It’s official. Cars are dead. The first or second best-selling vehicle in every major (and most minor) auto manufacturer’s lineup is an SUV – including legendary sports car maker Alfa Romeo thanks to its newly introduced SUV, the Stelvio.
Named after one of the world’s great driving roads, the Stelvio Pass, Alfa promises their mid-sized SUV will deliver on an authentic and emotional Italian driving experience. The questions are, just how emotional can a high-bodied vehicle designed for the convenient conveyance of both people and cargo make its driver feel? And what, if anything, contributes to that feeling?
For Stelvio, it starts with design. This is one of the more sporting and sophisticated expressions of the two-box SUV. The proportions between the engine compartment and body are well balanced. With the wheels pushed far to the corners, the sculpted fenders and sloping roofline create a stance that signifies this SUV is designed to be driven. Alfa Romeo’s signature triangle grille centers a front end that incorporates adaptive bi-xenon headlamps surrounded by LED running lights and large air intakes to help the engine suck in all the oxygen necessary to deliver all its power.
The only engine option for now is a four-cylinder, two-liter turbocharged affair that delivers a surprising 280 horsepower and a healthy 306 lb.-ft. of torque to all four wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. This is enough to motivate the 4,044 pound SUV from a stop to 60 miles per hour in just 5.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 144 miles per hour. This summer you’ll be able to buy the Quadrifoglio version of the Stelvio. Its Ferrari-developed, twin-turbo V6 will deliver 505 horses, and if its stablemate, the Giulia Quadrifoglio, is any indication it will challenge the Porsche Macan Turbo for performance supremacy in this category.
But back to the standard Stelvio, where it really shines is its handling. Short of the aforementioned Macan, this is the most car-like SUV on the road today. That’s not by accident. Alfa’s chief technical officer, Roberto Fedeli, has said that his intention was to have the Stelvio drive just like the Giulia. To compensate for the higher center of gravity and extra weight they added beefier springs to the double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspensions, providing a ride that while not 4C stiff certainly leans heavily toward the sporting side.
The all-wheel-drive system is rear-biased so coming out of corners you get a little oversteer before it transfers more power to the front and the traction control (which can’t be disabled) kicks in effectively ending the fun. Overcook it into the corners and you will feel it push. Due to the AWD system, you won’t be able to correct that situation with the throttle. You just have to ride it out and suffer the indignation of your indiscretion. This isn’t a car to drive at ten/tenths. You’ll have to wait for the Quadrifoglio version for that.
The Stelvio’s interior is clean, simple, and understated. My tester was black on black on black with aluminum accents (wood inserts are also available). The feeling is more Ferragamo than Gucci, opting for sleek and modern over bling and flash. This shows up in the instrument panel and infotainment systems as well, where simple graphics and classic round gauges dominate the view. This philosophy serves the driving information well but creates some issues when you move to the center stack and the infotainment system.
My car had the optional 8.8-inch touchscreen system with 3D navigation and Sirius/XM satellite radio. While simple interface looks good, there were a few functional shortcomings. The first and most obvious are the radio controls. The on/off/volume knob is located on the passenger side of the center console just aft of the shift lever, not the most obvious or convenient location.. There is no dedicated tuning knob. You can toggle through your presets with the buttons on the steering wheel or scroll through the station list using either the touchscreen or the scroll wheel on the center console, but only after you’ve navigated to the station list – a task that’s not entirely intuitive. I know I only had the car for a week and given time would adapt to its quirks, but really, changing the station on the radio shouldn’t be this hard. A lot of other journalists have wondered why Alfa didn’t opt for Chrysler’s generally excellent Uconnect system. I put myself in that camp. The second nit is the finish of the dashboard. It’s a single piece of textured, soft-touch plastic that looks and feels out of place. The fit is fine, but on a car that sells for north of fifty large, you’d expect leather or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof, not molded plastic that would be at home in a LeBaron from the early 1990s. Only when you move up to the Lusso trim package do you get leather on the dash.
Get past those two issues and things improve very quickly. Equipped with the cold-weather package, the heated leather seats were plenty comfortable and supportive. Opt for the sport model and the seats add extra bolstering, but I didn’t ever feel like I needed it no matter how hard I tossed the Stelvio around. The heated, flat-bottomed steering wheel feels great and incorporates the start/stop button on the left side of the wheel. Rear seat legroom and comfort is more than adequate and joy of joys there are two USB ports back there along with two up front for a total of four so no one has to arm wrestle for the phone charger. Other options on my Stelvio were the 900-watt, 14-speaker Harmon Kardon audio system which provided excellent sound and the optional panoramic sunroof which, frankly, I could live without. I rarely open the sunroof when I’m in a car and it adds weight where you least want it in a car, up high.
Rear visibility isn’t great thanks to the sloping rear glass, but of course, the rear camera mitigates that. With all the packages loaded onto this Stelvio, you get all the safety features of which adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning are the two most intrusive. There’s also forward collision alert, blind spot monitoring, electronic stability control, hill descent control, rear cross-traffic alert, and parking assist sensors. Apparently, they really want to make sure you know you’re close to that parking barrier because the audio alert for these sensors is LOUD. Jarringly so. I swear Pete Townsend would reach for earplugs were he driving this car. I went through the manual and the system menus on the infotainment system to try to adjust the alert volume but couldn’t find a way to do it. I finally just turned the parking sensors off. Problem solved.
The Stelvio is one of the best looking SUVs on the road today and for a utility vehicle, it’s an absolute joy to drive. Its shortcomings, however, may give you pause. It is beautifully flawed – both incredibly desirable and just a little maddening. And that’s what makes it a true Alfa Romeo.
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Four-door, five-passenger, mid-size Sport Utility Vehicle
Base price: $41,995 excluding destination
Price as tested: $52,435 includes $995 destination charge
Optional equipment: AWD ($1,800), Montecarlo Blue Metallic paint ($600), 19-inch 5-hole aluminum wheels with performance all-season tires ($750), 8.8-inch touch screen with 3D nave and 1-year Sirius/XM subscription ($1,900), Harmon Kardon premium audio ($900), dual-pane sunroof ($1,350), forward collision warning plus ($500), cold weather package ($795), convenience package ($200), driver assist dynamic plus package ($1,500), driver assist static package ($1,800), aluminum interior accents ($300), custom painted yellow brake calipers ($350)
Engine: 2.0-liter, turbocharged, direct-injected inline four cylinder overhead cam with four valves per cylinder.
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with manual shift mode
Power: 280 HP @ 5,200 RPM
Torque: 306 lb.-ft. @2,000 – 4,800 RPM
Curb weight: 4,044 lbs.
0-60 MPH: 5.4 seconds
Top speed: 144 MPH aerodynamically limited
Fuel: Premium unleaded required
EPA MPG: 22 City, 28 Highway, 24 Combined
Photos courtesy of Alfa Romeo.
FCA provided the vehicle for review with a full tank of gas. The opinions in this post are 100% our own.