Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV (2017 - ) review
You can always rely on Alfa Romeo to do things in its own inimitable fashion, and the Stelvio is living proof of that. It may look like an SUV, but it’s far more of a focused driver’s car than a comfortable, family runabout. Alfa would love you to think of it as a cheaper alternative to the Porsche Macan.
Interested in buying Alfa Romeo Stelvio?
Trying to make an SUV look slinky and sexy, while retaining that essential jacked-up, ‘mess with me at your peril’ brutishness might seem like an impossible contradiction. Somehow though, the Stelvio’s designers have managed to pull it off and in the process, have made the Stelvio look longer and leaner than the tape measure would suggest. There’s no doubting the family ties to the Giulia saloon, thanks to a grille and a bonnet that appear to have been purloined from the same parts bin, while an array of sharp cuts and discreet bulges stretch matters and do a very effective job of masking the Stelvio’s height advantage over its Giulia saloon car cousin. It’s a fine looking car even in standard guise, but if you’re looking for the ultimate jaw dropper then the Quadrifoglio version complete with grilled bonnet louvres, quad exhaust, and faux rear diffuser, create an even more dramatic statement.
The Stelvio interior is certainly attractively designed, even if it lacks some of the surprise and delight components you find in German rivals. It even has a bit of a throwback feel, with a traditional speedometer and rev counter. There’s not even a pop-up screen to display the sat-nav, phone book and audio settings. Instead, a rather emaciated looking screen is jammed into the dashboard. This probably says all you need to know about Alfa’s design philosophy, as easy on the eye always takes precedence over ease of focus.
It’s the same throughout the cabin, where on the surface, everything looks great, but start scrutinising matters closely and you’re confronted with some very workman-like surfaces, some yawning panel gaps, and some rather sloppy switchgear. We even found a decidedly nasty unfinished edge on the gearshift selector.
We struggle to think of many SUVs that don’t provide adequate head- and leg-room up front, and the Stelvio is no exception. The flat bottomed sports steering wheel feels good in the hand, and the large column mounted gear shift paddles have a pleasing tactile action. If anything, the steering wheel doesn’t extend far enough out of the dashboard, so if you’re on the leggy side, you may find yourself adopting a bit of a straight-armed driving position.
If you’re in the habit of travelling big distances, you may want to go for an extensive test drive before committing. Although the Stelvio’s front seats are supportive enough, the cushions are a wee bit on the short side, so they can create some under thigh pins and needles after an hour or so at the wheel.
Unlike the Giulia saloon – which is very tight on rear head-room and has a seat base about as thick and as compliant as 15mm board of MDF – the Stelvio’s elevated roofline means there’s a good amount of rear head-room for adults, and the rear cushions are reasonably plump, too. Leg-room for adults is pretty decent as well.
You will find a decent amount of storage up front, with door pockets that can easily hold a bottle of water, a couple of cupholders, and plenty of space under the centre armrest. That said, the armrest is very long and has a bit of an Alpine slope from back-to-front, so you’ll need to get your left elbow tucked well into your ribs before prising the lid open.
The Stelvio looks a lot smaller than it actually is, and nowhere is this more apparent than when opening the electrically powered tailgate: it’s standard on all models. With a claimed 525 litres with the seats in place, and 650 litres with the seats backs folded flat, that’s one mighty big hole to fill. The cynic in us suggests that all is not as it seems however, as the load cover, from under which the 525 litre measurement is taken, sits incredibly high in the load bay.
The rear seat backs can split 40/20/40 and be released from their moorings by using a couple of levers, which are unusually but conveniently located at the outward edges of the base of the rear seats. Unfortunately, unlike a Mazda CX-5 which releases and folds the seat flat in one concerted action, the Stelvio’s levers simply release the locking mechanism, so you’ll still end up tugging the seat backs down manually.
Ride and handling
Although it’s officially a high riding, four-wheel-drive SUV, the Stelvio feels incredibly light and nimble and is exceptionally resistant to roll. Consequently, it tackles corners more like a well-sorted hot-hatch than any cushy crossover we’ve ever driven. What’s more, because it sends most of the engine’s power to the rear wheels, most of the time, the Stelvio really warms to a slow-in-fast-out, rear-wheel-drive driving style. Consequently, you can forget about sweaty, last-minute braking antics, frantic steering inputs and sadistic accelerator stamping. Instead, when approaching a bend, it’s far more edifying to get off the brakes early, wait for the rear end of the car to settle, and then apply power smoothly and progressively to tackle corners with maximum efficiency. Get it spot on and you can’t help but getting a warm fuzzy feeling.
The steering itself is superfast, with just a couple of turns required to go from lock-to-lock and it’s one of the best electric steering systems we’ve encountered. Although its light weighting and slightly soft feel may prove a tad delicate for some tastes, there are no glaring inconsistencies in its weighting when turning into and exiting corners, so it feels extremely well connected to the road surface, especially when complemented by low profile 20-inch tyres. Of course, this dynamic prowess does dictate some compromise in ride quality and let’s just say, if you held a gun to our heads, we’d reckon the Stelvio is going to feel pretty firm when the going gets tough on our deplorably battered roads.
The Stelvio will initially come with two engines, including a 2.0-litre turbo petrol unit with 276bhp and 295lb ft of torque, or a 2.1-litre diesel with 207bhp and 347lb ft, and both come fitted with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. The petrol engine does sound a wee bit uncouth at low revs, and it will stumble occasionally on and off the throttle when driving in slow traffic, but it soon clears its throat and develops a useful turn of speed as the revs climb and it flips seamlessly through the gears. Although it’s not as smooth as the 2.0-litre lump found in the Q5 – not much is – the Stelvio’s diesel is still a pretty strong and cultured unit. It does its best work from 1500rpm, and although it will continue to rev, its power output does tend to fall off beyond 3000rpm.
According to Alfa, for the time being at least, the Stelvio diesel smashes its German rivals for efficiency. Emitting 127g/km of CO2, this gives the Stelvio a 26% benefit in kind tax implication. A 2.0d BMW X3 emits 142g/km, so tax will be levied at 30% of its list price. Perhaps a better consideration is the Audi Q5 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel, which emits 132g/km of CO2 with a resultant 28% tax rating. That said, it’s worth bearing in mind, a new, more efficient Q5, is imminent. The petrol-powered Stelvio will cost a fair bit more to run as its official return is only 40mpg, and its produces 161g/km CO2 emissions. We reckon the residual values for the Stelvio will be better than any previous mainstream Alfa, but even so, we would be gob smacked if it were to hang onto more of its value than an Audi Q5.
This is an area Alfa really needs to go to town on if it is to be taken seriously as a mainstream player. It’s not just the cars that need to improve either. Alfa dealers have a reputation for being slow to respond and sometimes unwilling to help customers who have experienced problems with their cars. This is reflected in the brand's current position in the Warranty Direct Reliability Index, where it sits perilously close to the foot of the table of manufacturers. At least there’s a good chance the Stelvio will be more reliable than Alfas of old, as it is built on a brand new platform and the engines are state of the art units. The Stelvio comes with a two-year/unlimited mileage warranty, plus a third-year limited to 100,000 miles. No doubt Alfa is hoping owners never have to make use of this.
The Stelvio is built on the same platform and uses many of the same components as the Giulia saloon, and given that car gained a full five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests, including a very-impressive score of 98% for Adult Occupant Safety, things look very encouraging for the Stelvio. Like the Giulia, the Stelvio comes with no less than nine airbags, plus slow-speed Autonomous Emergency Braking and a Forward Collision Warning System that'll alert the driver of any impending danger. Also included is a Lane-Departure Warning System, that burps at you through the car’s speakers should you drift out of your lane, but it’s not as sophisticated as the most modern set-ups, which can automatically ease the car back into lane. As you’d expect, mandatory kit like tyre pressure monitors, traction control and anti-lock brakes are also included, as well as the option to fit more advanced safety kit, including a range of camera- and radar-based safety systems, such as Blind-Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path Detection.
Information on just how much kit you’ll get as standard and what will be optional is still sketchy, but we’d be amazed if the Stelvio didn’t come with as much if not more kit than its nearest rivals. Consequently, things like four electric windows, remote central locking, Bluetooth, a DAB radio, automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, a multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and climate control should all be standard. Equally, you’ll pay more for things like leather powered and heated front seats.
Simply because it offers a fresh and rather unique approach to SUV ownership. The Stelvio looks like an SUV, has the same lofty driving position as an SUV, and offers all the same space and practicality as an SUV, but that’s where the similarities end. Other than the far pricier Porsche Macan, no other SUV can match the Stelvio’s wholly impressive dynamic prowess. While it steers and handles with great alacrity and displays impressive composure, given the right road it can be as much fun as many a hot hatch. You do need to recognise however, because the Stelvio ploughs its own furrow, ultimately, it isn’t going to be as comfortable as many of its more relaxed rivals. If you’re good with that then Alfa’s most accomplished product in living memory could be a very worthwhile investment.