Driven: Alfa Romeo Stelvio, The Italian Marque’s First Premium SUV – Forbes
It is named after Italy’s most famous mountain pass. That alone raises expectations. Then for Alfa Romeo, a car marque generally associated with crafting sporty, sexy little cars, to venture down the more sensible sports-utility path, is altogether another. So, it was with little trepidation that I took to the wheels of the Stelvio.
Incidentally, Alfa did flirt with the 4×4 in the early 1950s with the Matta, a rugged Jeep-like utility vehicle that ran for only three years. But this is the first time it is entering the mid-size urban SUV genre, one of the fastest growing and most popular car types. It makes clear business sense but this is also a very crowded market with the Stelvio rivaling some pretty tough competition – the likes of BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes GLC, Audi Q5 the Porsche Macan all successfully reside here. How the Italian therefore intends to shine is by being bold in design, offering a unique Alfa flair and drive.
The design continues the current Alfa styling theme as introduced on the Giulia, adapted to SUV proportions. It is what the marque summarizes as concentrating on proportion, simplicity and surfacing. So, there is great deal of sculptural movement, something that you will either love or hate, with the prominent body lines directing the eye firmly to the Alfa grille up-front.
Then, for the interior there’s a choice of leather or fabric upholstery, plus wood and carbon-fiber elements on the dashboard, which featured in the car I drove. Exposed carbon seems to be a bit of a trend in sportier cars. However, I’m in the opinion that it needs to be authentic and featured cautiously otherwise it can look decorative.
The Stelvio sits four adults easily. It can also accommodate two adults and three kids in comfort. With its undulating dashboard, the cabin offers a subtly driver-focused, sporty environment. It is also ergonomically-designed at the front so everything is the right order – requiring little effort to detect and maneuver. Essential information is projected on the color information display unit controlled through a couple of rotary dials. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels nice to handle, the glove compartment might be a little tiny but to make up there are plenty of spaces to hold clutter – practical little areas to store phones and gadgets with large bottle holders placed in the doors. The trunk is a reasonable size; it is a neat square shape and, with the floor at bumper height, easy to load. There are four trim levels to choose from including “Milano Edizione”, an exclusive launch edition, which promises greater functionality and style.
Two engines are available at this stage – a 2.2 liter 210hp diesel and 2.0 liter turbocharged petrol engine that delivers a generous 276bhp and 295lb ft of torque. A sportier Quadrifoglio version will arrive next year. Stelvio is fitted with Alfa’s Q4 all-wheel drive. In normal conditions, the system operates as a rear-wheel-drive, then allows up to 50 per cent of the torque to the front axle when necessary. The firm suspension makes for some interesting sporty and quick steering especially on the twisty roads I drove on, but the ride can be a little bumpy on rougher surfaces.
Stelvio weighs little for a mid-size SUV at 1659kg, thanks to a great deal of aluminum used in the body structure. I assume this is a car that will do more time in the city and on school runs than on rugged country lanes so the lack of any terrain settings, apart from a hill-descent facility, makes perfect sense here.
Alfa Romeo isn’t a rational purchase. Much like its sister brand Maserati, you buy an Alfa because you have an emotional connection to the brand, to Italy, perhaps the romantic image of cruising the Italian Riviera and the Amalfi coast in the Spider, in the classic Alfa red. Sketched by Pininfarina, the Spider roadster stayed in production from 1966 for three decades – largely unchanged. To me it remains the most classic of Alfa Romeos. The Stelvio may not conjure up quite the same emotions, but it is great to drive, comfortable to occupy, reasonably priced at around $42,000 and the perfect pitch for Alfa Romeo’s first SUV for the twenty-first century.