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2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio
New Car Test Drive

Introduction

Some say the new Alfa Romeo Stelvio is Fiat Chrysler’s moment. Some say it’s do or die. If they can pull it off, to bring crossover SUV and sexy Italian together, they can do anything.

Sexy Italian v focused German, like Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, competing in your mind until they all look alike.

The Stelvio is gorgeous, hot, charming, tight and agile. Out of the box it’s capable, dynamic, and thrilling. It’s a dancer. The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine accelerates with the Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan.

Stelvio’s mission to be the world’s first sexy crossover is made easier by the Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan. Consider the Stelvio a jacked-up Giulia, as the sedan and crossover share engines, transmissions, suspensions, brakes, steering systems, interiors and last but not least styling.

Now imagine, a 505-horsepower Quadrifoglio model. Coming early 2018.

The Alfa Romeo Stelvio is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission (paddle shifters extra). It’s all-wheel drive, with a lightened system that’s rear-wheel biased, sending power to the fronts only when needed, up to 60 percent. It rates 22/28 miles per gallon City/Highway, or 24 mpg Combined, according to the EPA.

A totally new model, Stelvio is named after the serpentine road that leads over Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps.

Model Lineup

Alfa Romeo Stelvio ($41,995) is powered by a 280-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and comes with leather seats, rearview camera, 18-inch wheels, LED taillamps, dual-zone climate control, 7.0-inch display in the instrument cluster, 6.5-inch infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 8-speaker sound system, and power liftgate.

Stelvio Ti ($$43,995) adds wood trim, heated leather seats, 8.8-inch infotainment, satellite radio, 19-inch wheels, and front parking sensors.

Stelvio Quadrifoglio features a 505-hp 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6.

Options packages include Sport package, Lusso package, Driver Assistance Static package, Driver Assistance Dynamic Plus package, Cold Weather Package, Ti Performance package. Plus standalone options, like navigation and bigger infotainment on bigger screen.

Walkaround

The nose of the Stelvio is striking and beautiful. It’s a mirror image of the Giulia. The classic trilobo grille looks even better on the Stelvio, higher off the ground.

The sleek roofline makes the profile look more like a sedan than a crossover, and nowadays sedans look like coupes. On some models there’s a lip over the sloped and pinched rear greenhouse, which sort of says crossover, but otherwise it looks like a sedan with cladding and more ground clearance. The wheels are too beautiful for off road, for sure.

There are a couple of etched character lines in the side, the edginess that crossovers have been chasing for years. But Italian designers do voluptuous better than they copy edgy, so the carving into sheetmetal on the sides of the Stelvio steals some from its identity. Between the front and rear wheels, on the side of the car, it doesn’t say Alfa Romeo.

The rear hatch tries to be voluptuous, and may be about as voluptuous as a rear hatch can get. There’s an interesting shallow canyon carved into the liftgate, so you’re pretty sure it’s not a Lexus, but you never know.

Interior

The cabin in a perfectly equipped Stelvio is a wonderful place to be on a long drive. The standard leather seats have the elegance of a restored classic. In the upscale models, the trim is wood and aluminum, with a minimum of plastic around. The flat-bottomed steering wheel has grips. It’s hard to imagine it without the paddle-shifters that come on the Sport, along with seats.

The stop-start button has an inspired and purposeful location. But the infotainment controls seem out of place. And there is an overarching sense of cheapness in the cabin. The plastic bits are firm, never mind that they’re technically called soft touch. The plastic is hard and black on the center console.

The Ti seats have more bolstering than the base seats. The Sport seats are super supportive, the only seats to have if you drive your Stelvio the way any Alfa likes to be driven.

The back seat is tiny. Pushing it even for kids. There’s just 32 inches of legroom, which is 4.5 inches less than the smallest European, the BMW X3. The headroom is about average for the class, more than the Mercedes-Benz GLC but less than the Audi Q5.

The cargo space is average, 18.5 cubic feet in back and 56.6 with the rear seat folded. That’s about the same as the Mercedes-Benz GLC. Compare to Audi Q5 (26.8 rear, 60.4 total) and BMW X3 (27.6 rear, 63.3 total).

Driving Impressions

The 2.0-liter turbo makes 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque, which might be keeping Mercedes, BMW and Audi engineers up at night to catch up. Those numbers match some of the V6 engines from those makers.

The acceleration will keep you nicely pinned to the seat, from zero to redline. The broad torque kicks the two-ton Stelvio in the butt when necessary. Its zero-to-sixty time of 5.4 seconds is quickest in the class. It’ll go 144 miles per hour.

The eight-speed ZF automatic is fantastic. There is a DNA drive mode selector. In Natural, the transmission is unobtrusive, downshifting at the right places and upshifting at the correct time. In Advanced Efficiency, it upshifts early to use less gas. In Dynamic mode the shifts are fast and brutal at high rpm, unlike no crossover on earth. And downshifting with the brilliant big paddles on the Sport is smooth and quick. It’s a blast to shift manually.

The steering is fast and the suspension tight and agile. The ballerina-like handling easily matches the sublime handling of the Jaguar F-Pace. Its balance is perfect, a 50/50 weight distribution, so the handling is neutral and responsive. We haven’t had a chance to test the Stelvio with the Ti Performance package, with adaptive suspension and mechanical limited-slip differential. In any case, we find the base suspension very good.

The super-quick steering ratio of 11.8:1 means precision cornering. The steering feels natural and builds weight well. You can feel the car in the seat of your pants; there you have it, that’s what almost all Alfas have. It wanders a bit at freeway speeds, and can get tiring, but in the twisties it doesn’t matter.

The brakes need more development. It’s a new system, all-electric pedal with sensors sending to a computer that controls the brake calipers. In dynamic situations (the twisties), it’s fantastic. But in traffic, especially around town, it’s almost impossible to stop the Stelvio smoothly.

Summary

Stelvio is a dream come true. It’s a true-blue Alfa Romeo SUV. Striking face that announces Alfa. Italian acceleration from the 2.0 turbo (beats the Brits and Germans), spot-on eight-speed automatic, quick precise steering, tight and agile ride, Sport model with paddle shifters and snug seat. Cabin layout and materials are so-so, depending on model and package. If this is what you want in an SUV, Stelvio is the only one.

Sam Moses contributed to this report.


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