Alfa Romeo might have been late to the SUV-party, but when they arrived, they brought with them an absolute zinger!
The Stelvio has been marketed by Alfa Romeo as their first SUV in more than a century. You would be forgiven for imagining an Italian chariot bearing the Alfa Romeo emblem navigating the cobblestone roads around the Coliseum in the early 1900s. Instead, this is just Alfa’s first production SUV since the automakers inception in 1910.
The reality is, Alfa Romeo have always built magnificently beautiful automobiles that were genuine drivers cars, whilst steeped in a cloak of Alfa’s rich racing heritage. That’s not the first thing you would imagine when thinking about a sport utility vehicle, but…somehow…Alfa has managed to incorporate that into their Stelvio.
The Stelvio was actually preceded by the Kamal concept SUV back in 2003, and was named after the famous Stelvio Pass, Italy's highest mountain pass, noted for its 48 circuitous switchbacks. And with the mid-size SUV market being one of fastest growing automotive segments, it was only logical than Alfa Romeo targeted that segment as a start for its plans of world domination.
Much like the Giulia sedan, the Stelvio signals the dawn of a new era for the Italian automaker. Its design is heavily influenced by the Giulia; borrowing key styling cues such as the trademark shield-shaped grille, carvenous air intakes and narrow LED headlights. The rear though is dominated by two very large polished tail pipes exiting either side of the faux diffuser. It is rather attractive, and has a certain dynamic appeal in a segment where designs have become a little mundane and unimaginative. Similarities with the sedan extend beneath the skin too, with the Stelvio underpinned by the same aluminium chassis – made up of double wishbone front suspension and four-and-a-half link setup at the rear.
While the Stelvio comes standard with a mix of wood and leather trim, our test car was equipped with the optional Luxury Pack that added electric-operated heated seats, aluminium inserts and steel pedals. The cabin might not be as avant-garde as its German rivals, but much like the Giulia, its very driver focused, minimalist and of course premium. An 8.8-inch infotainment system is housed in the centre of the dash and operated via the control wheel on the centre console. A standard fitment item, it offers connectivity and capability with all mobile devices, and whilst not a touchscreen unit, offers fairly ease of use from the central knob.
Nestled into the hip-huggling sport seats, the first thing you notice is the hooded instrument cluster and BMW-inspired shifter. Fortunately, there are paddle shifts should you ever need to take shifts into your hands. The driving position is great, and the Stelvio proved supremely comfortable on a 1,200km weekend trip. Also worth noting is the DNA drive mode selector located next to the shifter. This rotary knob, offers a choice between Dynamic, Normal and Advanced Efficiency modes, all of which significantly alter the driving characteristics of the vehicle.
Under its prowling bonnet, is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol motor. Yes, this is the result of downsizing, and there is no diesel option available. In fact, this motor will hold the fort until the high-powered Stelvio Quadrifoglio arrives at a later stage. Outputs are impressive, boasting 206kw and peak torque of 400nm, available from just 2,250rpm. The motor, which is not available in our local spec Giulia, is built entirely from aluminium and is combined with the 8-speed automatic transmission, driving a carbon drive shaft and Q4 all-wheel drive system. The linear power delivery and relentless surge of the motor, will not have us disputing the Stelvio’s claimed class-leading 0-100kph sprint of 5.7 seconds and 230kph maximum speed. Fuel consumption is also very good for such a large vehicle, with us averaging low 7s on our 1,200km test trip.
Alfa’s Q4 four-wheel drive system and torque vectoring technology features in the Stelvio. Under normal driving conditions the Stelvio sends 100% of its power to the rear axle, but the Q4 system continuously monitors torque split between the front and rear wheels. An active transfer case and front differential allow up to 50% of the engines power to be transferred to the front axle.
Combined with torque vectoring technology – a first on any Alfa Romeo – torque can then be optimised between the rear wheels individually thanks to two clutches in the rear axle. Alfa claims a perfect 50:50 weight distribution and the Stelvio tips the scales at 1,660kg. Aluminium has been used extensively on the SUV, with a platform, engines, suspension, door, bonnet and bootlid all made from the lightweight material.
Not that the use of aluminium has compromised its safety in any way. It achieved a stellar five star rating in the Euro NCAP crash tests, and comes with ABS, EBD, BAS, hill descent control, six airbags, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection. Despite its size, the Stelvio is actually quite light on its feet, meaning that should a situation where accident avoidance arises, a quick left-right chink of the steering sees the Stelvio side-step any issues, with little to no destabilization.
Against the tape measure, the new Alfa Stelvio comes in at 4687mm long, 1903mm wide and 1671mm tall. That makes it almost identical in length to the Porsche Macan, but significantly wider. And with a ground clearance of 200mm, it makes it relatively happy to engage in any sort of soft-roading. The standard fitment 18-inch wheels wrapped in 235/60 rubber, not only provide plenty of dampening for a softer ride on regular roads, but also allows for more confidence on dirt roads. Should you happen to stumble upon a river that needs crossing, your bravery will run out at anything deeper than its claimed wading depth of 480mm.
While the Stelvio 2.0T is massive first effort for Alfa Romeo, the question on every petrol heads mind is when is the Stelvio Quadrifoglio coming? Alfa Romeo confirms it is indeed scheduled for a South African release and will either land in Msanzi just before the end of 2018, or early in 2019. The Mercedes-AMG GLC63 rival is powered by a 2.9-litre V6 - derived from a Ferrari - and develops 375kw and 600nm; and boasts some stupendous performance figures, with 0-100kph dealt with in 3.8 seconds, and capable of a top speed of 283kph. And if you don’t believe that the Stelvio has some track focused DNA in it, let us remind you that the Stelvio Quadrifoglio current holds the record for the fastest SUV to lap the Nurburgring – ahead of performance cars like the Lamborghini Gallardo LP 560-4 and BMW F10 M5 Competition.
Does the Stelvio have what it takes to conquer SUV-crazy South Africa? It sure does, but buyers might be a little put off by its R834 900 price tag. That said, much like with any Alfa, this appears to be an emotional decision. However, when you weigh up the facts, that this Stelvio has stylish good looks, a well-built quality interior, strong performance and sharp handling, you realise that it’s actually a sporty SUV that makes sense. The key to the Stelvio though, is driving it. Factor in a six-year/100 000km maintenance plan as the cherry on top, and you have a vehicle that can definitely set the cat amongst the pigeons.