Alfa Romeo’s mission to build a new rival in North America to the established German luxury brands continues with the Stelvio, a luxury crossover SUV. It shares its ‘Giorgio’ architecture with the Giulia sedan, which has been on sale for just over a year and is now selling upwards of 1,000 cars a month in the USA.
The popularity of SUVs is reflected in the way the Stelvio’s sales have climbed quickly since its launch last September. Alfa’s North American boss, Pieter Hogeveen, expects it to overtake the Giulia’s monthly sales sometime in the second quarter of 2018. In the ice and snow of January, we put a US$43,995 Stelvio Ti to the test on the unforgiving streets of Detroit.
Putting the Stelvio AWD to the test
- distinctive styling, attractive cabin
- sporty handling without the ride penalty
- simple range and limited optional equipment
- styling brings some compromises to utility
- exhaust note might not be to everyone’s taste
- a couple of niggling faults on our test car
The curvy looks of the Giulia carry over to the Stelvio, which is a couple of inches longer than its close mechanical cousin. The styling is distinctive and clearly ‘sport’ rather than ‘utility’; that’s reflected in the trunk space, too, which at 18.5 cu-ft is considerably less than the Audi Q5’s 26.8 cu-ft, for example.
The Stelvio incorporates trademark Alfa cues such as the triangular grille and telephone-dial alloys – in the case of our test car, dark alloy 5-hole items that come as a US$500 option and complement the Trofeo white tri-coat paint ($2,200). Opt for the Sport package (US$2,500) and you can detail it with a choice of red, yellow or black brake calipers.
Interior and equipment
As in the Giulia, the interior gets the basics right. The seats are comfortable and the ambience is good. The build quality and materials hit the right note and the light walnut wood trim is particularly appealing. The rear view is a little compromised by the narrow rear window aperture, but you’ll cope.
Alfa has a stated policy of maintaining a simple range and including a high level of standard equipment. At US$900, the fine-sounding Harman-Kardon stereo fitted to the test car is one of few available options; others are a dual-pane sunroof (US$1,350) and several driver assistance packages, all of which were on this test vehicle, pushing the total price to US$56,090, including delivery charge. Soon, many of the higher-end features fitted here will be part of an available Lusso package, along with a full leather dashboard that Alfa says isn’t quite ready for North America yet.
The Dynamic setting brings sharper throttle and steering response, and the Stelvio holds on to its gears for longer, but you’ll need the Sport package to add paddle shifters.
One of our criticisms of the top-of-the-line Giulia Quadrifoglio last year was that we weren’t convinced that the infotainment system lived up to the US$73,000 price tag. Here in the US$30k cheaper Stelvio, the same interface feels less out of place. Adding navigation to the 8.8in touchscreen is a US$850 option; customers wanting to bring their own will be pleased to hear that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard across the Alfa range on 2018 models.
The 505-horsepower Stelvio Quadrifoglio is due to arrive in North America soon. Until it does, both available grades of Stelvio (regular or Ti) are powered by the same 2-liter, DI-turbo four-cylinder engine. It’s mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission with AWD and makes 280-horsepower and 306 lb-ft of torque. It all translates to relaxed progress with plenty of shove on tap when you need it.
Progress is accompanied by an exhaust burble self-consciously in the style of Alfas from days gone by. That’s good news and bad – it’s welcome when you’re feeling sporty, but doesn’t entirely retreat into the background when you’re cruising.
Speaking of sportiness, there’s the obligatory Alfa DNA switch if you’re in the mood. The Dynamic setting brings sharper throttle and steering response, and the Stelvio holds on to its gears for longer, but you’ll need the Sport package to add paddle shifters.
Twelve months ago we were surprised at the supple ride of the track-ready Giulia Quadrifoglio. It’s perhaps less of a surprise that the high-riding Stelvio should also play the comfort card well, but welcome nonetheless. The streets and highways of Detroit are a brutal test for any car, but the SUV’s passive yet sophisticated suspension setup survived the worst that they could throw at it, without any harshness. The Sport package includes 20in alloys and firmer suspension, but you might not want to go bigger than the 19in rims fitted here, just to be on the safe side.
…the dealer network continues to grow – currently 175 in the US, 13 in Canada – Alfa will find it easier to reach customers ready for something a little different to the German, Japanese or US mainstream.
The direct steering – a long-standing Alfa characteristic – is handy for taking last-minute evasive action when you encounter a pothole. It’s probably fun on a winding road, too (we didn’t get the chance to try that in the snow of January) but you’ll need to exercise a little caution when changing lanes at speed.
Unfortunately, there was a squeak in the steering column of our test car, which was due for attention at the end of the loan. Also behaving erratically was the tire pressure monitoring system, although this may have been due to the low ambient temperatures.
With established rivals like the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC300 and Audi Q5 to contend with, the Stelvio has its work cut out to establish a beachhead for Alfa Romeo in the luxury SUV segment.
Daunting opposition hasn’t stopped the Giulia from quietly making progress however, and as brand awareness and the dealer network continue to grow – currently 175 in the US, 13 in Canada – Alfa will find it easier to reach customers ready for something a little different to the German, Japanese or US mainstream.
The brand continues to be marketed as an emotional choice, but if the Italian alternative appeals, there’s little here that would stop you choosing a Stelvio with your head as well as your heart.
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