A Glorious Week with the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio AWD SUV

alfa romeo car company logoA lot of car companies have been around for far longer than you may realize. For example, when I got behind the wheel of the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio AWD, I was in the latest vehicle from a company that’s been building cars since way back in 1910. The company started out as ALFA (Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili) by founder Cavalier Ugo Stella taking over a French car factory on the outskirts of Milan. Five years later engineer and entrepreneur Nicola Romeo took over the business and retooled the factory to produce military hardware for WWI. In 1920, they were back to making cars and the name of the company changed to Alfa Romeo. The first Alfa Romeo was the fabled Torpedo 20-30 HP. Not much later, the legendary Enzo Ferrari became a racing driver for ALFA. He, of course, went on to found Ferrari. In 1986, Alfa Romeo, then owned by the Italian government, was sold to the Fiat Group.

Oh, and that logo? Look closely: The Alfa Romeo logo consists of two concentric circles that enclose the two heraldic symbols of Milan. On the left, a red cross against white background and on the right, the “biscione”, a rather weird symbol depicting a crowned snake swallowing a man.

But you don’t care about the logo. You want to see the car!

2020 alfa romeo stelvio awd - front exterior

As you can see, my loaner was during a cold, snowy week. Which was no problem at all for the terrific AWD vehicle, it had a tight and reassuring grip on the road at all times, even driving across sheets of ice in 5F weather. To me, the front grill design is reminiscent of a Bugati, but it’s unquestionably a striking design that offers the basic dimensions of a modern SUV with lot of creature comforts inside.

And speaking of the inside, here’s the driver’s control area:

2020 alfa romeo stelvio awd - interior cockpit drivers console controls

Most notable was the racecar inspired choice of having the engine start button located on the steering wheel, not lost on the dashboard. You can see it above, it’s the bright red button approximately where your left thumb would rest when driving. Notice also the carbon fiber design elements. The overall cockpit design is really great, it exudes luxury and performance, something that everyone who sat in the car commented upon immediately.

Alfa Romeo‘s design team hasn’t ignored modern needs too, so you can see there’s a primary USB plug immediately behind the cup holders. Yes, cup holders, two of them, and you can pull a cover over that compartment if you prefer. Open up the armrest and there are more power options too and to my surprise, they all seemed to be Apple CarPlay capable too. On my Mazda there’s one designated CarPlay plug and the others are just for power and charging, so I appreciate the redundancy.

One of the features that distinguishes the Alfa Romeo line is their ‘dna’ control system:

2020 alfa romeo stelvio awd - dna controls shifter

Most of these controls are to manage the infotainment system (I’ll get back to that in a sec) but the left dial has RACE / d / n / a as the options. Keep in mind that I was driving the performance Quadrifoglio (think BMW M5 for comparison) model so the dna drive mode offered four options. RACE is exclusive to the Giulia Quadrifoglio & Stelvio Quadrifoglio and offers a maximum performance mode that’s designed for driving on a race track. The ‘d’ dynamic mode steps it down just a bit, offering a sporty feel with greater stability and higher accelerator pedal sensitivity. It can be a bit jerky until you figure out how to work with this mode.

The ‘n’ natural mode is all about comfort, so both the engine and transmission are set for a balanced drive experience. Worried about fuel efficiency? Then ‘a’ advanced efficiency mode is the best option. This will deactivate individual engine cylinders to maximize fuel efficiency and is great for highway driving. Turns out that this mode also offers better traction controls for poor weather driving, an interesting (and logical) choice. I mostly drove the Stelvio in this mode.

With performance in mind, the Stelvio also had the biggest paddle shifters I’ve ever seen in a car:

2020 alfa romeo stelvio quadrifoglio awd - paddle shifters

They’re the huge silver bars just behind the left and right sides of the steering wheel and they let you manually step up and down gears. With this vehicle, that gives you control over the 8-speed transmission behind the 2.9L 505HP Twin-Turbocharged V6 engine. Yes, this baby can go fast and accelerate onto a highway with no effort at all. Good fun, actually. In fact, the speedometer goes up to 200mph and people have shared track runs of over 160mph. I didn’t get anywhere near that speed, needless to say!

The 2019 model year features a wide display infotainment system and while they have added a split-screen feature, it was a bit disconcerting because there’s no displayed split line. Leading to this sort of appearance:

2020 alfa romeo stelvio quadrifoglio awd - split entertainment system

Hard to see, but the compass w/ geolocation info is the right screen, while the left demonstrates the overall system controls. All of this is managed by the dials and buttons near the shifter (you can see them in an earlier photo). The control system reminded me of the BMW X Drive and the Mazda Connect system; it’s smart and it’s in the right place to let you work with the system without having to take your eyes off the road. Smart design. Still, there were some quirks in this first year of release that I expect will be smoothed out with another year or two of experience with drivers using this system in production vehicles. Certainly the additional screen was nice, even if the infotainment system didn’t really utilize it well.

Stepping back outside into the cold, here’s a shot that lets you more easily see the SUV lines of the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio:

2020 alfa romeo stelvio quadrifoglio awd - exterior rear

Can you see the white triangle with the green shamrock on the front of the vehicle? That’s the medallion for the “quadrifoglio” performance version and quadrifoglio literally translates to four leaf clover. Presumably for luck. And if I may be a bit salty for a second, the BMW M5 logo is really cool. This one? Seems kinda dorky. Might be time for a redesign, Alfa Romeo.

Another thing worth noting are the wheels. The Stelvio has really cool wheels. Check it out:

2020 alfa romeo stelvio quadrifoglio awd - custom wheels

These are known as the Dark 5-Hole Aluminum Wheels and it’s a $500 add-on, but oh, those sexy wheels. Love ’em!

Surprisingly, Alfa Romeo didn’t stint on one key feature that makes an SUV so popular: Cargo space…

2020 alfa romeo stelvio quadrifoglio awd - rear cargo space trunk

There’s a rather remarkable amount of cargo space in the Stelvio for all your winter gear, summer beach accessories, whatever you want. In fact, the entire vehicle was big, roomy and comfortable. My only complaint in the comfort department is that the driver and passenger seats are narrow, with their racing car seat style side supports. If you’re not a narrow torso, you might find that rather uncomfortable and there’s no way to adjust this either. Bigger drivers and passengers, you’ve been warned.

One more photo before we wrap up: The main console gauge layout. Simple, solid and, yes, that little four-leaf clover shows up again:

2020 alfa romeo stelvio quadrifoglio awd - main console gauges

Disappointingly, the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio gets pretty poor gas mileage. Look closely at the green bar along the bottom and the tiny dot shows average fuel efficiency: About 19mpg. And that’s without me driving in RACE mode, without me flying along the highway with police cars streaming along behind me, just regular city and highway driving. EPA numbers for this model are 17/23, so I wasn’t even getting to the top end of their own efficiency numbers. I suppose if you can afford an $88K luxury SUV you can afford the gas too, but efficiency is about the environment just as much as it’s about your own fuel costs, and in this regard, the Alfa Romeo was a let down. If I’m not utilizing all the performance features, why not deliver a drive at 25-30mpg, at a minimum?

Still, the Stelvio was a lot of fun to drive, every single passenger was wow’d by the vehicle, and lots of people stopped and talked to me about it when they saw it in the parking lot or in the neighborhood. You can feel the racing legacy and long history of this fabled brand when you’re behind the wheel and while it might not be the best luxury SUV in its price range, there are definitely some things to love about the exotic Stelvio AWD.

CONFIGURATION: 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio AWD, Rosso exterior, Black interior. 2.9L 505HP twin-turbocharged V6 engine with 8-speed automatic transmission. Optional equipment: Rosso exterior paint, Quadrifoglio AWD package, Driver assist dynamic package, Nero Edizione, convenience package, dual pane sunroof, heated rear seat, carbon fiber steering wheel, aluminum wheels. BASE PRICE: $79,995. AS DRIVEN: $88,140 (includes $1,595 destination charge).

Disclaimer: Alfa Romeo loaned me the Stelvio for a week to drive in return for this review. Grazie mille, Alfa!

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