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A Hot-blooded Grocery-getter

November 24, 2018 GMT

Searing acceleration, catlike reflexes, 505 horsepower and mountainous torque are not qualities one might normally associate with seating for five and a roomy cargo hold. But such is the popularity of the midsize crossover form (think Toyota Highlander, Ford Escape, Honda Pilot and so forth) that manufacturers are cranking out versions to fill every nook and cranny of the market segment, which, as this week’s test driver shows, includes track-ready asphalt chewers. Leading this parade have been tweaked and tuned offerings from the likes of Porsche and Mercedes-Benz. Italian carmaker Alfa Romeo is now making its case with a stoked version of the Stelvio, which is thus appended with Quadrifoglio, or “QF” for short. The standard rear-biased all-wheel-drive system is powered by a twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V-6 that’s rated at an eye-popping 505 horsepower and 443 foot-pounds of torque. Power is channeled through a quick-witted eight-speed automatic transmission, all of which is augmented by Alfa’s cleverly named DNA (Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency) multimode selectable performance system. As such, the Stelvio QF delivers performance that in recent track tests bested German entries like the Porsche Macan Turbo, and in some cases rivaled that of tuned sports sedans and coupes. Acceleration is best described as blistering (an overused adjective but fully fitting here), with 60 mph arriving in just a few ticks more than three seconds. And despite a porky 4,360-pound curb weight, the Stelvio QF handles in the best sports-car tradition with telepathic steering response, sport-tuned suspension and — when pressed — a firecracker exhaust note. There’s a premium to be paid for all this go-fast gear, of course, with the QF’s base price starting at $79,795. Compared to the regular Stelvio’s $43,190 base sticker, and given that vehicle’s already performance-oriented 2.0-liter turbocharged in-line-four (280 horsepower and 306 foot-pounds of torque) and overall chassis setup, the price differential might seem a little extreme. But “extreme” is what the QF package is all about. Tractable and easy to live with around town, one still can sense the vehicle’s potential lurking just beneath the civilized veneer, whether it’s from the lightning-quick steering response, the touchy feel of the front and rear Brembo disc braking system, or the deeply bolstered and heated front sport seats with suede inserts. A quick stab at the accelerator sends the Stelvio hurtling forward in a seemingly endless rush of power. In my nearly 20 years of reviewing, the Stelvio QF stands out as one of the most-bonkers vehicles I’ve tested, which is pretty amazing considering its crossover roots. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the average driver tapping even 50 percent of the performance on tap here without a track pass or an abandoned airstrip at their disposal. Having written that, I should add that the turbo-six engine is surprisingly fuel efficient; our observed 19.3 mpg in a week of combined driving bettered the EPA’s estimate of 19 mpg. The eight-speed automatic transmission picks its shift points precisely and quickly — it’s so good, in fact, that I pretty much skipped using the manumatic paddle shifters. The only hiccup during the Stelvio’s weeklong visit came with a false warning message about imminent transmission failure. The signal promptly disappeared after restart, and Alfa Romeo technicians were later unable to replicate the situation. Ride quality is quite good for a vehicle with such lofty asphalt-chewing capability. The sport-tuned adaptive suspension is fairly forgiving on all but the most crumbling road surfaces, although I suspect the going will be too busy for some. The list of standard equipment is long, and includes nearly all the sorts of creature comforts and conveniences one might expect at this price point. In addition to keyless entry, dual-mode quad exhaust system, power liftgate, power-folding sideview mirrors and rain-sensitive wipers, there’s also a thumping Harman Kardon premium audio setup, 7-inch color LCD infotainment interface, a pair of steering-wheel-mounted aluminum paddle shifters, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with lumbar settings, and more. Our particular Stelvio QF topped out at $83,690, largely due to the $1,500 Driver Assist Dynamic Plus Package (adaptive cruise control, enhanced forward-collision warning sensors, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams and infrared-reflecting windshield) and a $1,595 delivery tab. The Stelvio’s exterior manages to split the difference between Italian elegance and standard-fare crossover functionality. The brand-specifying inverted-triangle grille is the centerpiece of a handsome arrangement of air intakes and LED headlamps, all of which flow into the tastefully sculpted sheet metal. In addition to the Quadrifoglio badging on the front quarter panel, there’s a set of blacked-out 20-inch alloy wheels — 9 inches wide up front and 10 inches in back — shod with summer tires, a pair of yes-they-really-work hood vents, and some beefy-looking tailpipe clusters integrated into the rear bumper. The interior lays on the leather-lined luxury, and reportedly is a notch or three above and beyond the non-QF model, which we haven’t had the opportunity to test, yet. Instrumentation is easy to read and operate, especially the infotainment interface that’s operated via a console-mounted controller knob. 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio AWD Vehicle type: Four-door, five-passenger midsize high-performance crossover. Base/as-tested prices: $79,795/$83,690. Engine and transmission: 2.9-liter twin-turbocharged V-6 (505 horsepower, 443 foot-pounds torque), eight-speed automatic with sport-mode and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. EPA estimates: 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway, 19 mpg combined. The good: Blistering acceleration and handling for a 2-plus-ton, five-passenger crossover; tractable and easy enough to live with in town; a beast on the entrance ramp and through highway passing maneuvers; catlike reflexes thanks to sport-tuned suspension and dialed-in drive-by-wire steering system; comfortable and attractively designed cabin; all-day cozy and well-bolstered front sport seats; adult-sized legroom in split-folding rear bench; exterior design projects Italian panache; surprisingly good fuel economy for an asphalt-chewer. The bad: Touchy brake feel at lower speeds; electrical gremlin in the form of a false warning alert regarding the automatic transmission; rough ride over lumpy pavement; a vanishingly small percentage of owners will tap the vehicle’s performance potential (I know I didn’t). Bottom line: In a world of hot German-sourced crossovers, here a chance to be the first on your block to roll with an Italian accent.