For someone who grew up adoring the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT and the iconic Alfetta GTV6, the notion of these becoming a stand-tall SUV was about as unnerving as seeing an E-Type Jaguar morph into a F-Pace.
However, since change is probably the one true constant in life, the shifting needs of consumers currently dictates the SUV is the vehicle type of choice and, for automakers; it is simply adapt or die.
In the case of Alfa Romeo, this was probably a bigger decision than most. Following its heyday, which I believe ended with the GTV6, the company went into a slide and dished up some really crappy product before making a comeback with the 156 and then vanishing again to contemplate its own navel or whatever motor manufacturers do when they need to reinvent their own wheel.
Brilliantly, from this out pops the new generation Giulia. A true Alfa Romeo. Yippee Yay!
And this serves just to put even more pressure on the Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s first SUV. Does it handle the pressure? An unqualified yes.
It is named after the Stelvio Pass, Italy’s highest mountain pass of some 20 km in length with more than 75 hairpin bends. Having had the opportunity to drive this pass, I can confirm it is a great test of the handling, poise and composure of any vehicle traversing the route.
To justify the name the Alfa had to produce all three of those characteristics in bucket loads as well as providing true Alfa sprint performance and top speed – and the Stelvio ticks all of those boxes.
In true Alfa Romeo tradition, the Stelvio delivers handling, worthy of a real sports car, balanced weight distribution, the most direct steering ratio in the segment and state-of-the-art suspension with the exclusive Alfalink technology.
The Stelvio offers the Alfa Romeo Q4 all-wheel drive system and can be optionally equipped with mechanical locking rear differential.
The Stelvio has a length of 4,7m, height of 1,7 m and width of 2,2 m, – big enough without being bulky and sleek enough in the design execution to look lower than it actually is.
Stelvio has a strong identity, built around select features, such as the Cloverleaf front, the dual sports exhaust tips and ‘Kamm tail’ styling at the rear.
It also ensures a high level of on-board comfort with the dual zone climate control system, the Alfa Connect infotainment system and an audio system, with 8, 10 or 14 speakers (in this case by Harman Kardon) depending on version.
Finally yet importantly, the 525-litre boot competes with the best in the segment and has a convenient electric tailgate that can be set with three different opening levels, directly from the Alfa Rotary selector.
Stelvio features a number of safety systems, available as standard and key amongst them is the Integrated Brake System (IBS), Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Brake with pedestrian detection, Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) with Rear Cross-Path.
Under the bonnet is a 2,0-litre turbo-charged petrol engine featuring a power output of 206 kW and 400 Nm of torque. The 4-cylinder unit, built entirely from aluminium is combined with an 8-speed automatic transmission, driving a carbon drive shaft and Q4 all-wheel drive.
In addition to MultiAir electro-hydraulic valve actuation, the engine features ‘2-in-1’ turbo and 200-bar high-pressure direct fuel injection, delivering rapid accelerator response, powering from 0 to 100 km/h in 5,7 seconds, with a top speed of 230 km/h.
The 8-speed automatic transmission fitted to the Stelvio is specifically calibrated for fast, smooth gearshifts. The transmission has a lock-up clutch and, depending on the mode chosen with the Alfa DNA selector, the automatic transmission optimises fluidity, comfort and ease of driving in all environments, including around town and improves fuel economy and CO2 emissions. Steering-column-mounted, aluminium paddle shifters are available as standard.
Dynamic mode accentuates performance and handling with precise steering response and immediate braking; resulting in a sporty driving style. Natural mode is ideal for urban and highway driving with handling tailored for comfort and fuel economy. Finally, the Advanced Efficiency maximises energy savings and minimises emissions levels.
Achieving its surprisingly (for a SUV) good handling, a key factor is the weight distribution between the two axles – an Alfa Romeo tradition – requiring management of the weights and materials involved, achieved by adjusting the car’s layout and by placing the heaviest units in the most central position.
While I may not have the Stelvia Pass as a playground on the test, my usual route involves a reasonably useful climb with some fast sweeps and a couple of really tight turns that allow both braking performance and handling to be closely examined.
You know the old saying – if it looks like and Alfa, feels like an Alfa and sounds like an Alfa, it must be an Alfa.
The Stelvia turns in neatly, never feels top heavy as some SUVs do when in press on mode and, with both grip and drive from all four wheels, I battled to get it to become unsettled – and on dirt roads the ‘nanny’ systems allow quite a long leeway before kicking in so it can be induced into a slide when needed.
A double wishbone suspension with a semi-virtual steering axis sits up front and the rear suspension uses a four-and-a-half link system – patented by Alfa Romeo – to deliver precise control of the wheel’s characteristic angles.
The Q4 system continuously monitors numerous parameters to optimise torque distribution between the two axles according to what the car is doing and how much grip the road surface offers.
In normal grip conditions, the Stelvio with Q4 system acts like a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, with 100% of the torque sent to the rear axle. As the wheels approach their grip limit, the system transfers up to 50% of the torque to the front axle.
If this (along with the Giulia) are the ‘new’ Alfa Romeo, then I look forward to the next offerings.
All Alfa Romeo Stelvio’s feature a 3 year / 100,000 km Warranty and a 6 year / 100,000km Maintenance plan as standard.