It’s a revelation having Alfa Romeo back in the United States. Unlike other car companies doing business in the US, every single car and SUV it produces and offers here in North America is focused on performance and driving. As such, each car they’ve delivered to us has been a terrific experience, from the tiny but engaging 4C to the new Stelvio Quadrifoglio. As someone who loves driving good cars, this is encouraging.

Earlier this year we reviewed the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Sport. We found it to be a very capable SUV; comfortable for the driver and passengers, with a peppy engine and sharp handling. It was on the sportier side of the SUV market and we felt it was a great addition to Alfa Romeo’s line-up. However, as much as we enjoyed it we couldn’t help but wish we were driving the then-new Quadrifoglio version – Alfa Romeo’s high-performance version of the already impressive Stelvio.
With a twin-turbo 2.9L V6 engine producing 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque and a performance all-wheel drive system, it presented a tantalizing opportunity to further explore Alfa’s engineering prowess as well as Alfa’s idea of what an SUV should be.

So we begged and pleaded and offered bribes and wept bitterly and tried asking with fake angry Russian accents and at long last – after a few torturous months of waiting – Alfa Romeo was able to deliver a Stelvio Quadrifoglio for us to play with for a few days.

They delivered to us a Vulcano Black Stelvio Quadrifoglio with dark grey wheels. It was nearly a blacked-out package, which made the aluminum V-grille and the almost neon yellow brake calipers pop against the black background. White triangular badges with green four-leafed clovers (“quadrifoglio”) on them decorated the fenders. The wheels were wide and wrapped with equally wide Pirelli performance tires. It looked mean. It looked intimidating. It looked fast.

Inside, the interior was black too. Black leather and suede seats, black carpets, black plastics, and carbon fiber trim. Aluminum accents were the only brightwork, and Alfa Romeo made sure to use them liberally to offset all the darkness. The seats were plenty comfortable though and well-bolstered. They were also electrically adjustable in several ways. Legroom was plentiful in front and acceptable in back. The backseat also folded flat to increase cargo area. All the controls were laid out logically. Alfa’s D.N.A. selector that controls the drive mode was on the center console, in front of the electronic shifter by the infotainment selector and volume knob. The leather and carbon fiber wrapped steering wheel hid two of the largest aluminum paddle shifters you’ve ever seen. They’re like aluminum artwork behind the wheel. It comes loaded with just about every conceivable luxury option. Like the standard Stelvio, it feels like a quality interior and you get the impression that it’s a prestige-level car. As it should be.

The Quadrifoglio version means increased power but it isn’t just all about the motor. There’s a lot more to it. There’s a torque-vectoring differential to send power to the wheels with better traction. There’s active suspension that adjusts at the turn of a knob – from All-weather to Normal Conditions to Dynamic, which ups the ante performance-wise, and finally to Race, which promises nothing but sweet goodness. There’s also the optional CCM (Carbon-Ceramic Matrix) ultra-high performance brakes that our car had, which come in at a hefty $8,000 but stop this SUV right NOW! and can do so repeatedly all day long without fade. The bright yellow calipers with “Alfa Romeo” in black script look sublime. Plus the carbon look of the disks just exude cutting edge awesomeness.

So what’s it like to drive? I’m glad you asked. Climb in.

Reach for the start button on the dash aaaaand….there isn’t one. It’s on the steering wheel instead. Press it and the engine whirrs to life. Oddly, the 2.9L V6 engine idles roughly, as if it’s unbalanced. Not something you expect in a $80,000 SUV, let alone the base $40,000 Stelvio we drove earlier this year. However, once in motion it smooths right out and you don’t notice it anymore. It behaves like a race car engine, tuned so highly for speed and high rpms that it struggles to idle. You never get the sense that it’ll stall though, and it never did for us.

Put your foot on the brake and making sure to press the button on the back of the shifter, pull it back towards you until “D” lights up on the shifter and on the dash display. Let your foot off the brake slowly and the release of the CCM brakes will feel different from standard steel brakes. It comes across as a slight drag of the pads on the rotors, then it’s fine. At low speeds around town, it’s perfectly comfortable stopping and starting and sitting in traffic for extended periods of time. As I said, the brakes feel a little different but don’t operate any differently and don’t require any special maneuvers. The suspension is firm but not harsh, even in Dynamic mode. It absorbs bumps and potholes well while instilling confidence in it’s abilities. It would be a great car for commuting or running the kids to soccer practice.

And if you come to a stoplight and some dude in a muscle car lines up next to you, revving his engine to signal his desire to race, or if some woman is tailgating you because she thinks she’s faster, well…you might have to drop the hammer on them and show them the error of their ways. If the rough-idling engine was meant to emulate a race car engine, giving that right pedal a good solid poke will have you believing it really is a race car engine. The turbocharged 2.9L V6 absolutely rocks this platform, driving it up the road like it’s on an aircraft carrier catapult. The suspension keeps things flat and level and in control and the all-wheel drive system gets enormous purchase on the road beneath you, the meaty Pirelli summer tires twisting against the hot asphalt to push you out ahead of everyone in the blink of an eye. The 8-speed electronic transmission quickly snaps off shifts as rapidly as the needle can reach the redline, which is amazingly fast. With each shift, the wastegates dump huge amounts of air with a loud “Whump!” While some may find this annoying, it’s the sound of pressurized power and it immediately reminded me of the 4C with the race exhaust (a car at the top of my wishlist) and I was immediately smitten with it. The effect of all this power and performance leaves other drivers in a state of shock. “What the heck just happened?!? you can almost see their lips mouthing in the rear-view mirror. Nobody expects an SUV to have this level of performance and it’s quite entertaining to gauge people’s reactions when you demonstrate it.

Hit an entertaining secondary (or tertiary) road and you’ll quickly realize that it’s not just a straight-line muscle car. The suspension makes the Stelvio Quadrifoglio a very stable and agile platform. It effortlessly follows the twisting, winding roads, never getting caught out by a curve or off-camber section or patched and rough road sections. The steering is direct and intuitive, pointing the Stelvio exactly where you want it, with the rest of the car eager to follow. With the D.N.A. selector set to Dynamic or Race, the turbo engine is always ready to provide a tidal wave or torque to shoot you up the road even faster, making the scenery out the windows even blurrier. And should you find yourself in over your head, with too much speed and too little asphalt, a reasonable application of the Brembo CCM brakes will reign everything back into compliance. At speed, the CCM brakes feel more natural, although their abilities are borderline supernatural. Really stomp on the brake pedal and you’ll hang yourself in your seatbelt. They’re extraordinary.

Engage the paddle shifters and you can take control of the transmission too. The long wide aluminum paddles (left for downshifts, right for upshifts) are almost as tall as the steering wheel so it’s almost always available to your fingers, no matter what angle you have the wheel turned to. There’s nothing worse that a slow-shifting electronic transmission when you’re trying to go fast and Alfa agrees. In Dynamic or Race mode, the shifts are rapid-fire fast and really enhance the performance capabilities of the car.

Gas mileage is rated at 17 in the city and 23 on the freeway. I don’t think I witnessed those numbers, but I have to confess that when i have a 505 hp turbo engine at my disposal, I tend to use it hard and often. I think I was regularly getting 14-15 in the city and I think I may have managed 21 on the freeway. Again, that’s with hard driving.

The performance is simply unreal. Alfa Romeo claims it’ll go from 0-60 mph in 3.6 seconds. I have experienced that. They also claim it’ll top out at 176 mph. I completely believe that too. It’s one fast machine.

The fantastic thing about the Quadrifoglio version is that it really is a driver’s SUV. It’s no less capable than any high-end sport sedan and it’ll go up against the best on the market – all while carrying more cargo in the back and providing you with a more elevated view of the road ahead. Ultimately, this is more than just a high-performance street SUV. This is a fully-trackable SUV that would probably embarrass some highly regarded performance cars at a track day event. In fact, it recently destroyed the record for an SUV at the Nurburgring with a time of 7 minutes and 51.7 seconds. That’s not just impressive, that’s mind-boggling.

While we really liked the Stelvio Ti Sport, we completely fell for the Quadrifoglio. Alfa Romeo has done a magnificent job of planning and building a top-tier performance car. That it’s an SUV is even more impressive. Now let’s go find a fun backroad to push this thing on. Or a race track.

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