2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio First Test: Italian for Bandwidth

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Let’s be honest: when you heard Alfa Romeo was building an SUV, you expected it to be a one-trick cavallino, no? Then, when you saw it, you were convinced it would be just a jacked-up Giulia, not a Jeep. You were wrong. We all were.

Alfa Romeo makes sports cars. Always has. It wasn’t unreasonable, then, to assume such a company hopping on the SUV bandwagon would build the sports car of SUVs, the Alfa Romeo of SUVs. You’re right. They did. But they also built something much more.

Let’s start with the stats, though, because they’re impressive. The Stelvio Ti Sport we tested came equipped with a heavily turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder banging out 280 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque. It spins a ZF eight-speed automatic, which in turn drives all four wheels. It’s the same powertrain as an all-wheel-drive Giulia sedan.

For a four-cylinder premium SUV, it’s pretty potent. Witness the track results: 5.4 seconds to 60 mph followed by a standing quarter-mile trap in 14.0 seconds at 97.3 mph. Going the other way, it stops from 60 mph in 127 feet. Turning, it’ll pull 0.82 average g on the skidpad and post a 26.9-second figure-eight lap at 0.67 average g.

Less than 6 seconds to 60 mph used to be V-6 territory, but not anymore. The Stelvio is quicker than every other four-cylinder SUV in its class, even the twin-charged XC60 T6 (and tied with the twin-charged and electrified T8). The GLC300, the X3 xDrive 28i, the Q5—they’re all slower. In fact, the Stelvio is even quicker than some of the V-6 competition such as the XT5, the RDX, and the RX 350 F-Sport. Turbocharging your six won’t save you, either, unless you’re serious about it. The Stelvio is quicker than the Levante Q4 and the MKX EcoBoost.

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No, if you want to stoplight drag a Stelvio, you’d better pony up for the extra boost. An F-Pace S just barely takes the Stelvio, and an X3 xDrive 35i is looking at a photo finish. You need a Macan S, a Levante SQ4, an SQ5, or a GLC43 AMG if you want to show the four-banger Alfa your taillights. Good luck getting any of those at the Stelvio’s $55,420 as-tested price. Its $44,990 starting price is even harder to touch.

It’s right quick in a straight line, but you expected that. It’s also quick in a corner, more so than the numbers suggest. Going purely by the skidpad and figure-eight numbers, you’d rightly infer that all the SUVs in this class are pretty evenly matched in a controlled environment. On the street, though, the Stelvio leaves them all for dead.

Here’s where that assumption about it being a lifted Giulia is correct. The Stelvio scythes through a canyon better than some legitimate sport sedans. It flows around curves like massage oil over bare flesh. The steering responds immediately and precisely as the body leans in like a star running back changing direction. Both the steering and the car feel light and delicate, dancing down the road with the slightest effort. The transmission is always in the right gear, and the engine is surprisingly linear in response. After every corner, you marvel at how fast the Stelvio was able to take it and resolved to take the next one even faster.

Where the Stelvio really blows your mind, though, is in boring, everyday driving. Given the power and the handling, you and I both expected it to be jerky at low speeds and ride like a track toy. It does neither of those things. Left in “N” mode, the Stelvio is more than happy to loaf gently through town. You have to try to make it spill your coffee. It’s as easy to drive in traffic or on a long highway commute as any luxury SUV.

What’s more, that sports car suspension doesn’t assault your kidneys and teeth. The Stelvio rides shockingly well over the worst pavement when you consider how well it goes around a corner. The ride is firm—firmer than a luxury car and similar to a sport sedan but purposefully so. You know what you’re getting in return, and it’s a beautiful bargain the Alfa engineers have struck between ride and handling demands.

Seeing as most SUVs just drive around town these days—that’s all well and good—but it’s got all-wheel drive, doesn’t it? It does, and it’s not just for show. We took the Stelvio down dirt roads and through deep sand, the latter of which also approximates deep snow and mud. Natural mode got it through well enough, and All-weather mode performed even better. Still, we’re mystified by the total inability to turn the traction and stability control off. Given how drastically the computer cut the throttle and how slow we got in the deep stuff, we’d like the option to overrule when the conditions demand it. And really, this is an Alfa Romeo. We ought to be able to turn it off.

There are some other weak points to talk about, as well. The foremost takes the form of electrical gremlins. At one point, the Stelvio displayed warning messages about nonfunctioning turn signals and taillights. Both were working fine. At another, the sunroof stopped working. Throughout the test, pushing the cruise control button would prompt a message that adaptive cruise control was temporarily unavailable, but then it would activate if you pushed the button again. For a brand with a history of electrical issues, this is not promising.

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We were likewise unimpressed with the automatic engine stop/start system, which took a worryingly long time to restart the engine once you released the brake and stepped on the gas.

Also drawing the ire of some editors was the lack of feedback from the brake-by-wire brake pedal and the cheap-feeling knobs for the infotainment system. “They spent the entire metal budget for the interior on the paddle shifters,” editor in chief Ed Loh quipped, “which is great, except they probably don’t get used often.” The infotainment system itself received mixed reviews, with praise for its seamless integration into the dash and grumbles about its lack of sophistication versus the best in the class. Similarly, the release handles in the cargo area for the rear seats seem handy, but editors questioned their usefulness when the seats don’t automatically fold down and have to be pushed, either by climbing into the cargo area or going around the side. There’s also some low-end turbo lag when you’re accelerating gently from stoplight to stoplight.

In that way, the Stelvio is everything we’ve come to expect from an Italian car. It’s shamelessly good-looking and drives with a passion normally reserved for expensive sports cars, but it’s got quirks you’re going to have to be willing to put up with. As always, they seem to be the price of the passion, even in 2017 when we probably should’ve moved past such things. Companies such as Porsche have long proved you can do both, though they don’t do it at this price. You’ll have to decide if these trades are fair. I’ll let international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie summarize the rest:

“Refined, sporty, the Stelvio is a 21st century gran turismo that can take you along all roads in all weathers, at speed and in comfort.”


2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Q4 (Ti Sport AWD)
BASE PRICE $44,990
PRICE AS TESTED $55,240
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/280-hp/306-lb-ft turbo SOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,018 lb (51/49%)
WHEELBASE 111.0 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 184.6 x 74.9 x 66.0 in
0-60 MPH 5.4 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.0 sec @ 97.3 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 127 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.82 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.9 sec @ 0.67 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 17.9/28.8/21.6 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 22/28/24 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 153/120 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.80 lb/mile

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