If you’re going to name your SUV after one of the world’s great driving roads – arguably the greatest – then you had better come through with something truly special.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio, named for Italy’s Stelvio Pass – that winding, twisting, undulating ribbon of hairpins through the Italian Alps – promises that something special, by dint of its name alone.
The Stelvio is Alfa Romeo’s first foray into the lucrative SUV segment and the company has, it believes, instilled the ‘Spirit of Alfa Romeo’ into its high-riding soft-roader. That means, in short, drawing on the company’s 108-year heritage on both the road and the race track to come up with a genuinely sporty SUV. But has it? Let’s find out.
The genesis of the Stelvio dates back to 2003 when the company revealed its Kamal SUV concept at the Geneva motor show. Looking back at that concept now, it’s easy to see where the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio received the bulk of its chromosomes.
The Stelvio is certainly a looker, and unmistakably an Alfa Romeo. From that now signature Alfa grille, to the curvaceous bonnet and wheel arches, the Stelvio looks every bit an Alfa. It’s let down a bit, if I’m honest, by the rear styling, and in particular the way the (fake!) exhaust tips have been integrated into the rear bumper. It looks a bit rushed, as if the designers started at the front and ran out of puff by the time they got to the rear. Nit-picking? Probably. Subjective? Absolutely… but I know what I like. And what I don’t.
At the Australian launch last week, Alfa Romeo rolled out just the single variant of the Stelvio, with two drivetrains – petrol and diesel. That variant, the base Stelvio, can be had for $65,900 (plus on-roads) for the 2.0-litre petrol or $67,900 for the 2.2-litre diesel.
Alfa Romeo has also confirmed the Stelvio Ti for Australia, featuring a more powerful 2.0-litre petrol that asks for $78,900. Still to wing their way Down Under are the even more powerful Stelvio Ti and the über Stelvio, the Quadrifoglio, or QV, which will boast a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6.
Of course, as is becoming common practice for car makers when launching new models to the market, a limited run of First Edition models (200 petrol and 100 diesel) have jetted their way into local showrooms, loaded with extra kit valued at $8000, but adding a discounted $6000 to the sticker price. And it’s these two models we have on test at launch, the Stelvio First Edition priced at $71,900 and $73,900 for the petrol and diesel and respectively.
That pricing places the Stelvio firmly in the range of a host of Euro rivals from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover, meaning it will need to be a compelling package to conquest buyers in an already crowded segment.
In standard trim, without the First Edition extra bag of goodies, the Stelvio boasts a pretty handy list of inclusions. There’s 19-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels, a 7.0-inch driver's display, an 8.8-inch infotainment system with satellite navigation as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an eight-speaker sound system, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, an electric tailgate and bi-xenon headlights. And autonomous-emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, lane-departure warning, electrically-adjustable front seats and keyless entry are all standard.
Opting for the First edition throws an exclusive set of 19-inch alloys into the mix, as well as aluminium interior trims, aluminium sports pedals, black roof rails, adaptive Koni dampers, heated front sports seats, red brake calipers, sport steering wheel, panoramic roof, a 14-seaker Harman Kardon premium sound system, and rear privacy glass. Interestingly though, opting for the First Edition removes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto from the specification sheet, according to Alfa Romeo. That’s just plain weird, in our book.
Sliding into the Stelvio offers a good first impression. The cabin feels, from the outset, premium. There’s a decidedly sporty feel to the interior, with generous materials and highlights underpinning the Stelvio’s undoubted sporting pretensions. The steering wheel is a lovely thing to behold, wrapped in partially perforated leather that looks and feels like it came from a sports car, not a high-riding soft-roader. The stop-start button located on the steering wheel only adds to that sporting feel, as do the column-mounted paddle-shifters which feel solid and reassuring, crafted from aluminium as they are. There’s a tactility to the switchgear too, with knurled edges and cold metal that just feels, well, right.
The 8.8-inch infotainment screen is beautifully integrated into the dash and feels at one with the rest of the cabin. That dash, topped in soft-touch material, curves through the front of the cabin to the instrument binnacle, an analogue affair with a 7.0-inch colour driver display nestled between the two dials. There are harder plastics down low, but they are unobtrusive, even if they do feel a little low-rent.
The fit and finish of the materials seems a class above the Giulia sedan the interior borrows heavily from. But, alas, we did experience a rattle in the passenger side front window which, when you’re asking circa $70k for a premium SUV, isn’t good enough.
The back row is spacious, and comfortable too, with some of the snuggest outboard seats I have sat in. They really are very comfy, an element often overlooked for second-row passengers. Kudos. The middle pew, though, is best left for short trips. There are a couple of air vents in the back, and two USB ports for charging, to complement the single USB port and 12V auxiliary port in the front.
There’s plenty of space in the boot, with 520 litres with the back row being used. That’s if your Stelvio features a tyre inflation kit. Opt for a spare wheel, and that shrinks to 499 litres. Fold the rear seats down, however, and 1600 litres of space opens up. There are some clever touches, too, with movable tie-down hooks that can slide fore and aft on rails to ensure you can find the optimal position to secure your stuff.
But, this being an Alfa Romeo, interior comforts and touches are mere window dressing. The Spirit of Alfa, as it’s called, should live under the bonnet, that sloping, curvaceous hood that should hide performance goodness. This is, after all, an Alfa, with 108 years of Italian road and racing heritage. And that heritage brings with it, some expectations.
But, this is essentially the base model, with its 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Power outputs of 148kW (at 4500rpm) and 330Nm (at 1750rpm) should be enough to haul the 1619kg Stelvio along in a reasonably spirited fashion. But, it’s, well, a little dispiriting.
That little 2.0-litre is subdued under the bonnet, offering neither push nor noise. Acceleration is claimed at 7.2 seconds for the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint but honestly, that claim feels a little ambitious. The petrol variant just feels a little underdone, with no urgency from either the engine or the eight-speed auto. Redline is at a meagre 5500rpm too, again, a little underdone. Switching the drive mode selector to Dynamic does add some much needed oomph, but it’s not nearly enough to invoke the Spirit of Alfa Romeo.
There’s little engine note to get your pulse racing, either. The whole aural experience is rather muted, as if you have cotton wool shoved in your ears. And while this may not seem important, aren’t Alfas supposed to sound like, well, Alfas?
That eight-speed auto left to its own devices is decent enough, although there’s a bit of lag down low. Things improve when using those beautifully tactile paddle-shifters, but really, who wants to drive around town shifting manually, even if it is just a flick of the left or right wrist?
It’s a shame, really, because dynamically, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio shines. With the optional adaptive dampers in play, the ride toggles between comfortable on the highway to nicely aggressive when attacking some corners. The Stelvio stays true to its line, helped nicely by the shuffling of torque between the rear and front wheels as needed.
In gentle driving, bias is sent 100 percent to the rear wheels, but start to pile on some power during cornering and up to 50 per cent of that torque can be sent forwards to improve stability. Body roll? There’s some, but it’s minimal, and good for a vehicle playing in this segment. Road noise is minimal too, although we did experience a lot of wind noise creeping into the cabin.
Not so good is the Stelvio’s steering. While the wheel is a lovely thing to behold, and while its weighting is altogether tactile with excellent feedback, it’s a little too darty or pointy. There’s a precision to the steering that makes you smile at first, but once some corners come into play, there’s a need for constant micro adjustments on the wheel, such is its pointy nature.
None of those criticisms point to the Stelvio not being a nice SUV to drive. It’s decent enough, but its shortcomings fall right in the areas of where you want an Alfa Romeo, any Alfa Romeo, to shine. And in this base-spec petrol variant, it doesn’t. Undoubtedly, the Ti model, with its 206kW and 400Nm will go a long way to alleviating those shortcomings. And we can only imagine how much more potent both the Ti and QV variants will be when they arrive in Oz, but for now, this entry-level Stelvio isn’t it.
And that’s an interesting point. FCA’s local product arm revealed at launch that Alfa Romeo’s engineers started the Stelvio design process with the monstrous Nürburgring-crushing QV, before applying their smarts to lower specs in the range. It might seem like a logical process, but one can’t help but think the process of starting with a 375kW and 600Nm twin turbo V6 monster and then reverse-engineering it to arrive at an entry-level variant seems counter-intuitive.
All is not lost, however, for stepping into the diesel-powered Stelvio showed promise of things to come further up the range. The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel may only offer 6kW more power over its petrol sibling (154kW against 148kW) it’s in the torque stakes where the oiler outmuscles its stablemate with some 140Nm more available (470Nm versus 330).
Those extra newton metres add some much-need push to the Stelvio. With 0-100km/h dash time of 6.6 seconds, the diesel Stelvio certainly displays more of the characteristics we’ve grown to love from Alfas. There’s an urgency to the diesel that’s simply lacking in the petrol variant. And with less lag, there’s a whole lot more fun to be had when attacking some twisties.
The diesel unit is well refined, displaying none of the clatter usually associated with oilers. It’s an altogether more enjoyable driving experience. There’s even a hint of roartiness sadly missing from the petrol variant.
Alfa claims some pretty meagre fuel consumption figures for the Stelvio. In petrol trim, Alfa’s first SUV sips just 7.0L/100km on the combined cycle according to Alfa Romeo. Our test loop, which included a bit of peak hour traffic, a decent highway run and then some adventurous rural b-roads, returned an indicated 10.1L/100km. The diesel indicated a more miserly 7.4L/100km against a claim of 4.8L/100km. All in all, not too bad.
Alfa Romeo is covering the Stelvio with its standard three-year/150,000km warranty, which in this day and age is rapidly becoming sub-par coverage. There is an option to purchase five years’ warranty but really, five years should be standard as a minimum. Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km and will set you back $1455 over that same period.
Alfa Romeo is expecting the Stelvio to become the brand’s volume seller, and not just in Australia. It’s certainly playing in a crowded segment with buyers dining from a veritable plate of riches. To cut through the noise, the Stelvio needs be a compelling package, both on price and performance. And in that regard, this entry-level offering falls short.
It’ll be interesting to see what the engineers in Turin have come up with further up the range. We await eagerly, for the arrival of the Stelvio Ti and QV Down Under.
Note: This review originally referred, in error, to a Stelvio Veloce model. This has been corrected to Stelvio Ti.