The verdict: The new Estrema trim level of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio bridges the gap between lesser versions of the car and the fire-breathing Quadrifoglio, but its problematic powertrain and aging interior are definitely issues.
Versus the competition: The Stelvio banks on its looks and brand cachet, but newer competitors have better powertrains and more spacious, better-designed interiors.
Drivers hunting for a compact luxury SUV have a lot of options: Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volvo all make one. The Stelvio debuted as a 2018 model, and it offers two powertrains in the U.S.: a 280-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that goes in all trims except the top Quadrifoglio (Italian for “four-leaf clover”). That car gets a gnarly Ferrari-derived twin-turbo V-6 that makes 505 hp. For the 2023 model year, there’s a new Stelvio Estrema trim that’s meant to bridge the gap between regular Stelvio models and the unique Quadrifoglio. I drove one for a week to see if Alfa has successfully spanned that rather significant chasm, but living with the SUV’s quirks and some dated characteristics led to a different conclusion entirely.
Related: Which New Cars Have Free Maintenance?
Nobody Does Style Like the Italians …
Despite the 2023 Stelvio being a 6-year-old design that’s seen no major updates, it still looks fantastic. Unlike other generic SUVs in this category, which could swap badges without most people noticing, the Stelvio features sculpted curves, muscular haunches, hood bulges and a unique Alfa Romeo triangular grille opening. The Estrema model adds blacked-out trim just about everywhere that isn’t painted one of the car’s four available paint colors; my test vehicle was a stunning Misano Blue Metallic, but red, white and black are also offered. Other design cues include 21-inch gloss-black wheels, gloss-black brake calipers with white Alfa Romeo script, and carbon-fiber veneers on the grille and mirror caps. There’s no faulting the way it looks; it’s a dynamite design that’s aged well. It’s still unique and easily identifiable as an Alfa Romeo.
… But Sometimes Style Needs an Update
The Stelvio’s nicely aging style sadly does not extend to the interior. While the materials quality of the Stelvio Estrema is acceptable, its design, packaging and technology are decidedly behind the times.
The Stelvio shares its platform with the Giulia compact luxury sedan, and you feel those compact roots when you step into it — which isn’t terribly easy. The B-pillars are strangely far forward, which makes getting into the driver’s seat something of a contortionist act. Oddly, the driver’s seat supposedly has an easy-in-and-out function, but it didn’t work on my test vehicle despite being selected in the central screen.
Once in the driver’s seat, you settle into a chair that is both covered in lovely leather and astonishingly uncomfortable. It sits too high for the surrounding controls and gauges, and that’s not just my opinion: Several passengers of various sizes tried out the vehicle and echoed those sentiments. Headroom is in short supply, as well, thanks to that seating position and a moonroof that eats up a couple of inches of overhead airspace front and back.
On top of things feeling tight up front, the backseat is practically useless for anyone but children. Legroom even with the front seats moved forward is almost comically absent. Part of that can be blamed on the floor hump for the driveshaft, but when it’s difficult to squish your toes under the front seats — and you’ll need to, as there’s simply nowhere else to put your feet — you know interior space needs to be improved. Cargo space, on the other hand, is acceptable, and the rear seatbacks fold easily thanks to levers in the cargo area.
All in all, it feels like the Stelvio just isn’t made for the U.S. market; it’s better suited to people who are 10%-20% smaller than the average American (which, let’s be honest, is most of the rest of the world). Of course, the Genesis GV70 has none of the Stelvio’s space and packaging issues, so I guess Alfa Romeo simply needs to rethink its engineering.
Old Tech Inside
Atop the dashboard is an 8.8-inch touchscreen that’s surprisingly not running a reskinned version of Stellantis’ Uconnect multimedia system. It’s especially odd considering Maserati, the conglomerate’s even fancier Italian brand, does use it. I wish Alfa did, too, as the Stelvio’s multimedia system is laggy and slow, and it doesn’t offer easy reconfigurability or the plethora of functions that Uconnect does. The screen is a decent size, but with a lot of competitors moving to even larger screens, the Alfa’s looks a bit puny. At least it’s well integrated with the dashboard, though; it doesn’t look like someone has stapled a massive iPad to the instrument panel.
The rest of the Stelvio’s controls are thankfully still honest-to-God buttons and switches, which we almost universally prefer over cramming everything into a soulless touchscreen. The start button on the steering wheel is a nice touch, and the rotary selectors on the center console are big and chunky, which makes them easy to spot and use. The steering wheel is grippy and thick, and it feels good in your hands. No complaints about the gauges, either — the Stelvio hasn’t switched to a digital instrument panel, so those slick-looking round dials that are easy to decipher are still there.