Proving that SUV’s can be more fun than sedans
by Cam Benty
When last we visited the land of Alfa, we saw an amazing effort to produce a very high content, reasonably priced sedan bearing a nameplate that had been absent from the US landscape for several decades. That combination was a pleasant surprise all around from its looks to its comfort to its impressive-for-the-category power.
Enter the Alfa Stelvio SUV. Sharing the chassis, engine and many other underpinnings of the Alfa Guilia, it is very well positioned for the luxury mid-level SUV market. While it is 377 lbs. heavier than the Guilia, many of the driving elements that made the Guilia impressive are present over here. The key driver modes to aptly named DNA system; Dynamic, Natural and All-Weather, are controlled via a console-mounted, three-position knob. Each time you turn the dial to one of these marked modes, significant changes are made to SUV’s systems affecting the engine, transmission, steering, suspension, brakes, and accelerator. A twist of the knob to Dynamics instantly ups the rpm and feels like you’ve added an additional 25 horsepower – even though that is not really the case. There is a fuel mileage penalty for this mode over the Natural setting, but for us, it was our favorite placement hands down.
The added weight for the Stelvio does affect the handling compared to the Guilia but the performance is still impressive at 0 to 60 mph times of 5.5 second and quarter mile times just nipping into the 14-second range. That’s impressive for a car with only 280 horsepower emanating from a four-cylinder single turbocharged engine. Some of the credit for the fine performance feel falls to the aggressive rear gearing ratio and the 8-speed transmission. Even in normal around town driving the gearshifts come often keeping the power in the engine’s torque band making cruising and highway passing a non-event.
The Stelvio we drove featured a host of upgrades as you would expect for a vehicle of this luxury. Our Ti Sport package-equipped machine ($54,900) featured the 7-inch TFT display cluster and a 6.5-inch center monitor to handle everything from entertainment to comfort controls. Apple Car Play and Android Auto are standard faire.
The optional Driver Assist Dynamic Plus package is the best way to get the cool stuff including adaptive cruise control with full stop, automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning, forward collision warning and a whole lot more all for about $1500. Our vehicle also featured a very cool, dual pane sunroof and 20-inch alloy wheels with sticky 255/45R-20 Continental CrossContact LX Sport all-season tires. Skid pad testing is reportedly strong at 0.84g.
Inside there are plenty of electronics to go around including alteration of the center instrument pod to meet the driver’s needs for their personal choice in pertinent data. While we still feel that operation of simple things like the radio buttons is not as intuitive as we like (we felt the same about the Guilia) with time and pre-setting of stations, it eventually becomes acceptable. The Bluetooth cell phone connection was clear in hands-free mode and steering wheel controls, including the cool Ferrari-esque starter button in the steering wheel design, was a nice touch.
If there is a place where the Stelvio excels over the competition it is in the looks department. The signature Alfa triangular grille is enhanced with a polished stainless steel insert that helps draw attention it’s the shape with even more clarity. Our Misano Blue Metallic Stelvio was stunning and in nice contrast to the cool alloy wheels. As one would expect from an Italian designer, the exterior shape flows beautifully from front to rear and the tail has significantly more character the Guilia, an area where we thought the sedan could be better.
Inside, the mix of steel and color is well planned. The soft seat leathers were pleasing to the touch and the overall seat structure gave us great support for short and long drives. As is customary with Italian cars, the seat allowed for arms out operation, something we were not expecting of an SUV. Best of all, this position still allows enough room for rear seat passengers – but notably, just enough.
As noted, the current Stelvio runs great but we can’t wait for the introduction of the Quadrofoglio version with its additional two cylinders, which increases output to 505 horsepower. But for now, the Stelvio with its optional Ti upgrade and all-wheel-drive system is very impressive but it should be noted that there is significant body lean in corners which may take some time to fully comprehend. The brake-by-wire system was a bit notchy at first but after some time at the wheel, we grew to enjoy the power of the Brembo disc brakes at all four corners.
While the 3000-pound towing capacity is not the best in class, it is better than most. Our Stelvio did not perform as advertised in the mileage area, a full two-mpg less than expected in city driving at 19mpg. In highway cruising figures were also a bit off, our number of 25 mpg was also two under the EPA number. Premium fuel is required – as with all turbocharged engines.
The Alfa Stelvio is an impressive car that will draw lots of interest from a category that seems to have become bored with the same old thing. Alfa Romeo will have its hands full knocking off category favorite Audi Q5 that beats it in a number of categories. But for those SUV operators who want something different that makes a statement in the grocery store parking lot and on the highway, the newest Alfa is certainly a worthy choice. With a price that is right in line with cars from Mercedes, Volvo, and Porsche, only time will tell if it will draw sales – being out of the market for so long in this case, won’t be a draw with Gen X and Millennial drivers who have never even heard of the brand.
But if they take the time, the Alfa is sure to impress.