s adaptive dampers, carbon fibre drive shaft, and rear-biased AWD system, and you have an SUV that drives like a sports sedan. As cliche and overused that phrase might be, there really is no better way to describe the Stelvio QV and its point-and-shoot approachability. This Alfa is stupid quick in a straight line, but it’s even more outrageous when carrying that speed through corners. The front nose whisks you in any direction you so choose, eagerly rotating with a quick flick of the wrist, allowing you to ebb and flow with an overachieving sense of balance and vigour. You get a bit of that top-heavy lean intrinsic to all SUVs but it’s less apparent in the Stelvio, demonstrating Shakira levels of hip shaking that had our jaws drop to the floor.
Two improvements we noticed over the non-Quadrifoglio Stelvio Ti we drove last year, are the transmission tuning and brake pedal refinement. In the Ti, the gearbox would shudder during low-speed creeps, and lug during aggressive downshifts. Not the case with the Quadrifoglio, and while the gear transitions are not nearly as refined as a BMW X3, it’s damn good, firing off precise rifle-bolt shifts without a whiff of delay. The same goes for the linearity of the brake pedal, granted ours came with optional Brembo carbon ceramics ($8,250) that providing unreal stopping power, more than enough for civilian duties. It’s much smoother than the standard brakes in the Ti and not nearly as difficult to modulate deceleration to a smooth stop.
While the Quadrifoglio impresses with its unflappable chassis, delightful steering, and silly acceleration, the main reason why it tugs on our heartstrings comes down to its hypnotic exhaust noise, putting the cherry on top of this four-leaf sundae. If Ferrari were to make a V6 engine, I’d like to think it would sound something like this. Whereas AMG, M, and SVR focus on the burbles, pops, and bass-filled wardrum beats, the Alfa sings a higher-pitched tune, is more exotic-sounding, and materializes as an Italian ballad crescendoing at 7,400 rpm. The resulting soundtrack is sublime, not so much Ferrari but more grown-up Abarth with a mix of Maserati V6. At wide open throttle, it’s like someone lit a firecracker and stuffed it into the exhaust pipes. Sadly, there is no way to switch the active exhaust on or off. The exhaust noise simply varies depending on how much throttle you add, growing louder and more intense the harder you push. The full opera only raises its curtains once you get past 5,000 rpm, much like the Ghibli. Below that, it’s all quiet and sophisticated. Furthermore, you need to be in Race mode to get the loudest noise. The downside to this is that Race mode automatically switches off all the driver aids including traction control, with no way of turning them back on. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video down below to hear it for yourself.
I admire how Alfa kept the styling upgrades for the Quadrifoglio to a minimum, and did not resort to plastering BMW levels of clover badges anywhere they saw fit. As such, the only clear giveaways that it’s a QV are the clover badge sitting on the side fenders, quad exhaust tips, and hood vents. The Stelvio keeps its signature Alfa cues as well like the triangular front grill and teledial wheel designs. Appearances are subjective but I never thought the Stelvio was very easy on the eyes in contrast to the beautifully contoured Giulia sedan. From the rear three-quarters, the Stelvio looks as soft and generic as the Maserati Levante, both constrained by the odd proportions demanded by these jacked up crossovers.
The interior atmosphere is welcoming and there are enough unique and premium parts in the Quadrifoglio to give it an upscale, sporty vibe. There’s carbon fibre veneer carressing the center console, a Ferrari-esque start button budding out of the steering wheel, and ice-cold aluminum paddle shifters mounted on the steering column. It’s that beautifully crafted steering wheel however and satisfying metal clink from the paddles that make you feel like you are in a race car.
Not every part of the interior is on the same playing field. Embarrassingly loose dials and wiggly buttons clutter the center console, and the gear shifter and rotary dial just don’t seem glued into place. And unlike Maserati, Alfa does not use FCA-sourced parts. Everything here is bespoke, including the 8.8-inch infotainment unit perched neatly within the dashboard. The menus are simple to read, though scrolling through the menus with the provided rotary dial can be cumbersome, making me wish they utilized the friendlier and more customizable UConnect system instead.
Performance aside, the Stelvio excels at being a usable SUV. Interior space is excellent, with oodles of room for my six-foot figure in any one of the five available seats. The back row is one of the roomiest in the segment as well, with an ample amount of headroom even with the optional panoramic sunroof ($1,595). Our tester came with carbon fibre shell Sparco racing seats ($4,100) with a neat arrangement of exposed screws on the backrest. By opting for these more supportive, manual 4-way adjustable seats however, you have to give up memory, heated, and ventilated seat functions, as well as adjustable side bolsters.
The Stelvio Quadrifoglio may not be the most visually pleasing or tech-friendly SUV on the market but it’s definitely one of the most emotionally stimulating. It’s the antithesis to the boring SUV stereotype, and everything you would expect from an Alfa Romeo. The Stelvio QV has got the charm, wit, and performance numbers to match too. The GLC 63 AMG may have a bigger engine and the more ambient interior, but there’s something about the way the Alfa drives that transforms it from being just a commuter appliance to a sentient soul with rhapsodic vocals and a stallion of an engine. While the four-cylinder Stelvio Ti didn’t exactly live up to its famous Stelvio Pass namesake, the Quadrifoglio fulfills that daunting claim and is an SUV worthy of carving up all 48 of its switchbacks. Ugo was right. That four-leaf clover works wonders.
Model: 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio
Paint Type: Misano Blue ($700)
Base Price: $95,000
Price as Tested: $112,195
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,702 / 1,955 / 1,685
Curb weight (kg): 1,978
Engine: 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6
Horsepower: 505 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 443 lb-ft @ 2,500 - 5,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 14.1 / 10.4 / 12.4
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.9