If you think long and hard about it, buying an Alfa Romeo SUV doesn’t really make much sense.
SUVs are synonymous with practicality, family friendliness, boot space and off-road capabilities. Alfa is known for the exact opposite – in a good way.
And yet, the Italian marque couldn’t resist the economic lure of popping its badge on something with such mass appeal (I don’t blame them) and, thus, the Stelvio was born in 2017.
Alfa offers its first and only crossover in Australia (the 33 4x4 Giardinetta and 156 Crosswagon were never officially sold here) in three flavours: the entry-level Stelvio (in both petrol and diesel guise), the beefed-up, performance Stelvio Quadrifoglio and the middle child: the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti I’m testing here.
Essentially, it’s for the discerning buyer who wants to be reminded they’re driving an Alfa Romeo, but doesn’t need a V6 engine or a top speed of 283km/h. Don’t be mistaken, though, the Ti’s outputs are far from modest at a very respectable 206kW of power and 400Nm of torque.
Is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti an expensive car compared to its competitors?
At $78,900 plus on-road costs, the Ti is $71,000 cheaper than the more powerful Quadrifoglio, but gutsier and $13,000 more expensive than the base petrol offering.
With options, the model reviewed here came to $92,745 plus on-road costs as tested, mainly thanks to a $3210 sunroof, $2860 active suspension system and, most expensive of all, a $4550 lick of tri-coat Trofeo white paint. I’ll be honest, I didn’t really get the point of the tri-coat paint. To me, it just looked white. Sorry.
Approaching $100,000 with options isn’t cheap, but when you consider peers in that bracket of the market – big, fast, stylish SUVs from prestige brands – it’s about what you’d expect to pay.
Direct competitors include the Jaguar F-Pace, which starts at $80,167 plus on-road costs for a petrol all-wheel-drive model, the BMW X3 is a cool $81,900 plus on-roads for a similar spec, and the Porsche Macan starts at $81,800 plus on-road costs. If you wanted to maintain your Italian allegiance the larger Maserati Levante will set you back $125,000 plus on-road costs for a petrol AWD variant.
Fair to note too, that you should be in a good position to negotiate a sharper-than-retail price on one of these. Alfa are currently offering demonstrators from $49,990 drive-away - which is a solid $18k under MSRP.
What kind of car is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti?
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti I drove was not the 2020 update, but rather the 2019 iteration boasting a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol engine that drives all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The 2020 model-year update will bring with it a heavily revised infotainment system featuring a touchscreen, plus more storage in the centre console and a wireless phone charger. It's not due to arrive until closer to 2021 though.
The touchscreen update was music to my ears, because that was one of my first major problems with the 2019 Stelvio Ti: the screen is nearly impossible to navigate with the rotary dial – particularly if you’re a regular user of Apple CarPlay.
In order to access the Spotify or Maps icons down the right-hand side of the screen, I’d have to scroll all the way down to the bottom of my messages list, which was not doable while driving.
Is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti a good car to drive?
Speaking of driving, the Stelvio Ti is loads of fun behind the wheel – provided you’re on a freeway. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the racy SUV really excelled at higher speeds. It’s quiet in terms of deadening road noise, but emits a rewarding engine growl as you accelerate.
Like an unbridled Italian racehorse (is that a thing? Italian racehorses? It is now), the Stelvio Ti is more comfortable out on the open roads, with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters to up the tactile factor. These paddle shifters are so comically large, however, that they almost entirely block the indicator and wiper stalks, which can prove problematic when changing lanes.
I found the Ti to be an incredibly sporty ride, and it was also impressively fast for its size (its tare weight is 1648kg). It’s not quite at the same level as the V8-powered Jaguar F-Pace SVR (a car I drove and loved several months prior), but it bridges the gap between run-of-the-mill SUV and sports car quite nicely.
I did, however, feel the steering was a little mismatched with the overall feel of the car. It’s lighter than expected, and could be firmed up in order to match the overall athleticism of the car. I also would have loved some more responsive brakes – low to moderate input on the brake pedal didn’t feel like it elicited much of an outcome.
For a weekend of freeway driving, I kept the car mostly in dynamic mode, which makes its engine and steering more responsive, but with sparing traction control. Crossing a muddy driveway, the car definitely felt more like a sports car out of its depth than an SUV. The wheels felt like they were sliding and skating on the wet surface, and while I didn’t feel unsafe, I swiftly switched to all-weather mode which more carefully controls car’s traction.
Around town, driving in dynamic mode will also make for a pretty rough ride if you’re used to a typical SUV. Even switching to ‘natural mode’ won’t cut through some of the harsher sensations that come up through the Stelvio’s cabin. Let’s just say I didn’t enjoy going over speed bumps.
This harder ride suits the car at higher speeds, but driving around suburbia it can feel pretty jolty. Not helping this is the fact the Stelvio’s idle-stop is also far from perfect. After coming to a complete stop, the engine was often delayed in restarting, jumping forward once it got going in a way I found a little hard to live with on a daily basis. There’s occasionally a lag between pedal and engine response, too, which can again prove frustrating.
Further contributing to the Stelvio Ti’s less-than-ideal urban handling is its limited visibility as a result of a small, sloped rear windshield. Of course, front and rear sensors, front- and rear-vision cameras and lane-departure warnings remedy this problem to a point, but those who favour head checks could feel slightly hamstrung.
Indicators and wipers are also a little dysfunctional – it’s hard to know what level the wipers are operating at based on feel alone, while the indicators rarely register a turn and stay ticking until you turn them off.
Is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti a fuel-efficient car?
I covered a fair bit of ground during my week in the Stelvio Ti, and I was impressed that, by the end of it, there was still more than a quarter of a tank of petrol left. The Ti drinks 95RON and Alfa quotes a combined fuel consumption of 7.0L/100km – 8.9L/100km for urban driving and 5.9L/100km for freeway driving.
For around five days of city driving, the real-world figure crept up to 13.4L/100km. However, I reset the trip computer for a weekend trip down the Bellarine Peninsula and it clocked 7.6L/100km for 327km of mostly freeway driving with some stop-start city driving at the beginning and end. Not bad, not bad at all.
Is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti a safe car?
The Stelvio range was last tested by ANCAP in 2017, when it received five stars. Its lowest score was 60 per cent for safety-assist technologies, and it is true the Stelvio Ti is missing some safety features its competitors offer as standard.
There are crucial inclusions like autonomous emergency braking, a speed limiter (accessed through the main infotainment menu) and blind-spot monitoring, but no head-up display or lane-trace assist or active lane-keeping assist – which means the Stelvio Ti will tell you if you’re leaving your lane, but it won’t steer you back in, nor will it centre the car in its lane as you drive.
To be fair, the active cruise-control system is really efficient. It immediately clocks when a car has pulled in front and slows accordingly, and it passed my ultimate test: maintaining its speed on the downhill slope of the West Gate Bridge.
Plenty of other cars’ cruise-control systems have come undone, either unable or unwillingly to brake accordingly, which means you get up over 80km/h just as the speed cameras kick in. The Stelvio Ti, however, kept its cool.
Does the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti have a good infotainment system?
The infotainment system on offer, as previously mentioned, is another area in which the Stelvio Ti falls down. The screen feels like it’s angled away from the driver and can be hard to see in certain lights. Also, the controller is difficult to manage, particularly while on the move.
The Stelvio Ti boasts Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, in-built satellite navigation and digital radio as standard.
Is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti a spacious and comfortable car?
Like other performance SUVs, the Stelvio Ti tends to prioritise looks and performance over functionality. The back seat can feel cramped with the driver’s seat a little further out, leaving leg and toe room quite limited for adults, but there are air vents, a massive armrest with cupholders and two rear USB ports.
I found the bright red leather front seats, although rather fetching, quite uncomfortable on longer drives, but electric lumbar adjustment and heating helped soothe my back pain woes.
Storage throughout the cabin could be better – the glovebox and centre console are deceptively small – while the power tailgate reveals a 499L boot, which in my car was diminished from the usual 525L thanks to the addition of a $390 compact spare tyre. That’s less room than the boot of an Audi Q3 or BMW X3, but more than a Porsche Macan.
Fit and finish too just didn't feel as high quality as you would expect at this price point, and not quite up to the level delivered by the aforementioned competitors.
Should I buy the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti?
If you’re a long-time Alfa fan looking for a fun way to get to your beach house on the weekends, the Stelvio Ti is a happy medium between unabashed sports car and spacious SUV. You’ll sacrifice some of the technological slickness and standard equipment of some of its peers for the pleasure of Alfa’s behind-the-wheel feel and (occasionally dysfunctional) charm.
As a suburban runabout, it doesn’t entirely fit the bill, but if you’re shopping at Alfa Romeo it’s unlikely practicality is at the top of your priority list anyway. Lower-than-expected fuel consumption, stylish design, and an engine with lots of kick sweeten the deal and make it an enticing and distinctive proposition in its class.
My tip? Opt for the 2020 model-year update so you don’t have to deal with that damn rotary dial. Because we all deserve a touchscreen in 2020.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated the Stelvio is not equipped with a speed limiter. In fact it does have a speed limiter as standard, and this featured can be accessed via the main menu.