What we’re driving: Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti
What it costs: $78,900 (as tested $89,225)
Why we’re driving it: In a nutshell, it’s Italian, it’s beautiful and we just may be in love.
The Stelvio is based on Alfa Romeo’s comeback sedan, the Giulia, which launched here to critical acclaim in 2017. It sits on the same platform as the Giulia, sharing engines, transmissions and a bunch of other components, but wraps all that in a curvaceous and high-riding body.
It’s also Alfa’s first foray into the lucrative premium SUV segment, bringing a dash of much-needed Italian flair to a segment dominated by Porsche, BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
With a base price of $78,900 the Stelvio Ti tested here is the sportiest and priciest of the three core models, before you get to the bonkers AMG-rivalling Stelvio Q.
On the outside
If there’s one thing you can trust the Italians to do it’s to pen a gorgeous looking car, and the Stelvio is no exception. The Italian stallion thumbs its nose at the current trend towards sharp creases and angles, stepping out in a softer, more voluptuous outfit, that nonetheless suggests sheets of rippling muscle just below its metallic blue skin.
Handsome and powerful-looking 20-inch sport alloy wheels ground the Stelvio, ensuring it isn’t teetering about on flimsy heels, while blood-red brake calipers peek out from behind the wheel spokes.
Every Alfa must, of course, be fronted by the brand’s classic scudetto (that’s Italian for shield) grille, and topped by one of the most instantly recognizable logos in the automotive business.
The distinctive Milanese cross and Saracen snake emblem is sprinkled liberally about the place, on the wheel centers, the scuff plates, the steering wheel boss, and embossed into the headrests of the lovely leather front seats. And why not flaunt it, when you have a logo that looks that good?
Under the bonnet
Beneath the bonnet sits a direct-injection 2.0-litre turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine. It’s the same unit you’ll find in the base Stelvio, albeit with the wick turned up to deliver 206kW and 400Nm.
The engine is hitched to a fluid and sharp-shifting eight-speed automatic and sends its drive to all four wheels, as all good SUVs should.
Visits to the 5250rpm redline are encouraged by the free-spinning unit, even though the turbocharger ensures you don’t really need to rev it hard to achieve decently rapid progress.
While they’re great for performance, turbos also have a muting effect on engine and exhaust note. As a result, the Stelvio Ti doesn’t exactly warble with the operatic symphony of some of its predecessors, but there’s enough of a note there to make it worth your while to give it a decent rev, regularly.
On the inside
The Stelvio Ti interior is comfortable and stylish, with a level of features and quality of finish that befits its price and positioning.
The driver sits high but deep and snug in stitched and perforated sports leather seats that have clearly been designed for enthusiasts, with adjustable under thigh support and large side bolsters.
The main instrument cluster is housed in a classic-looking hooded cowl and behind a flat-bottomed steering wheel, the latter incorporating the engine start-stop button Ferrari-style.
Large aluminium sports paddles located behind the steering wheel also mimic those of Alfa’s famed Maranello-based compatriot.
High-quality and aromatic leather covers the seats, steering wheel and sections of the dash and door trims, all nicely embellished by a handsome swathe of textured aluminium.
The overall design is simple and elegant, with one main rotary controller on the centre console flanked by a couple of shortcut switches providing access to the requisite menus for the 8.8-inch touchscreen.
A rotary dial on the centre console accesses Alfa’s cleverly named ‘DNA’ drive selector, for Dynamic, Natural and All-Weather drive modes. There’s a button atop the dial to activate the optional active shock absorbers, which allows the driver to tailor the suspension to the driving conditions.
I preferred having the engine and transmission in the sportier Dynamic mode at all times, but liked the fact that around town or on rough roads I could independently set the dampers to their softer mode, for a more comfortable ride
SUVs are all about space, and while the Stelvio’s not a full-size seven-seat Mother Ship SUV in the vein of an Audi Q7, but it represents a pretty good package size for anyone looking to accommodate, say, two adults and two teenage kids.
There’s enough rear seat legroom for the latter and a useful 499-litre cargo bay that can be quickly expanded to 1600-litres if you really must go to Ikea. Crucially, it’s slightly more compact dimensions mean it’s not a whale of a thing to navigate through shopping center car parks.
Pleasingly, the Stelvio’s style and performance doesn’t come at the expense of safety, its five-star ANCAP rating coming courtesy of six airbags and standard features like Autonomous Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning, and Lane Departure Warning.
On the road
Selecting dynamic mode instantly transforms the Stelvio’s character, from the comfortable and easy-to-operate urban commuter it can be, to a far edgier and eager proposition. Thus engaged, the engine and transmission come alive, sharpening their reflexes to allow full appreciation of the rest of the dynamic package.
With super-sharp steering (some might find it a little too eager, in fact), near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution, impressive body control and excellent grip at each corner, the Stelvio feels far more agile than you might imagine an SUV could be. In fact, on a good bit of road it will likely surprise you, as it did me, just how quickly it can be pedaled without wallowing about like a tinnie in a 15-foot swell.
Pedal to the metal acceleration sees the 1619kg SUV dispatch the 0 to 100 km/h sprint in a brisk 5.7 seconds, eight tenths quicker than the $10k more expensive base-model Porsche Macan which, admittedly is about to be superseded, but until we drive the new one we’re calling that a win for the Alfa.
This is a car that’s designed to appeal to both your head and your heart. Beautiful and functional, it’s a machine we could feel ourselves falling more into the spell of with each passing day. In short, the Stelvio Ti is a ripper and, along with the seriously impressive Giulia sedan, marks a welcome return to form for Alfa Romeo.