“Best RACE Experience With Shifter in Manual.”
That message flashes across the instrument cluster after I twist the drive mode selector past Dynamic and into Race in the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. I dutifully oblige, slotting the electronic shift lever left from Drive and into manual mode as I roll out of the long Formula One-spec pit lane at the Circuit of the Americas outside Austin, Texas.
At the staging area near pit out, I come to a stop, waiting on the signaler to clear me. I double check my seating position in the mostly manual, carbon fiber-backed Sparco seats, and adjust my grip on the leather and Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel so my index fingers can easily reach the large, metal, column-mounted paddle shifters.
The Stelvio Quadrifoglio is, like the 4-cylinder crossover it’s based on, a vehicle that prioritizes driving over, and at the expense of, all else. It’s one of the best premium crossover SUVs out there. And in a few important ways, one of the worst. In short, it’s a pure-bred Alfa Romeo.
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio First DriveEnlarge Photo
The uphill exit from the pits and my own hamfistedness mean I’m not hitting 60 mph in 3.6 seconds—the Stelvio Quad’s official time—but I’m accelerating quickly, with 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque doing their best to overwhelm the Pirelli tires. Thanks to the Stelvio’s standard all-wheel-drive system, motion, G forces, and a delicious symphony from the quad-tipped exhausts replace the drama of hard acceleration that comes with the Giulia Quadrifoglio.
Alfa’s 2.9-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6, a modified Ferrari California T engine, is a perfect companion to this all-wheel-drive system. It can transfer up to 100 percent of the torque to the rear axle or up to 60 percent to the front. This variability tames the aggressive throttle tip-in and the V-6’s early torque delivery, so instead of having to balance the throttle and interpret rear-axle grip, there’s no thought required when going wide-open in the Stelvio.
COTA’s first sector stresses the Stelvio’s standard three-mode adaptive dampers as they attempt to manage the 4,367 pounds of Italian crossover sloshing about. Alfa ties the damper mode to the four drive modes—Dynamic, Natural, Advanced Efficiency, and Race—with Dynamic going for the middle ground and Race using the firmest setting. The driver can overrule these defaults in the performance-focused modes, and drop a level for improved ride comfort.
On public roads, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio is certainly more comfortable than the Giulia, owing to the additional suspension travel inherent in a crossover SUV. But it doesn’t give up much capability on the track, where even Dynamic’s default mode manages body motions well.
Still, the Stelvio rolls more than the Giulia, but short of especially dim-witted steering inputs the body motions are progressive and predictable. The weight distribution is perfect, and the Stelvio rotates willingly but slowly, defaulting to understeer in most circumstances.