Alfa Romeo may be beloved by enthusiasts, but the brand has always had a rough go in the United States. Sure, we may look back fondly now at cars like the Spider, Milano and Giulia, but those models never had the impact of their German or British rivals. Slow sales and a reputation for poor reliability killed Alfa in the U.S. more than two decades ago. The automaker is back with cars like the 4C, Giulia and, most important, the 2018 Stelvio crossover.
The Stelvio needs to sell well if Alfa has any hope of staying alive in America. Sure, it may not be as sharp or as handsome as the Giulia, but the market demands crossovers, so that’s what it’ll get. The Stelvio is jumping into a tough and highly contested segment. Rivals like the Porsche Macan, Jaguar F-Pace, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class are all strong competitors with handsome styling and sporty driving dynamics. The Stelvio is going to have to really shine to make a dent.
Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: The Alfa Romeo Stelvio feels very much like a bigger, taller Giulia. While this does mean that it feels a bit less nimble and frisky, it also means that it’s one of the best drivers in its class.
Under the hood is the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 280 horsepower. It feels just right for this crossover. It’s happy to sit at low rpm on the highway, but also delivers brisk acceleration when tromping on the gas. It even sounds good, providing a growly snorty sound when accelerating. It’s sort of like a grown-up version of the engine in the Fiat 500 Abarth.
Ride and handling are well-balanced, too. Steering is very quick, and the whole vehicle feels remarkably light. It leans significantly more than the Giulia in turns. But as crossovers go, the Stelvio is a great handler. The ride is on the stiff side, but far from punishing. I do wish the steering was a little heavier, and that the weight built up more progressively. It feels a little less communicative than I’d prefer.
The Giulia connection continues inside, but this time we wish they weren’t so similar. Though the dashboard is an attractive shape, there are quite a few low-rent plastics strewn about. A number of the knobs feel chintzy, too. There’s not a lot of knee room up front, either, and the seat could use a few more adjustment options. One thing the Stelvio’s interior nails, though, are those wonderful shift paddles. They’re huge column-mounted units that are easy to find regardless of your hand position, they have a chunky action, and they’re made from solid metal that feels great.
So yeah, the Stelvio is pretty much a big Giulia. That’s good and bad, but if you want a practical crossover that isn’t dead inside, the good will outweigh the bad.
Associate Editor Reese Counts: This is it. This is make-it-or-break-it for Alfa. If it can’t sell a crossover to a consumer base foaming at the mouth for high-riding hatches, then there’s nothing that can save the company. The ingredients are all there: handsome design, exclusive badge and sporty dynamics. Only time will tell if customers can look past Alfa’s less than stellar reputation and pick the Stelvio over something like the Macan or F-Pace.
That’s the problem with the Stelvio. The competition is all really strong. There’s hardly a bad apple among the bunch, making the job even tougher for Alfa. Still, first impressions are strong. The moment you fire up the sweet little four pot with the steering wheel-mounted ignition, you get the sense that this is something different. Like Joel said, this feels like a big Giulia, for better or worse. The interior is simple and clean but filled with a number of cheap materials. That said, I like the steering wheel and column-mounted paddles.
It’s not all bad news. The Stelvio’s steering is extremely quick. 11.8:1, according to Alfa. That’s significantly quicker than the 14.3:1 ratio of the Porsche Macan, though the latter has better feel. Small inputs in the slightly overboosted Stelvio steering make the crossover feel light and maneuverable. It hides its weight well and feels pretty composed for a crossover. Better than the standard Mercedes-Benz GLC and Jaguar F-Pace. The engine is a real peach. It’s smooth and strong and doesn’t struggle to move the two-ton Stelvio.
The biggest issue I have with the performance is the brakes. Nearly every time I went into a corner a little hot I had to apply far more pressure than I expected. Stopping distances aren’t terrible, but the pedal feels completely dead up top. It’s a little disconcerting.
I like the Stelvio. I think I like it more than the F-Pace, though I’d take the Porsche Macan over both. Still, I think it deserves a chance to shine. For Alfa’s sake, I hope it does.