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LIGURIA, Italy – Alfa Romeo is finally on the up and up. The darling brand of petrolheads the world over, Alfa has endured a few less-than-sterling decades. But that slump seemed to turn around with the launch of models such as the 4C sportscar, and more recently the mid-sized Giulia sedan.
Of course, for quite some time, almost every automaker offered one model that the Italian marque didn’t: an SUV. But the recent launch of the Stelvio changed that, and I had the chance to sample the new model on Italian soil.
Alfa’s first production SUV is named after the highest mountain pass in Italy, one that creates a link with Switzerland. As the firm’s first attempt at an SUV, and the popularity of this type of vehicle, there is plenty riding on the shoulders of the Stelvio.
As is the case with most Alfa models, the Stelvio excels in the appearance department. From almost any angle the SUV manages to cut a handsome figure. Most SUVs comes across as blocky and angular, but not this one, which is curvy in all the right places.
Even driven in its home market, the Stelvio managed to garner appreciative nods and glances from onlookers, not least of all in the tiny town of Maranello, home of red sportscars with horsey badges on their snouts. In my eyes, it comes across as a junior version of the curvy Maserati Levante, which is arguably the best-looking SUV currently on sale.
As a driver of the new Giulia long-termer, which you can read about here, the interior of the Stelvio was quite familiar. Much of the sedan’s interior treatment, as well as the switchgear, has been carried over, including the steering wheel (and starter button), ventilation controls, window switches and infotainment rotary controller.
The raised driving position and improved vision over the Giulia made it really easy to pilot on unfamiliar Italian Autostradas, and narrow Italian mountain roads. The latter can be nerve-wracking to negotiate not only because of the width, but also due to the crazy drivers you might encounter coming the other way.
The new model is based on the same platform as its Giulia sibling, internally dubbed Giorgio. In keeping with the theme, AWD is the drivetrain of choice.
Power is provided by the same 2,0-litre turbopetrol as the Giulia that I steer on a daily basis, so it is a motor that I am quite au fait with. In reality, there may be a slight performance difference between the two models, but with European fuel prices on the high side, I was rarely injudicious with the throttle.
Power is handled by smooth eight-speed automatic transmission, which features paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, but these aren’t really needed in a vehicle of this type.
Easy over the bumps
Stelvio displays a ride quality that is composed and comfortable, with very little body lean. However, it isn’t quite as polished as that of the new Audi Q5, which is pretty much class-leading in this regard.
Although I drove the all-wheel-drive model, I didn’t get to leave sealed tar. Though, as is the case with most rival SUVs, the Stelvio is unlikely to ever be used for any proper off-roading adventures.
Much like the Giulia, which we’ve tested in more than one guise and came away impressed each time, the Stelvio is a product that really does measure up favourably against its rivals.
The new model will debut in South Africa early in 2018 with a full range of models that includes a high-powered QV derivative. Pricing, of course, will be key and is likely to be the deciding factor in sales success in our market.
Initial indications are that Alfa’s SUV is a good alternative to rivals, especially for style-conscious buyers. And, according to our sources at Alfa Romeo SA, almost 100 buyers have already placed orders … and that’s without a single test-drive taking place.
Fast factsModel: Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2,0 Turbo Q4
Engine: 2,0-litre turbopetrol
Power: 147 kW @ 4 500 r/min
Torque: 330 N.m @ 1 750 r/min
0-100 km/h: n/a
Top Speed: n/a
Fuel Consumption: 7,0 L/100 km
CO2: 161 g/km
Transmission: 8-speed automatic