He Said/She Said: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Alfa Romeo arrived a little late to the Sport SUV party, but without a doubt, has nailed it!
Dan Heyman: Unfair as it may be, I had massively high hopes for the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. A lot of that was borne from the badge: Alfa Romeo is one of the most recognizable nameplates of all time in racing spheres. Many forget that the Scuderia Ferrari racing team started as an Alfa Romeo team, started by Enzo himself. Indeed, Alfa themselves say on the website that the Stelvio’s “an SUV born from a racing pedigree”.
We’ll see about that.
In terms of something more present, or modern, however I had high hopes for the Stelvio because I’ve sampled the Giulia sedan on which it’s based, and I was smitten. If this crossover had even 50 per cent of what I love so much about that car – direct steering, punchy motor, great sound – then I knew Alfa would be on to something.
Lacey Elliott: The Stelvio is a little late to the party. All the other players like Porsche, Audi and Jag have established themselves in the Sport Utility segment. However, I say it is better late than never. Being from the fashion capital of the world, being late might just be the fashionable statement Alfa Romeo is trying to make.
This is a test drive that I am really looking forward to. You see, I am going into this review free of any other driving experiences in an Alfa Romeo. Looking back at my career as an automotive journalist over that last 10 years and this is one brand that I have never driven. Just another reason why I truly have one of the best jobs on the planet. The simple sentence of “I get to drive an Alfa Romeo” fills me with glee. Saying, “I get to test out the all new Stelvio.” Leaves me speechless.
DH: Far as I’m concerned, they’ve pretty much nailed it in this department. Say what you will about the trademark vertical Alfa grille, but I think it actually fits quite well on the Stelvio’s fascia, perhaps even more so than on the Giulia. The rest is all very Porsche Macan, like in the way it’s carried out: the stance, side profile, rear hatch angle and long hood are all reminiscent of the Porsche world-beating compact performance CUV.
Which stands to reason; if you consider the $50 grand-plus base MSRP, it’s aimed squarely at that Macan. It is bigger, though (sitting closer to the Cayenne in size, actually), and makes more horsepower at base than the Macan and more torque than the Cayenne, all features that give the Alfa a bit of a boost right out of the gate.
Inside, however, you’ll find a stark contrast to the exterior; it’s actually quite reserved in here, with a very muted colour palette that could use a few more contrasting inserts than it already has. It’s nice in a black-tie kind of way, but otherwise it’s a little busy and somewhat foreboding. The seats, meanwhile, are properly padded and supportive, making for an excellent driving position. It’s a little snug in the back, but it’s not a deal breaker. Big fan of the adjustable cargo floor rails, but why they decided to install a somewhat modified version of the electronic shifter found in some BMWs – one of the worst aspects of those cars’ interiors, which are otherwise quite good – I’ll never understand. It’s almost as if Alfa said “well, the X3 sells in droves; how can we do that? Oh, I know! Its shift lever! That’s the ticket!”
LE: Regarding the exterior styling, I am in total agreement with Dan. Alfa Romeo has, without a doubt, nailed it! The lines flow gracefully from the fast back styled hatch to the sculpted front corner. Yes, the wide stance, hood and side profile may resemble the Porsche Macan, but the front grille on the Stelvio, however, really stands out in this class.
The headlights look like they are squinting and the vertical Scudetto grille is the furrowed brow. The Audi and Porsche front fascia are becoming quite a familiar face on the roads. Buyers looking for something more uncommon will lean towards the polished appearance of this Stelvio.
The exterior design is definitely fashion forward. But, the stylish good looks are quickly lost on the inside. The layout and the materials seem very common place. Making me think of a stuffy, black tie event instead of a red carpet gala. Porsche and Jaguar deliver a more luxurious design inside. Don’t get me wrong: the layout and function work well. It is the delivery that could use a bit more flare.
The Lusso package adds on a softer leather with a wrapped steering wheel and leather trimmed seats with a Cannelloni design. The additional $3,250 for this trim also adds 12-way adjustable power front seats, 4-way lumbar support and aluminum pedals and footrest.
ON THE ROAD
DH: Once you set out, you’ll find the Stelvio to be an avid performer—a properly sporting crossover deserving of the Stelvio nameplate, which recalls the legendary stretch of twisty, switchback-heavy tarmac between Stilfs and Bormio in the Italian Alps. I remember when I first sampled the Mini Cooper Countryman, I smugly remarked that Mini had only taken it rallying to show people that even though this was the biggest Mini yet, it could still be raced. When I first considered the Stelvio, I had a similar fear: was it a naming convention self-consciously chosen by Alfa in hopes to mask what was otherwise a garden variety quasi-luxury CUV? Or did its dynamics earn it the right to have such a name?
It didn’t take long for me to realize that the latter was most definitely the case.
It starts with the noise, which seems to have learned a few things from the Fiat 500 Abarth school of exhaust notes (yes, I know; different manufacturer, but both do fly under the FCA banner): A little burbly at idle, a little more metallic and manic as revs climb. And this isn’t even the most powerful version! A Quadrifoglio Verde version also exists, and if it’s anything like the Giulia sedan that also gets this designation, it will knock your socks off.
While the TI Sport you see here may not be quite so high-impact, the way it zigs and zags with the commitment and (almost) precision of a sports sedan is still an assault on the senses. Turn-in is immediate – both a blessing and a bit of a curse, as we’ll see in a minute – and the body is nicely controlled by smart damper settings. Roll is pleasingly minimal considering the slightly high centre of gravity, and while the ride may be a little firm in some circumstances, I’ll take the trade-off of a crossover that handles this well.
Right, the steering. It’s incredibly responsive, but it’s also quite low on feel and there’s very little off-centre deadzone so it gets a little nervous at higher speeds on the highway. It’s great around town (if a little heavy), but I did find myself concentrating a little more on keeping it on the straight and narrow as I cruised the highway. It’s not the end of the world, but it does need to be noted.
The real star of all this, however, is the 280 hp, 306 lb-ft turbo four-cylinder engine. I was surprised when I discovered the power figure because while it’s by no means huge, the Stelvio feels way faster than those figures suggest. Which is kind of a nice problem to have.
It’s quick off the line, but I found the real head-turner to be when I started accelerating in-gear at speed; turbo lag is almost nonexistent, and you find yourself thinking “whooaaa momma. Hold on” quite quickly as you tip into that throttle. Like the steering, it’s properly responsive, this engine, and you have to think it’s very much helped along by the close-ratio 8-speed auto that comes as standard. You can let the transmission do the work itself, or if you prefer you can make use of the huge – huge – sickle-shaped paddle shifters.
There built so large for a reason, too; unlike most cars that employ these types of manumatic systems they’re not mounted to the wheel, rather the steering column. Since they don’t move with the wheel, they have to be large lest smaller hands be unable to reach them as they’re sawing the wheel. I had no problem with them, but I do wonder if they’ve done the trick for the smaller-handed among us. I should hope so, because their action is slick, the transmission’s response quick and I’d hate to miss out on that part of the Stelvio experience because my outstretched digits didn’t have the reach.
Lacey Elliott: I said earlier that I was speechless thinking about my time in the Stelvio. However, I actually yelled, “DAMN!”, out loud to the empty passenger seat beside me. Alfa Romeo’s legacy has been built on high-performance cars. Based on this, the driving characteristics of the Stelvio came as no real surprise. Give the pedal a punch and this SUV performs admirably. I smiled expectantly at how quickly it pounced off the line. Of course, it effortlessly passes other cars when in gear and cruising at higher speeds.
I can’t think of the last time a turbo 4-cylinder brought such a smile to my face. Delivering 280 horsepower and 306 lb –ft of torque, Alfa Romeo claims that this sport ute will do 100km/h in 5.5 seconds. Compare these numbers to the base model Q5 and F-Pace, the Stelvio comes out on top with an extra 30 horses.
The somewhat heavy steering is super responsive cruising around my neighborhood. The F-Pace and Macan deliver a ride that is more stiff. With that being said, this Stelvio still absorbs bumps fairly well.
Dan noted that he felt a bit off-centre on the highway but my experience seemed different. I will admit that a straight cruise down the highway is not where I did most of my driving. Finding some less linear side roads for this test drive was more of my goal. Trying to recreate the mountain pass that this SUV is named for, the highway from Vancouver to Whistler seemed the obvious choice. Minimal body roll and direct steering all work together to produce a superb ride.
The Quadrifoglio Verde Dan mentioned has a twin turbo 2.9L V6 that puts out 505 horses. It starts at $95,000. I would guess that it is the Cayenne Turbo that will be the main competition for this Stelvio.
I am going to assume that my hands are smaller than Dan’s. Reaching for the large paddle shifters was a bit of a stretch for me as well, but did not affect my experience. Utilizing the massive paddle shifters is the best way to feel more connected to this SUV. The automatic transmission does a fantastic job as well.
SAFETY & TECHNOLOGY
DH: As was the case when I sampled the Giulia, thinking about tech in this car seems odd. It seems odd for no other reason that when I think “Alfa Romeo”, I think classic race cars and sports cars that would be weird with power steering, let alone a nav system, back-up camera, Bluetooth and so forth.
Even though this is a CUV and proper infotainment and safety aids are a must in the segment, it still seems odd that it has anything at all.
Unlike most of the FCA products found here, the Alfas get their own, proprietary infotainment system as opposed to the Uconnect system found elsewhere. Unlike that system’s huge screen and modern graphics, Alfa’s is more restrained, a little more old-school. The graphics are tamer, the screen not so huge but it is designed so it flows more cleanly with the rest of the dash. I don’t mind it, with one exception: the back-up camera. While the navi map stretches across the whole screen, the back-up camera is relegated to one side – the side furthest from the driver – and a parking aid graphic that doesn’t do all that much sits on the left side. I’d prefer the back-up camera to stretch across the whole way, and forget the top-down graphic on the left.
LE: The base Stelvio is just under $52,000. It gives you all the basic technology you will need. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a 6.5-inch display. The TI and Sport are both close to $54,000. This TI Sport for $56,300 includes a larger 8.8” display and very comfortable leather sport seats. This price also lets you choose red, yellow or black Brembo performance brakes.
Forward Collision Warning Plus is an additional $500. It gives the driver alerts to apply the brakes if needed. Something that always ads to my driving enjoyment is music. I would spend the additional $1,200 for the optional Hayman/Kardon Premium Audio System.
Dan’s complaint about the back up camera is a valid one. It’s pushed over to the far side of the screen, away from the driver. The navigation utilizes the entire space. It would be nice to have the backup camera use whole screen, making it a lot easier to use. With time, owners will accept it. Some who have never used this technology before won’t know any different. I am hoping that FCA will update the interior, adjust the graphics and change the camera. The conservative infotainment system actually works nicely with this simple interior.
Surround View cameras are offered on most new vehicles on the road today. Not just on the other SUVs in this class. These cameras help drivers see all around the vehicle. However, the Stelvio only has a rear monitor and front and rear parking sensors. This won’t be a deal breaker by any means, but is a feature that should be added in the years to come.
DH: It’s a bit of a collection of contrasts, the Stelvio. The exterior styling is great, the interior somewhat ho-hum. Most of the handling is good, then you’ve got that weirdly nervous steering. The Navi map is big and bright, the far-more-used backup cam quite finicky. Alfa Romeo had a lot of points on its punch list it needed to hit if it was going to succeed in its category, and truth to be told, it’s done a treat for the most part. Plus, it’s got that great nameplate attached to it, which will be a boon for many. Enough to knock the big boys off their pedestal? Not for the time being, probably, but it’s a good start.
LE: Being fashionably late to this segment won’t have an impact on the sales of this new luxury sport utility. Alfa Romeo is able to one up some of the competition by delivering class-leading power. This segment is a hot one. Strong competition just makes manufactures design better products. I, for one, love the unique exterior styling of the Stelvio. The Alfa Romeo namesake, of course, will get a lot of people behind the wheel for a test drive. No, it won’t push the big boys off their pedestal, but it has enough going for it to give them a pretty big push. A push that will only heat things up even more.
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