There's romance in the Alfa Romeo brand, and its storied history.
But the Italian car maker cannot survive in the past, and is in the middle of rolling out an ambitious product plan to tackle the established premium players like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi. It started with the impressive Giulia sedan that has been critically acclaimed, and now continues with the Stelvio - the company's first SUV.
Arriving some 15 years after it first teased the Kamal concept it has managed to stay true to Alfa’s key elements of head-turning design and heart-racing excitement for the driver.
But is it good enough to upset the establishment? Let's find out...
Vehicle Style: Medium Luxury SUV
Price: $77,700 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 132kW/450Nm 2.2 turbo-diesel four-cylinder | eight-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.2 l/100km | Tested: 7.2 l/100km
But being fun-to-drive and nice-to-look-at is only part of the fight in the increasingly competitive battleground for mid-size luxury SUVs. The Stelvio is up against the popular Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC plus the Land Rover Discovery Sport, Lexus NX and Volvo XC60.
It starts well against its rivals with a sharp entry price for the diesel model we’re testing of $67,900 (plus on-road costs) which undercuts the equivalent Mercedes and BMW.
For the money you get a competitively equipped luxury SUV with 19-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and ignition, power tailgate, dual zone climate control, leather upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, navigation, Bluetooth, digital radio, an 8.8-inch infotainment screen plus a reversing camera with front and rear parking sensors. There’s also autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and cruise control as part of the safety package.
However, the initial batch of 300 Stelvios in Australia are fitted with the First Edition package that costs $6000 extra and brings unique 19-inch alloys, panoramic sunroof, a 14-speaker Harmon/Kardon sound system, ambient lighting, rear privacy glass, sports leather seats, heated steering wheel, red brake calipers and adaptive suspension by Koni.
THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.5/5
Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry with push-button start, automatic on/off headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, premium leather trim with electrically adjustable and heated front seats, heated steering wheel, power windows and mirrors, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter.
Infotainment: 8.8-inch colour screen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, digital radio, satellite navigation, voice control and eight speakers.
Cargo Volume: 525 litres
Alfa Romeo is offering a drive-away price for the First Edition diesel of $77,700 or $71,700 for the standard model, with no timeframe for when that offer will expire.
As well as the new seats and lighting, the First Edition also brings aluminium trim highlights to the cabin, which it desperately needs. The styling is very similar to the Giulia sedan, on which the Stelvio is based, so it needs the right trim to bring some pizzazz to an otherwise humble cabin.
The metal-effect finishes are nice but at this price the interior presentation could have been improved with some more colour or different materials to create a more premium ambience.
The sports seats look nice though and offer both support and comfort. Rear space is good for a mid-size SUV with just enough room for adults and plenty for kids. The rear occupants also get their own airconditioning vents and USB port. The boot is a respectable 525-litres and comes standard with cargo rails for easier storage.
In other words, Alfa Romeo hasn’t forgotten about the practical aspects of an SUV.
ON THE ROAD | RATING: 4.0/5
Engine: 132kW/450Nm 2.2 4cyl turbo-diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, RWD
Suspension: Independent front and rear
Brake: Ventilated front and rear disc brakes
Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering
But to stand out from the crowd the Italian brand has decided to focus on the driving dynamics of the Stelvio to make it one of the most engaging SUVs to drive.
The company claims it has the fastest steering in the segment and it doesn’t feel like a bold claim on the road. It’s so fast that it takes some time to adapt to it, as at first you find yourself using too much lock, but once acclimatised it feels excellent and truly more car-like than any of its direct rivals expect perhaps the Porsche Macan. It’s also helped by the fact it weighs just over 1600kg which is significantly lighter than some of its key competitors, so there is a lightness of touch when you are throwing it around repeated twists and turns.
Alfa Romeo also claims the Stelvio has the least body roll amongst its peers and again it doesn’t feel like hyperbole when you’re behind the wheel. It corners sharply and with a precision that makes other SUVs seem cumbersom. Coupled with the all-wheel drive system's rear-wheel bias you have one of the most car-like SUVs this reviewer has driven - especially given Alfa plans to add the sportier Ti and Quadrifoglio models above this diesel.
The optional Koni suspension system means the ride is still comfortable most of the time, with only sharp-edged bumps disturbing the cabin.
All this finely-tuned handling is backed up by a surprisingly punchy diesel engine. The 2.2-litre four-cylinder unit under the bonnet makes 154kW of power and 470Nm of torque, which is among the best-in-class. Paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission it feels willing and responsive whenever you put your foot down, regardless if it’s in ‘Dynamic’ or ‘Normal’ modes on the ‘DNA’ drive mode selector.
It’s not just the performance than impresses either, with a claimed fuel consumption of just 4.8-litres per 100km making the Stelvio diesel one of the most efficient in its class.
TMR Verdict | Overall Rating: 4.0/5
The question you’re left with after driving the Stelvio is does everyone want a super-sporty SUV? The answer is no; Comfort, style and practicality are generally likely to be higher priorities, which the Stelvio has in spades too.
The Stelvio won’t appeal to all but it is a charming, competent and well-equipped family SUV with an overly sporty character. It's an Alfa Romeo after all...
- Interested in buying Alfa Romeo Stelvio ? Visit our Alfa Romeo Stelvio showroom for more information.