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.
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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 with standard 17-inch alloys and LED rear lights, while Super trim adds bigger wheels and Speciale trim adds chrome window surrounds and red-painted brake calipers. However, if you’re looking for the ultimate jaw dropper, then the Quadrifoglio version - complete with grilled bonnet vents, quad exhausts and faux rear air diffuser - creates an even more dramatic statement.
They’re not completely identical, but if you’ve ever been anywhere near the cabin of a Giulia saloon, there’ll be plenty you’ll recognise about the Stelvio. There are some flamboyant Italian idiosyncrasies, like the set of deeply cowled dials and the sporty three-spoke steering wheel, complete with starter button, but that’s mixed with some more conventional touches designed to make things easier to use. For example, the centre console is reminiscent of the one you find in the BMW 3 Series, in that there’s a dial controller to scroll through the on-screen menus. Yes, the screen could be bigger, the menus could be simpler and the graphics could be slicker and speedier in their operation, but the system still works reasonably well. The rest of the controls are well laid out, but some of them feel a little bit flimsy. The build quality is a little suspect in other areas, too, because the materials, finishes and textures used have nowhere near the lustre of those in the established German competitors. The way they’re assembled doesn’t feel quite as solid or substantial, either. There’s lots of adjustment for your driving position, but the seat bases on all the chairs are rather short, meaning your thighs might feel like they’re not getting enough support. The small rear window also means your rearward visibility is rather limited.
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 for odds and ends. There aren’t many cars these days that struggle for space up front, and that’s certainly the case with the Stelvio, but happily, there’s also enough space in the back for a couple of substantially proportioned adults. Headroom is adequate rather than generous, but a brace of six-footers will still be able to sit comfortably, and kneeroom is rather more plentiful. It’s not as roomy as many other prestige SUVs, but it easily has a Porsche Macan matched for space. What’s more, the boot is a very generous size by class standards, there’s not much of a lip to muscle your stuff over and there’s also a powered tailgate on every model. The rear seats can be split 40/20/40 and are released from their moorings by using a couple of levers, which are unusually but conveniently located at the outward edges of the rear seat base. Unfortunately, unlike a Mazda CX-5, which releases and folds the seat flat in one fluid action, the Stelvio’s levers simply release the locking mechanism, so you’ll still end up tugging the backrests down manually.
Ride and handling
Although it’s a high-riding SUV, the Stelvio feels incredibly light and nimble and is exceptionally resistant to body roll. Consequently, it tackles corners more like a well-sorted hot-hatch than a cushy crossover. What’s more, because it sends most of the engine’s power to the rear wheels, most of the time, there’s real flow and fluidity in the way in moves along a twisty road, and there’s proper satisfaction to be had from getting a corner right.
The steering, also, 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 lightness 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 the Stelvio sure isn’t the most cosseting car of its type. However, it’ll still be plenty comfortable enough for most people, and given the handling abilities it displays, it’s a lot more comfortable than it has any right to be.
Mainstream Stelvios come with one of four engines, a pair of 2.0-litre petrols with either 200PS or 280PS, or 2.1-litre diesels (Alfa calls them 2.2s, but they’re not) with 180PS or 210PS. All of them come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. We’ve tried the more powerful petrol and diesel versions, and the diesel is the better of the pair. It has plenty of urge no matter how many revs are on the dial, so your progress is always smooth and easy. The gearbox also helps, because it’s both fast and smooth in the way it operates. Sure, it’s not as smooth as the 2.0-litre lump found in the Audi Q5 – after all, not much is – but the Stelvio’s diesel is still pretty cultured. The 280PS petrol does sound a wee bit uncouth at low revs, and it will stutter occasionally when driving in slow traffic, but it starts sounding fruitier as you work it harder and it develops useful turn of speed, although it never feels as brisk as the output suggests.
Compare the Stelvio with equivalent versions of rivals like the Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLC, and you’ll find that the three are very similar in price, fuel economy and CO2 emissions. The Jaguar F-Pace is similar in price but a little less impressive than the rest on the other stuff, while the Porsche Macan will cost you bags more on all counts. Unfortunately, where the Alfa doesn’t fare as well as any of its rivals is depreciation, and as this is the biggest running cost that any buyer faces, that has a pretty nasty effect on your overall running costs. During the average three-year, 60,000-mile ownership period, running the Stelvio will cost you considerably more than everything except the much-more-expensive Porsche, and it only just edges that contest.
This is an area Alfa really needs to go to town on if it is to be taken seriously as a mainstream player. 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, like that car, the Stelvio earned a full five-star rating in Euro NCAP crash tests, including a very-impressive score of 97% for Adult Occupant Safety. Like the Giulia, the Stelvio comes with no fewer 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.
No matter which version of the Stelvio you choose, you’ll get a fair amount of luxury kit included. The base-level car comes with niceties including cruise control, rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, climate control and a DAB radio, and that’s not bad at all. Most buyers will want to upgrade to the Super grade at least for its sat-nav and part-leather seat trim, and plenty will go a stage further to Speciale trim for full leather, heated and powered seats, and a whole bunch of extra styling goodies.
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 the space and practicality of 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. That alone will be very appealing to buyers looking for an element of practicality, but with fun and style thrown in, too.