Entry price: $79,995
Price as tested: $85,890

When you test drive a vehicle that states on the dashboard “cruise control not operative in race mode,” you know you’re driving something special.

Very special.

Enter the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the Italian-built small to midsize SUV that is taking the United States performance market by storm. Delivered in top class Quadrifoglio dress with AWD, this Alfa features an all-aluminum Ferrari-designed 2.9-liter V6 that produces 505 horsepower and 443 lb. ft. of torque from its twin-turbo, four valves per cylinder design.

As noted in last week’s review of the Alfa Romeo Giulia, the trio of Fiat, Ferrari and Alfa have been engaging in joint efforts for decades. This Stelvio Quadrifoglio co-op just might be its very best effort to date as up front I’ll admit this Alfa Romeo is clearly one of the most exciting vehicles I’ve ever driven. This includes over 1,500 different vehicles test driven over a career that spans four decades.

Throughout the Stelvio test drive, this SUV felt more like a high dollar sports car or sport sedan. Its top speed is 176, and thanks to the Pirelli performance tires in 20-inch design (a little wider tires in the back), the stage is set for safe high speed driving be it at a race track event day or cruising the Autobahn in Germany. Either way, this Alfa Romeo is ready for some real driving and delivers in spades whatever you call on it to do.

Although Stelvio may be a “sleeper” to those who may not know what lies beneath the hood, it is still loaded with the personality that has made the modern Alfa Romeo cars and SUVs the pride of many performance enthusiasts. You’ll immediately notice the trademark triangular grille, and then wonder why there are four leaf clover badges prominent on each front fender and the door sills front and rear.

A quick search finds that the word “Quadrifoglio” is Italian for “Four Leaf Clover,” answering the riddle that puzzled onlookers and those happy passengers who had a chance to ride in this outstanding vehicle.

As for the 2.9-liter V6 Ferrari twin turbo, Ferrari basically took its V8 twin turbo engine, shaved off two cylinders, and made a very potent V6 that nestles nicely into the Stelvio engine bay. This 505-horse design mates to Alfa’s outstanding 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters that allows full control of revs in manual mode. You’ll go through the gears like a Formula 1 race driver without missing a beat or feeling that “it would do better if it were a manual.” Clearly this special high performance automatic is better than a manual, the latter which is not available.

Most notable is what Stelvio offers as for different driving modes. Alfa calls this feature a DNA select system whereas a driver can rotate a circular switch that allows four different driving styles to choose from. Included is D for dynamic, where Stelvio automatically stiffens the dampers and tightens the suspension. It also adds more throttle control and is a popular choice.

N is for Normal, featuring a softer suspension and a quieter exhaust tone. Everyday driving would be a decent choice for N mode.

A is for advanced efficiency, as the RPMs drop while cruising and is somewhat like an overdrive for freeway driving. The A offers a more efficient and economical ride, but to be honest we spent very little time in this mode during our week long test.

Then there’s the R, which is for Race mode. Here, all of the traction controls, cruise control and safety settings turn off automatically with full control given to the driver.

R mode totally changes the exhaust to a near IndyCar or Formula 1 sound with a growl that is addictive to those who love the sound of real horsepower, Ferrari and Alfa style. This Race mode also offers zero to 60 mph acceleration in the 3.5 to 3.9 second range with unreal throttle response available. The suspension stiffens dramatically while the Brembo brakes and Pirelli tires work in tandem to deliver unforgettable spirited performance.

In Race mode, a Stelvio Quadrifoglio AWD ran Germany’s world famous 12.9-mile Nurburgring race course in just 7:51.7, for a new overall record for an SUV. The driver was Fabio Francia, a professional with many Nurburgring laps to his credit. Making yet more Alfa history, he took a lighter weight Giulia Quadrifoglio with the 505 horse Ferrari engine to a 7:32.0 run, better than the famous German performance cars.

We tested the Alfa at a private raceway, and when slowing down from a controlled 135 mph acceleration test, not only did the gigantic multi-pad race-bred carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes bring the Stelvio back down to 60 mph in just a few seconds, the transmission rev matched and downshifted all by itself during the process. The AWD torque vectoring decides how much traction it gives to the wheels and varies based on driving conditions. Alfa recommends utilizing the manual paddle shifters for maximum response and driving excitement when in Race mode.

The overall experience?

Exhilarating, especially considering you’re behind the wheel of a two-ton plus SUV.

Although we haven’t spent much time on amenities, the Stelvio delivers comfort and luxury, too. There are nice Alcantra leather stitched seating with Alfa logos, carbon fiber interior trim, good head and legroom for rear seat passengers and decent to good cargo room. Your Alfa Romeo dealer will go over everything when you visit.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 111 inches, 4,360 lb. curb weight, 18.5 to 56.6 cu. ft. if cargo space, 16.9-gallon fuel tank, and 7.9-inch ground clearance. EPA estimates are decent with 19 city and 23 highway the MPG numbers.

“Non Ferrari” Stelvios start at $40,000, while our tester came in at $85,890 with a few options and destination.

Alfa Romero says, “The race-inspired engineering of the Stelvio Quadrifoglio was created for those who seek the highest level of performance and utility.”

Yes, it’s all true. This Alfa Romeo Stelvio is the best SUV I’ve ever driven, so if you’re shopping this exclusive class of vehicle, you must drive one.

Likes: Big time performer, fun to drive, 505-horses, great looks.
Dislikes: Paddle shifters too large, small display screen, nothing else.
Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and GateHouse Media. Contact him at greg@gregzyla.com.