Named after an Italian mountain pass famed for driving satisfaction, does the first-ever Alfa Romeo SUV deliver on the same promise? Richard Gooding reports
What is it?
Long-regarded as a manufacturer of charismatic and ‘emotional’ cars, Alfa Romeo has one of the most evocative model back catalogues in the automotive world.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the marque created such iconic cars as the GTA and the deft-handling Alfasud, while the fleet-friendly 156 of 1996 combined style with practicality.
The sharp-suited 159 of 2004 continued that trend, with the latest Giulia bringing the Alfa saloon up‑to‑date when it was unveiled in 2015.
The Stelvio marks the Italian manufacturer’s first foray in the SUV world, and builds on the look first inspired by the Kamal concept car of 2003, which floated the idea of a tall-silhouette Alfa Romeo.
Not quite so an outlandish a concept as it first appeared, the Stelvio arrives at a time when SUVs are riding high, and when premium SUVs in particular are very fashionable. With rivals such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace, Land Rover Discovery Sport, and Volvo XC60 competing against it, the Alfa‑badged SUV’s success will be well-earned.
How does it drive?
With nods to both the well-received modern‑day Giulia saloon and the smaller Giulietta hatchback in its looks, the Stelvio looks every inch the Alfa Romeo SUV.
From the ‘scudetto’ front grille to the gently‑tapered rear end, there’s more a hint of estate car in the Stelvio’s appearance rather than typical high-shouldered SUV. And it works, the Italian newcomer looking both smart and sporty.
Get inside, and the story is the same. While the cabin bears similarities to the Giulia, Alfa says that the Stelvio’s interior is more passenger‑focused. A low seating position brings a snug and sporty feel to proceedings, though, as does the cabin’s fit and finish.
Similarly to its Giulia sibling, there are twin‑cowled dials, steering wheel-mounted and beautifully tactile aluminim paddle-shifters for the eight-speed automatic gearbox – the only transmission option – and a nice mix of carbonfibre and wood materials. However, the walnut trim on one of our test cars was part of an £1,900 option pack.
The cabin’s not the only place where exotic materials are used. At 1,604-1,659kg the Stelvio is the lightest SUV in its class, thanks to the liberal usage of lightweight materials in its construction. There is an aluminium bonnet and rear body, brake calipers, suspension, with engines also made from the lightweight metal.
A carbonfibre propshaft sends 100 per cent of the power from the front-mounted engine to the rear wheels – but four-wheel drive models can have as much as 50 per cent of that power sent to the front tyres.
The ‘Q4’ four-wheel drive system continuously monitors numerous parameters and optimises torque distribution between the two axles according to what the car is doing and how much grip the road surface offers.
Both the Stelvio and Giulia mark a return to ‘traditional’ rear-wheel drive Alfas, and share the same newly-developed ‘Giorgio’ platform. The Stelvio is 15 per cent stiffer than the Giulia, though, and also uses the same electronic and mechanical braking, steering, and suspension systems as its saloon sister.
What all this means of course, is that the Stelvio doesn’t handle like a traditional SUV, and feels very fleet of foot, yet incredibly stable, even at high speed.
Body control is good, the cambers and dips of our open road test route barely unsettling the Stelvio’s composure. The Italian SUV corners flatly, too, and exhibits an overall ‘tied‑down’ feeling. Add in a comfortable – if firm – ride and direct steering which lets you place the car accurately enough, and the Stelvio lives up to its sporty billing.
Performance is on the sporty side, too, with the 210bhp turbodiesel Stelvio posting a quoted 0-62mph time of 6.6 seconds, but if we’re being particularly critical, there’s a slight ‘lag’ from the automatic gearbox when accelerating. The engine is quiet when on the move, though.
Other downsides? The satellite navigation system lacks some polish when compared to some rivals with limited functionality and zoom options, and there doesn’t appear to be an overly large amount of rear legroom.
How economical is it?
The Stelvio’s lightweight build helps with the its economy. Alfa Romeo quotes a combined cycle fuel economy figure of 58.9mpg for the 210bhp 2.2-litre turbodiesel‑engined Stelvio, which creeps up to 60.1mpg on lower-powered 180bhp versions.
All Stelvios feature stop-start systems to cut the engine when stationary in traffic to save fuel, and all engines regardless of fuel type meet the latest Euro 6 emissions standard.
Economy can be optimised further by choosing the ‘Advanced Efficiency’ mode on the Stelvio’s standard Alfa Romeo ‘D.N.A’ drive selector programme. Changing the car’s dynamic behaviour, the increased efficiency mode minimises emission levels and saves energy.
What does it cost?
Available in four trim levels, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio is priced from £33,990 for the entry‑level ‘Stelvio’ model powered by the 180bhp version of the 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine, driving the rear wheels.
As you’d expect from a premium-positioned SUV, equipment is high, with 17-inch alloy wheels, an 8.8-inch colour infotainment system, auto lights and wipers, climate control, cruise control, Alfa’s ‘DNA’ driving mode selector, and rear parking sensors all included in the price.
Move up to the £37,290-plus ‘Super’ specification and the wheels gain an inch in diameter, while satellite navigation and front parking sensors become kit additions.
‘Speciale’ models start at £43,690 and add 19-inch wheels and bi-xenon headlights, as well as chrome window surrounds, heated leather seats and steering wheel, and red brake calipers.
Range-topping ‘Milano Edizione’ Stelvios like our test cars include 20-inch alloy wheels, an upgraded 10-speaker audio system, keyless entry, privacy glass, rear-view camera, and sports leather seats in the £43,990-upwards price.
In time, a dedicated diesel-engined Tecnica model will also be available to corporate, fleet, and professional customers, offering key kit including an 8.8-inch Alfa Connect 3D Nav infotainment system, bi-xenon headlights, and electric folding mirrors.
How much does it cost to tax?
Alfa Romeo’s new SUV challenger has emissions of 127g/km in 2.2 turbodiesel Q4 all-wheel drive form, whether with outputs of 180bhp or the more powerful 210bhp version tested here.
This places it in the £160 first-year rate band of VED, with the launch cars’ high-specification Milano Edizione trim costing £450 per year thereafter due to their list price exceeding £40,000.
The lowest-emitting and cleanest two‑wheel drive 180bhp 124g/km Stelvios cost the same £160 in the first year, while the 200 and 280bhp four-wheel drive petrol models are rated at 161g/km, attracting a hefty £500 bill after initial registration.
The lowest-priced ‘Stelvio’ and ‘Super’-trimmed models that retail under £40,000 are the cheapest when it comes to VED after the first year, with all versions rated at £140.
Why does my fleet need one?
The Stelvio’s arrival is big news for Alfa Romeo. Expected to be its halo and biggest‑selling model in 2018, the company’s first SUV has a lot riding on its broad, rounded shoulders.
And overall, there is a great deal to like. Stylish looks, ample performance and a driving experience which is more sports-orientated than many of its rivals, the Stelvio is something of which Alfa can be justifiably proud.
While the list prices of high-end models attract a penalty when it comes to vehicle tax, the Stelvio should prove popular to drivers who desire a stylish and swift carry-all. Engaging yet practical, the Stelvio is a very attractive entry into the SUV segment from one of the most revered names in the business.