Even if Italian beauty were only skin deep, maybe that would be enough when it comes to cars and crossovers.
The new Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s first crossover or SUV, whichever you wish to label it, is a beauty. Its face is unique in today’s bland auto world with a rounded distinctive nose that immediately signals to car connoisseurs that this is an Alfa. And what the hay, a little Italian styling passion can be easy on the eyes.
Stelvio, named for a famed road in Italy’s Alps, also embodies the Alfa heritage for sporty performance. For years Alfas were major competitors and winners at European racetracks. Heck, Enzo Ferrari got his start managing Alfa’s race team pre-World War II.
Even in the tested base trim Stelvio performs more like the sport sedan it’s based on, the Giulia, than you’d expect in a modest-sized crossover. Like so many of today’s new vehicles, the Stelvio goes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 under its lean and long hood. That might sound small for an SUV, but this unit cranks a spritely 280 horsepower with a 306 torque rating.
There’s not a lot of rumble since it’s a turbo, but the Stelvio gallops up to highway speeds like a race horse that has just been spurred in the rump. There’s a bit of engine yowl from under the hood, but only a twinge to let you know you’re not driving a domestic.
Not surprisingly the Alfa prefers premium fuel’s higher octane to light the fire in its belly. Power kicks in quickly with no noticeable turbo lag and the sporty 8-speed ZF transmission seems beautifully suited to the turbo, providing smooth, efficient shifts.
Like most high-end vehicles today the Alfa also boasts three driving modes via its DNA system. That’s D for Dynamic, N for Natural and A for Advanced Efficiency, what others usually call Eco mode. You don’t need it here because a Stelvio buyer will really only want the pony power available in D and N.
D firms up the steering to beyond BWM standards of tight and responsive while also kicking the gear shift program to a more aggressive level that boosts low-end torque, enhancing acceleration. It’s invigorating.
N is perfectly fine and the Stelvio still handles nicely with a sporty edge, just a touch more play in the wheel. Acceleration also remains on the sporty side, but not quite as aggressive. It’s fine for city driving.
All-wheel drive, called Q4 by Alfa, is standard on all four Stelvio models and gave the Stelvio good traction on rain-thrashed highways.
Ride is well-controlled too and I drove this one to central Indiana and back. While I-65 is mostly a chippy ride as its pavement near Indianapolis has deteriorated, the ride never became harsh. Stelvio provides a sporty feel without delivering a punishing patoot pounding. Thank Alfa’s double-wishbone suspension up front and its patented Alfa Link in back.
Braking is fine with four-piston front disc brakes and single-piston rear calipers. Those binders also were painted yellow here with black Alfa Romeo script on them to enhance their sporty appearance. The special paint treatment costs $350 extra. I liked it; women passengers declared it cheesy!
While red would seem the optimum and preferred color on any Alfa, this test unit was a rich Monte Carlo Blue ($600 extra), a dark and sparkly metallic blue that looked great on sunny days. A couple city workers stopped by in their central Indiana public works truck to ogle it in a parking lot, declaring it the best looking SUV they’d ever seen. I couldn’t argue!
In profile Stelvio looks like an Infiniti to me, but the nose sets it off. Ironically, the Subaru Tribeca in its first iteration sported an equally dynamic nose, but that was scuttled in a quick remake in hopes of increasing sales. I’ll bet this one sells with more passion!
Inside, the test crossover boasted a black leather interior. Leather is standard on all models, and there was textured aluminum trim on the dash, doors and console. The aluminum trim adds $300, but is pretty darned spiffy.
Overhead was a massive dual-panel sunroof that bathed the dark interior in light when its covering screen was retracted. The big sunroof is a $1,350 option, but brought a big “wow” factor inside the Alfa.
Stelvio’s dash is well laid out and easy to see gauges and controls. Plus dual climate control, rain-sensing wipers, rearview camera with parking sensors and power rear hatch are all standard. Likewise are 10-way power front seats. These were easy to use and included three memory settings for the driver’s seat.
The seats are not particularly sporty, just well-shaped for good support and were pleasant on my extended highway drive. Alfa added the $795 cold weather package here too. That brings heated front seats, heated steering wheel and heated washer nozzles, all good for a Wisconsin fall or winter.
This one also added an 8.8-inch radio and navigation screen ($1,550 option), up from the standard 6.4-inch screen. It’s wide, but narrow. I’d like to see it at least an inch taller to aid in reading. Although I must say the nav maps looked impressive on the wide screen.
Other upgrades included a $900 Harman Kardon premium audio system, plus XM radio for $350, including a 1-year subscription. The radio sounded great, but uses a console-mounted multifunction knob to adjust the big screen. It was confusing at times and not easy to use while driving. Adjust all settings before you put this one in gear. It really should be a touchscreen too.
There were a couple other annoyances, which I expect to be minimal in upscale vehicles such as the Alfa.
First, the trip computer controls, also handled through the console knob system, was tricky to use and find, plus the inside rearview mirror is not fully adjustable. As a short driver I found it hard to get a full view out the rear window via that mirror as it would only adjust so far to the left and then stopped. Another ½-inch of flexibility would have helped.
Not to pick too many nits, but the start button is on the manual steering wheel hub and even after a week I was finding it hard to locate. An owner likely will get used to this, but it’s an unnecessary variation from normal start button locations.
Last, but not least, is the noisy chime alert system. When you start the vehicle and have not yet buckled up (common in cold weather climates where engine heat is vital to interior comfort) the Alfa chimes so loud that it’s startling to passengers and hurt my ears. Likewise the parking sensor yowls loudly whenever you enter or exit a parking space with vehicles on either side, a curb in front or anything fairly near behind you. It’s very distracting!
Like all SUVs the A pillars are large here and can limit visibility, but it was no worse than in other mid-size to large utes.
Other goodies on the test Stelvio included a $1,500 package including adaptive cruise control, stop and go, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, automatic high beams and an infrared windshield. Another $800 package added a blind spot and cross-traffic detection system along with auto-dimming exterior mirrors and the annoying front/rear park assist.
In back is that power hatch and reasonable cargo room at 18.5 cubic feet. If you need more the rear seats will fold down and extend cargo space to 56.5 cu. ft.
Gas mileage certainly beat the VW Atlas from a week earlier, although Atlas was a foot or so longer and felt much heavier. I got 25.5 mpg in about 80% highway driving with the Stelvio. The EPA rates this at 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. That’s good for this size ute.
The base Stelvio starts at $41,995, plus a $995 delivery fee. That’s quite competitive, especially for a luxury make. This one added so much though (12 options) that it hit $52,435.
The Sport model begins at $44,790, the Ti at $44,990 and Ti Sport at $47,490. A higher end Quadrifoglio model is coming too and will come with a twin-turbo V6 that creates 505 horsepower.
Alfa Romeo has the look and performance with Stelvio, now it’s in search of customers willing to stand out among the conservative crossover crowd.
FAST STATS: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio AWD
Hits: Stylish nose, excellent handling, good power with 3 drive modes, monster sunroof, heated seats and steering wheel, comfy seats with 3 memory settings, backup camera and other safety equipment, plus power hatch.
Misses: Radio/nav screen controls on console, start button on wheel hub, narrow radio/nav screen and not a touchscreen, inside rearview mirror not as adjustable as need be for short drivers, tricky trip computer adjustments and thick A-pillars. Drinks premium, plus extremely loud chime when starting engine and park assist system howls too.
Made in: Cassino, Italy
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, 280 hp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 111 in.
Length: 184.6 in.
Cargo: 18.5 cu. ft. (56.5 cu. ft. rear seats down)
MPG: 22/28 (EPA)
MPG: 25.5 (tested)
Base Price: $41,995
Invoice: $40,841 (includes delivery)
Monte Carlo Blue Metallic paint, $600
Cold weather package (heated front seats, steering wheel and washer nozzles), $795
Convenience package (cargo adjustable rails, 115V outlet, cargo net), $200
Driver assist dynamic plus package (adaptive cruise, stop and go, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, auto. high beams, infrared windshield), $1,500
Driver assist static w/front sensors package (blind spot and cross traffic detection, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, front/rear park assist), $800
Dual-pane sunroof, $1,350
8.8-inch Bluetooth radio w/nav, $1,550
Harman Kardon premium audio, $900
Sirius XM radio, $350
19-inch dark 5-hole aluminum wheels, $750
Aluminum interior accents, $300
Custom-painted calipers, $350
Test vehicle: $52,435
Sources: Alfa Romeo, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage