Earlier this year, FCA held its annual What’s New event to show the automotive press what to expect at dealerships in the 2019 model year. For the first time ever, Alfa Romeo and Maserati were also there. They brought a fleet of performance coupes, sedans, and utility vehicles that were just as ready for the track as they were for the road. (You can read more about that event by clicking here.)
It was all part of a drive to increase media awareness of the two historic Italian brands. It’s safe to say they succeeded in doing that. They recently won two of the highest honors at the Texas Auto Writers Association’s 2018 Texas Truck Rodeo. You heard that right. Truck. Rodeo.
TAWA, as the organization is otherwise known, has been throwing the Texas Truck Rodeo since 1993. As consumer trends and the corresponding vehicles have evolved over the years, so have the rodeo’s contest categories and participating models. Nineteen manufacturers entered 57 vehicles in 18 categories covering trucks, crossovers (CUVs), and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) of all sizes at this year’s rodeo. The biggest overall prizes were the titles of Truck of Texas, CUV of Texas, and SUV of Texas.
Alfa Romeo showed up with a 2018 Stelvio Quadrifoglio performance crossover and entered it in the Luxury Crossover Utility Vehicle division. Sporting aggressive styling, nearly perfect 50:50 weight distribution, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, and a 505-horsepower twin-turbo 2.9-liter V6, it’s a vehicle with equal parts zoom and cargo room. Lexus and INFINITI rounded out the category with their 2019 UX 250h F Sport and 2019 QX50 Essential, respectively.
Maserati took on the 2019 INFINITI QX80 Limited in the Full-Size Luxury Sport Utility Vehicle class with its 2019 Levante GTS. It combines an interior trimmed with fine materials with a high-performance air suspension, all-wheel drive, and a Ferrari-built 550-horsepower/538-lb-ft twin-turbo 3.8-liter V8.
Heavy rains meant that this year’s event at the Longhorn River Ranch didn’t go according to plan. Sixty eight of my fellow automotive writers and I were supposed to spend two days driving all of the various entries on three ranch trails and the country roads surrounding the 1,632-acre exotic game hunter’s paradise.
The weather made conditions at the ranch so dangerous that the TAWA board decided to move the event to our host hotel in Bee Cave, Texas. Starting at the hotel’s parking garage, we ran a variety of paved routes that took us through the nearby suburbs and down winding country roads. We couldn’t go off-road, but that was just fine for Alfa Romeo and Maserati. Their vehicles are meant to go fast, which isn’t something you can do when you’re crawling over rocks.
Earlier this year, I attended TAWA’s Texas Auto Roundup in Decatur, Texas. Over the course of two days, I drove luxury sedans, muscle cars, performance coupes, sports cars, and crossovers around the Eagles Canyon Raceway, a challenging 2.5-mile track that comprises 11 turns and more than 100 feet of elevation change. I waited in a long line to get behind the wheel of the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio. A highly-trained factory driver rode shotgun and proceeded to coach me down every straight and through every apex of the track. “Accelerate, accelerate, accelerate. Turnturnturnturn. Brake. Brake harder. Now turn! Straighten up. Gasgasgas!” Just as impressive as his expert guidance was the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s abilities.
Flat out down Eagles Canyon’s main straightaway, its turbocharged V6 emitted a raspy snarl as my co-pilot and I absolutely rocketed forward. Looking back on it, I’m surprised I was able to process any instruction after that because the Stelvio Quadrifoglio’s acceleration was stunning. Thanks to my instructor’s well-timed prompts, I was able to fully experience the Italian phenom’s sharp and precise steering. Turn-in was immediate, as if the steering was directly wired to my brain and could sense when I wanted to dive left or dart right. The Pirelli P Zeros underneath me gripped the tarmac with an unrelenting tenacity. When I needed to scrub off speed in a hurry, I only had to apply the slightest pressure to the left pedal for the calipers to clamp down on the discs quickly and forcefully.
On the wet roads of Bee Cave during the Texas Truck Rodeo, the Stelvio Quadrifolgio was just as responsive and eager to perform. It can fit two rows of passengers and cargo behind them, but what it wants to do more than anything is go. It doesn’t matter where. All you have to do is tell it with your hands and feet. If you want to shoot down the road, it’s more than willing to make sure you do with a look of shock and pleasure on your face. Thinking of going left? It’s ready instantly. Want to hook right? Done.
The Maserati Levante GTS was a totally new experience to me. Like the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, it was an Italian utility vehicle with all-wheel drive and more than 500 horsepower, but otherwise, the Levante GTS had its own personality.
Its interior was a mixture of yesteryear and today. The ribbed leather seats and analog clock were reminders of Maserati’s past; the massive shift paddles behind the steering wheel and 3D matte carbon fiber accents were clear signs that the Levante GTS is a modern performance vehicle.
While the Alfa was raw and immediate, the Maserati was more low-key and reserved. At low speeds, its exhaust gently roared. No pop. No boom. No bark. The Levante GTS was just waiting for a signal from me. When the traffic in front of me opened up and revealed a long, clear straight-away, I used my right foot to let it know it was time to get moving. The Levante GTS delivered its ample power with a surprising smoothness that masked its frighteningly quick ability to build speed, even in the wet.
When the 2018 Texas Truck Rodeo ended, Alfa Romeo zoomed off with two awards: the titles of Luxury Crossover Utility Vehicle and CUV of Texas. Maserati roared away knowing it made the top Full-Size Luxury Sport Utility Vehicle of the rodeo and the 2018 SUV of Texas.
To test one of these award-winning vehicles yourself, go to an AutoNation Alfa Romeo or Maserati dealership. Prices for the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio start at $79,795.* The 2019 Maserati Levante GTS has a base price of $119,980.*
*MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.