Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio

In a world of plain vanilla sport-utility vehicles, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio is a tasty serving of stracciatella. As it shares the underpinnings of the automaker’s Guilia sedan, the Italian maker’s first SUV is one of the rare examples in the category that puts the accent on the word, “sport.” It takes but a few laps on the Circuit of the Americas, the serpentine Formula One track outside of Austin, Texas, to realize this Italian beauty has more than just good looks.

With its 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6 punching out a blistering 505 horsepower, we blast out of COTA’s Turn 20 and push close to its top speed of 176 mph. The reason it takes almost as long to say the name as it does to go from 0 to 60 (3.6 seconds) has to do with history. Stelvio is a most famously treacherous pass through the Italian Alps. (On another day, we’ll be learning the new ute is as sure-footed as a mountain goat, which enhances our confidence behind the wheel.) As for its last name, take a closer look at the front fenders and you’ll see a quadrifoglio, or four-leaf clover. Back in the 1920s, Alfa was a dominant racing force, but Ugo Sivocci, the team’s fourth driver, was a consistent also-ran—until his mechanic adorned his car with a green quadrifoglio painted atop a white square. Sivocci won that race and another and another. But in 1923, while testing a new car without his lucky charm, he crashed and died. Ever since, all Alfa race cars—along with its fastest street models—bear a quadrifoglio in a triangle, rather than a square, to honor the missing driver.

Our own Quadrifoglio is equipped with some of today’s most advanced safety features, including blindspot detection as well as  forward collision warning with auto-braking, though you can also shut off most of these “nanny systems” if you’re pushing the extremes on a track like COTA.

When not pushed to the limits, the Stelvio is a comfort to drive. Despite a relatively compact footprint, it is surprisingly roomy inside, with a distinct flair to the cabin. Both elegant and uncluttered, it has leather, wood and metal accents reminiscent of chic Italian furniture. It not only looks good, but has a delightful, tactile feel. And the 12-way driver’s seat will keep you firmly in place, even on the 58-turn Stelvio Pass.

At a starting price of $79,995, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio isn’t cheap, but in this SUV’s case your paying for the sport as well as the utility.