Another storied sports car maker has acquiesced to the crossover obsession. Meet the new Alfa Romeo Stelvio; a surprisingly affordable small utility that puts the sport in SUV.
I often get asked what crossover one should buy when trading in their fun-to-drive car. There’s a perception that once you tread into SUVville that the joy of driving is put way on the back burner. Well, that’s not the case with the Stelvio; a name derived from the Stelvio pass in the Italian Alps that boasts over 48 bends. Thus, the Stelvio is really good at taking bends, curves and whatever else the spirited driver throws at it.
If you remember my review of the Giulia you recall I named it the best sports sedan I’d ever driven. That was the high octane Quadrifoglio version however. The Stelvio I have this week is the Sport model, a lower level trim that adds bigger wheels, a firmer sport-tuned suspension, awesomely large paddle shifters, a perfectly sized sport steering wheel, aluminum accents, colored brake calipers and some aesthetic bits. Base price of a Stelvio AWD is about $43,000 including destination and sits heavily optioned here at a very reasonable $52,985.
Near perfect 50/50 weight distribution, low center of gravity and very direct steering – because it’s based upon the Giulia, much of what I love about that car is found here. The biggest difference, of course, between that test-drive and this one is that a 2.0-liter turbo-4 takes up residence where the Quad’s twin-turbo V6 would be. But it still makes 280 horsepower, 306 pound-feet of torque and hits 60mph in only 5.4 seconds. The Stelvio’s engine is a powerhouse free of any notable lag and willing to pull eagerly through all 8 gears. Plus, it returns 24mpg in combined driving on premium. The only thing missing is an Italian soundtrack – the twin pipes play nothing worth a 2nd listen.
Man, Alfa’s driving game is on point. The steering is incredibly quick – that’s the first thing you notice. It’s especially light and nimble and the turbo is ready to push you back into the seat. There are huge, fixed paddle shifters and a driving mode selector to suit your mood. The body is tight and the ride firm but forgiving. The brake pedal though has a really mushy feel. The Stelvio is a small SUV definitely geared towards the enthusiast driver.
I love how the wheel has a thinner rim that feels excellent in the hand and when it’s time to put the standard all-wheel drive to work there’s over 8” of ground clearance to go along with it. Based upon a rear-wheel drive platform with a carbon fiber drive shaft, it’s capable of pushing up to 60% of the torque to the front axle. Even on all-seasons it feels confident on snow and ice but I’ve noticed how the system seems to bind a little with full lock-to-lock turns of the wheel, like when pulling out of a tight parking space. It also doesn’t come with any sort of off-road settings such as an all-wheel drive lock, terrain management or hill decent control. The DNA selector – short for Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency – controls engine and transmission mapping to suit your style. This model does not have the Active Suspension so you’ve got to like a ride with feeling…it’s not harsh but you will experience the road beneath. In yet another miserable weather week up here, snowy and icy roads kept the frisky driving in check but the Stelvio Sport’s handling is quite impressive with a just a touch of understeer when pushed really hard and a willingness to hustle through turns like a sports sedan.
The area of least impressiveness is in here. It simply doesn’t live up to $53,000 expectations with mediocre seats, aged infotainment and some questionable touch points.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are late availability but I can’t understand why Alfa wouldn’t adopt the UConnect system and kick this thing to the curb. Also late availability is a hands-free, kicking controlled tailgate. Its 56 cubic feet of cargo volume is comparable to a Jeep Cherokee and there are handy levers to assist in dropping the 2nd row seat. These seats don’t slide or recline yet provide adult-friendly spaciousness. And the dual-pane sunroof is a must-have addition for added airiness. Other than the unique placement of the start button, the Stelvio’s interior displays little imagination and could use a heaping dose of Italian design.
The prospects of owning an exotic nameplate are alluring, especially at this price, and Alfa is going after a more hardcore customer here – a smart move to differentiate itself in a crowded segment.