We test the very first SUV from the Italian automaker…
Alfa Ro-may-yo. The name rolls easily off the tongue and, to many readers of this title, its mere mention conjures up images of 1960s topless sportscars, 1980s coupés with V6 engines and panel-bashing touring cars from the 1990s. In the last two decades, however, the darling brand of petrolheads the world over has had to rely heavily on nostalgia as it negotiated a rocky patch.
Rebuilding efforts – starting with the limited-edition 8C supercar and then the 4C sportscar – gained momentum with a more traditional offering in the shape of the rear-wheel-drive Giulia sedan.
It’s no surprise, then, that the flavour of the current sales charts, the SUV, was the next model in its product line-up. The Stelvio thus becomes the 108-year-old firm’s first foray into this segment, allowing Alfa to join the ranks of Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and numerous others by offering its very own take on the luxury SUV theme.
The Stelvio is pure Alfa in appearance. Being Italian, style is a key consideration and kudos to its designers who, in this age of cookie-cutter, safety-legislation-driven design, have imbued the Stelvio with a suitably distinctive aesthetic. The snout, not dissimilar to that of its Giulia sibling, features the brand’s plunging shield grille and slim headlamp treatment, while curvaceous lines set it apart from more angular rivals. During our test period, one onlooker asked whether it was a Maserati and another enquired if it was a Porsche. As lacking in current automotive brand knowledge as that may be, it’s still high praise indeed.
In pictures, it is hard to discern the Stelvio’s size, but at nearly 2,0 metres wide and 4,7 metres long, in the flesh it is larger than you may expect. Unlike many of its competitors, to its credit, the entry-level Super on test here rides on 18-inch alloys enveloped in high-profile tyres (we’ll expand on their benefits a bit further on). For now, there is only one other variant in the range, the First Edition, and it comes with 20-inch alloys, full-grain leather upholstery, a 10-speaker audio system, active cruise control, blind spot monitoring and an electric sunroof, all for the princely sum of R946 000.
The Stelvio’s cabin is a near-replica of that found in the Giulia. All the switchgear, even the steering wheel with its starter button and basic layout, are identical. Save for the infotainment screen, which is fractionally slimmer, there is little to differentiate the two vehicles from the front seats.
The height adjustable captain’s chair made it easy for all testers to find a suitable driving position, although once there it quickly became clear rearward vision is restricted by a steeply raked rear screen and large C-pillars. Rear legroom is adequate, if not plentiful, but the boot space is among the best in class, helped here by a space-saver spare sited under the boot board. While the perceived quality of the trim isn’t quite up to the high standards set by the Germans, this Stelvio felt well assembled and displayed no creaks or squeaks as some test units from other premium manufacturers are prone to doing.
For now, there is only one powertrain option: a 2,0-litre turbopetrol. Later this year, buyers can also opt for a high-performance QV version with a 375 kW/600 N.m 2,9-litre V6 twin-turbo powerhouse under the hood (read our driving impression here). The smaller engine delivers an impressive 206 kW and 400 N.m of torque, figures that easily trump those of its natural rivals.
Local Stelvios are offered only with all-wheel drive; in some international markets, there are rear-wheel-drive alternatives. Power is fed to the wheels via a ZF-sourced eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission and all versions feature a carbon-fibre propshaft. Other mass-saving measures include aluminium fenders, bonnet and tailgate as well as suspension components; this allowed the Stelvio to tip our scales at 1 778 kg, somewhat lighter than its competition.
That lower kerb weight, along with its power advantage, endows the Stelvio with spirited performance. On our test strip, it recorded a 0-to-100 km/h sprint time of 6,91 seconds. That may be far removed from Alfa’s claim of 5,7 seconds, but considering the scorching temperatures experienced on the day it was tested, it’s an impressive achievement.
Although it wore high-performance Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres along with large discs, and the fronts are clamped by Brembo four-piston callipers, the Stelvio Super averaged 3,08 seconds in our 10-stop braking routine. That’s not as sharp as expected, but again, as mentioned, it was particularly hot on the day of testing. It’s worth pointing out, too, that the overly sharp characteristics exhibited by this system when we first drove the Giulia were not evident in the Stelvio. Clearly, some welcome electronic remapping has occurred (the Giulia has since also been subjected to this tweak).
As the SUV shares its Giorgio platform with the sedan, the Stelvio is inherently rear-wheel biased. The all-wheel-drive system sends power to the rear axle almost all of the time and, only when the ECU detects slip does it apportion a maximum of 50% torque to the front wheels. On the road, this translates into a particularly sporty driving experience, including lightning-quick steering, that’s in line with the brand’s credo. Alfa clearly understands that no one will really buy a Stelvio to venture off the beaten path and, while it isn’t quite as dynamic as the more expensive Porsche Macan, the Stelvio does possess an inherent sportiness that’s highlighted by fast-acting, accurate steering.
To those high-profile tyres mentioned earlier: yes, they temper the Stelvio’s sporting edge somewhat, but the upside is a supple ride that betters all but the Audi Q5, and especially those rivals shod with run-flat tyres.