Stelvio. Could there be a more evocative-sounding name for a vehicle? Alfa Romeo’s first SUV is, in fact, named after the famous winding road through the Alps in northern Italy. Widely known to be one of the best driver’s roads in the world, use of this famous mountain road’s name hints at Alfa’s intentions for this vehicle – sporty and engaging, with the practicality and surefooted ability of an all-wheel drive SUV.
Engaging it certainly is. From the moment you clap eyes on the Stelvio, you’re taken by its svelte, stylish, subtly aggressive lines. It has to be said that, from the rear three-quarter view, there is the tiniest hint that Alfa cribbed from the Porsche and Maserati stylebook … but, on the whole, the Stelvio is just such a lovely SUV to behold. It’s blunt front end purposeful, the curvaceous hind quarters alluring.
For the ultimate catwalk image, spec the optional 19- or 20-inch alloys over the standard 18-inchers that you see here – they’re just a little too underwhelming for the Stelvio’s proportions.
What’s not underwhelming is what the Stelvio packs under its expansive bonnet. Yes, until the twin-turbo V6 QV model arrives on local shores towards the end of the year, the only option is a 2,0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. But, it packs some impressive credentials: power of 206 kW and torque of 400 Nm is sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The 0-100 km/h sprint is dispatched in 5,7 seconds … plenty quick enough to back up the Stelvio’s sporty SUV persona.
As an aside, Alfa claims the Stelvio will consume 7,0 l/100 km on the combined cycle. Expect far worse…
Anyway, as we know, numbers only tell part of the story. The Stelvio feels sporty. The four-cylinder climbs on the turbo from low in the rev range and pulls with gusto (this engine definitely needs to be offered locally in the Giulia sedan…), while the gearbox shifts quickly when in Dynamic mode. Its agility belies its size; feeling light on its feet when you flick it around with the delightful flat-bottomed steering wheel, from your ideal driving position. That’s partly down to the perfect 50/50 weight distribution, and you can feel the Q4 system favouring the rear axle.
Sure, from a comfort aspect it may err on the side of firm, but I didn’t come across many roads that unsettled the Stelvio – and was surprised at what a composed, quiet, comfortable highway cruiser it is!
OK, it’s not without fault … the gearbox exhibited the occasional jerkiness when trundling along in traffic and Alfa’s electronic Integrated Braking System still irks; feeling difficult to modulate in everyday driving despite the braking being strong.
Speaking of electronic safety systems, the Stelvio comes well stocked… As standard on the Super model you get Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Brake with pedestrian detection, Lane Departure Warning, and Hill Descent Control. Optional are Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Path Detection, and Active Cruise Control.
While one would expect a vehicle costing R834 900 to come with most mod-cons, the likes of Bi-Xenon headlamps and electrically adjustable (and heated) front seats will cost you extra. Puzzlingly, there is keyless start, but not keyless entry. The standard vs. optional equipment debate is quite par for the segment…
What you do get is pretty good, though. A powered tailgate; front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera; the 8,8-inch Alfa UConnect infotainment system with navigation and Apple and Andriod connectivity; Stop&Start; tyre-pressure monitoring; and full leather upholstery, all feature.
Ah, the upholstery and, ergo, the interior… Overall, the new-generation Alfa interiors are lovely to spend time in, and the Stelvio is no exception. The seats are all wide and comfortable; there’s space aplenty for the passengers, their odds and ends and luggage (525 I); and everything operates with a reassuring sense of solidity. Where the Stelvio falls behind is in the disappointing materials used for the (soft-touch) dash top and standard black trim fittings.
Yet, while the Stelvio is Alfa Romeo’s key to wider market acceptance (especially here in SA, where it is backed up by a standard three-year/100 000 km warranty and six-year/100 000 km maintenance plan), any die-hard Alfisti would probably tell you it wouldn’t be an Alfa without at least some minor quirk or other… Give it a chance, though, and it’ll get under your skin – as every die-hard Alfisti will definitely tell you it should.
This can only be a good thing for the brand … Stelvio is certainly a terrific first effort, as it enters the SUV arena to go toe-to-toe with the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Audio Q5 – all of which will be perceived to offer better value for money and brand cachet.
But, brilliant, popular cars as all of those are, you can tell immediately – just by saying “X3”, “GLC” and “Q5” – that “Stelvio” offers something more evocative than they ever could…
CyberStoep rating: 7,5/10