2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio First Drive
Alfa's Fast, Agile, and Reasonably Priced "SUV for the S-Curves"
If you were to mate a Jaguar F-Pace luxury sport CUV with a hot Ferrari, you might end up with something like Alfa Romeo’s 2018 Stelvio. And it might look something like this.
Riding on the same “Giorgio” architecture and 111-in. wheelbase as Alfa’s luxury sport Giulia sedan – which in 505-hp Quadrifoglio form claims the current production four-door Nurburgring lap record – the Stelvio is a bit longer, wider and taller with more cargo capacity and ground clearance for mild off-pavement adventures. Despite its CUV size and practicality, it is blessed with sensuously classic Alfa Romeo styling and named for a famous pass in the Italian Alps and the 48-hairpin two-lane over it called by some the world’s best driving road. Its direct-injected, turbocharged, all-aluminum 2.0L 4-cyl. drives through a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic with available Ferrari/Maserati-like steering column-mounted aluminum paddle shifters and standard Q4 intelligent all-wheel drive. Alfa claims its 280-hp, 306 lb.-ft. of torque and 28-mpg highway EPA economy are best in class, and (like its Guilia cousin) its front-to-rear weight distribution is a rare 50/50 for surprisingly athletic handling. The Ferrari-derived 2.9L twin-turbo V-6-powered Quadrifolgio version should arrive by early 2018.
Standard on all Stelvios are an “Alfa DNA” drive mode selector (Normal, Dynamic and Advanced Efficiency), a class-exclusive lightweight carbon-fiber driveshaft, dual bright tipped exhausts, 18-inch aluminum wheels, leather seating, backup camera with rear park sensors, remote start, passive entry with keyless entry and a “Formula One-inspired” flat-bottom steering wheel with integrated push-button start. Their Q4 AWD system’s Active Transfer Case (ATC) sends 100 percent of engine torque to their rear drive wheels in dry conditions but can transfer up to 60 percent to the fronts as needed for slick-road traction and performance.
Stelvio Ti adds 19-inch wheels, heated front seats and steering wheel, front park sensors, real wood interior accents and an 8.8-inch widescreen infotainment display. An available Sport package features larger wheels (19-inch on Stelvio, 20-inch on Ti), 12-way “high-performance” power seats with 4-way lumbar and power bolster (a Ti Sport exclusive), a sport steering wheel, the column-mounted aluminum paddle shifters, specific gloss-black trim, aluminum sport pedals, colored (red, yellow or gloss-black) brake calipers and more. The Lusso Package, available on Stelvio Ti, piles on Luxury Pieno Fiore Italian leather seats with Cannelloni inserts, leather-wrapped dash and upper door trim with accent stitching, dark gray oak or Lusso-exclusive light walnut trim, a luxury leather-wrapped steering wheel and more.
We spent quality drive time in a $54K Stelvio Sport Stelvio and a $55K Ti Lusso and liked their leather-trimmed cabins better than most in this segment. Their seats were great, their controls and instruments excellent and their touch screen infotainment system generally intuitive and easy to use. Rear seat leg- and headroom are a little tight for a mid-size CUV, however, and cargo capacity -- 18.5 cu. ft. behind the back seat and 56.5 cu. ft. with it folded down -- is somewhat limited by its stylishly sloping rear roof. We disliked the radio annoyingly muting completely (so you miss part of a sentence or a song) when the Nav lady talks, but we liked that you can cancel the navigation routing with a single touch of the screen.
In addition to a full set of eight air bags, standard safety features include Full-Speed Forward Collision Warning-Plus, which autonomously brakes and can slow or stop the Stelvio when a frontal collision seems imminent; Adaptive Cruise Control-Plus with Full Stop, which maintains distance from the vehicle ahead and can stop it if needed (and you don’t); and Lane Departure Warning, which alerts if you’re wandering out of your lane. Blind-spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Path detection and front- and rear-park assist sensors are also available.
Largely thanks to its stiff high-strength steel and aluminum architecture, its double-wishbone front and “Alfa-link” rear suspensions and the dedicated effort and skill of its dynamics development engineers, our test Stelvios handled twisty two-lanes way better than typical tallish mid-size CUVs. Yet their ride was pleasingly supple while its braking was strong and linear and its steering near-sports-car crisp and responsive. The output of that 2.0L turbo four is strong enough to make us wonder why anyone would need the soon-to-come 505-hp twin-turbo V6 Quadrifoglio (four-leaf clover) model, and its siren song under hard acceleration makes it quite possibly the world’s best-sounding (non-racing) 2.0L. No surprise that Alfa plans to set a segment-best Nurburgring track record with that one as it has with the Giulia sedan.
Despite the Stelvio’s (and Giulia’s) great looks, performance, dynamics and feature content, FCA’s enthusiastic Alfa Romeo arm will be challenged to attract significant numbers of upscale buyers accustomed to Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Cadillac, Genesis and Lincoln dealership and customer experiences, which they pledge to match. Alfa has a long and proud heritage and motorsports history but -- due to weak sales largely driven by questionable quality -- was AWOL from North America from 1995 until the mid-engine 4C sports car arrived in 2014. So Giulia and Stelvio will need conquest sales stolen from those well-established competing marques; and (as this is written) Alfa has just 168 U.S. dealers, many dualed with Maserati and/or Fiat, but is working toward 215 by the end of 2017. With performance and dynamics advantages over its base-engine competitors, a nicely crafted interior and prices in the $42-55K range, this first Alfa Romeo CUV – “The SUV for the S-curves,” as Alfa bills it – should give all those other luxury-sport CUV rivals a good run for their money. Then that high-performance Stelvio Quadrafoglio should blow most of them away.