Sharing its platform, wheelbase, drivetrains and much more, the Stelvio is arguably a big wagon version of the Giulia sports sedan. Unlike the sedan, which made its U.S. debut in the Quadrifoglio performance trim level, the SUV starts with the base Stelvio ($42,990; all prices include destination) and the Stelvio Ti ($44,990). Alfa says the Quad will arrive in early 2018 at a price to be determined.
All Alfa Romeo Stelvios have standard all-wheel drive, called Q4, and with the exception of its standard wheel size — 19 inches versus 18 — the Ti’s $2,000 price bump makes no difference in the vehicle’s performance.
Driving upgrades come with the selection of the optional Sport Package ($1,800 on the Stelvio, $2,500 on the Stelvio Ti) or the Performance Package, which will be available later in the model year. I spent most of my time in Stelvio Ti Sport models but also put some miles on a non-Sport Stelvio to gauge its performance differences.
In price and exterior size, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio competes most closely with the BMW X3 and Jaguar F-Pace, but also with the likes of the more expensive Infiniti QX70 and Porsche Macan (compare some of these models side by side).
How It Drives
Alfa has already reported that the Quadrifoglio trim’s dual-turbo 2.9-liter V-6 will propel it to 60 mph in a scant 3.9 seconds, but the base Stelvio is no slouch. Without question, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder seems wee for an SUV, even if it’s turbocharged, but it’s becoming more common. What’s less common is what this 280-horsepower engine delivers: zero-to-60 mph in a claimed 5.4 seconds, which makes it quicker than base competitors.
As in the Giulia, this engine’s torque peak is specified as 306 pounds-feet at 2,000 rpm, but it feels like it needs to wind out a bit more than that to really get moving. You won’t mistake this for a bigger block, but the Stelvio makes it work thanks to one of the Giulia’s high points: a responsive eight-speed automatic transmission. It upshifts smartly and downshifts readily, and with the rotary drive mode knob set to Dynamic mode, it both predictably holds on to lower gears to higher rpm and responds to a jab of the accelerator when you need kickdown.
It’s in manual mode, however, where you see how quickly the transmission reacts. Even the base Alfa Romeo Stelvio performs in this regard, but there’s little joy without the shift paddles that come with the Sport Package: giant aluminum paddles that are mounted to the steering column rather than the wheel. They’re just as satisfying here as they are on the Giulia. It might take a day or two to acclimate to reaching for the turn-signal or wiper stalks behind the paddles, but it’s worth it.
This isn’t the only responsive automatic transmission on the market, but typically this kind of performance comes from dual-clutch automated manuals like Porsche’s PDK or Audi’s S tronic. What amazes us is that this is the same conventional eight-speed automatic from Germany’s ZF that many other vehicles use — sometimes dismally. Set the DNA knob to N, for Natural mode, and it’s not as quick to kick down, but it still behaves better than do most transmissions of its ilk. There’s also an “A” on that knob; it stands for Advanced Efficiency.
The base Stelvio’s EPA-estimated gas mileage is 22/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined; that combined number is right in line with the best gas-powered figures of the X3 and F-Pace. (A diesel F-Pace 20d achieves an estimated 29 mpg combined in exchange for lesser acceleration.) The Macan’s best rating is 22 mpg combined.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport handles nicely. Alfa cites a weight distribution of 50/50 front/rear, but I felt a good deal of understeer nosing into corners. Applying some gas brings the tail around and balances things out nicely, but you need to be mindful of your gear, either manually or by choosing Dynamic mode. If you’re in Natural or Advanced Efficiency mode, even this transmission won’t be quick enough to get the small engine into its torque band and power you out of the turn. According to Alfa, the Q4 AWD sends all the torque to the rear wheels as a default, but up to 60 percent can go to the front when needed. In the future, a mechanical limited-slip rear differential will become available as an option; sadly, I didn’t have access to a racetrack, but on the street the system performed fine as-is.
Likewise, Alfa Romeo promises an adaptive suspension option for the Stelvio, as well as standard on the Stelvio Quadrifoglio version, which will provide computer-controlled variable shock-absorber rates, along with a push-button control at the center of the mode-selector knob. Until then, your choice is between regular and sport tuning.
Despite having upgraded 20-inch wheels, the Sport I drove was comfortable on the well-maintained roads around Nashville, Tenn. — firm, yes, but by no means hard or punishing. Back in pavement-challenged Chicago, however, a similarly equipped Ti Sport was too firm for some of our tastes, including some young backseat passengers who’ve never voiced such a complaint in the past. The regular Stelvio had noticeably more body roll than the Ti Sport even with optional 19s rather than 18-inch wheels, so I strongly recommend the Sport Package unless your roads are bad news or you’re particularly sensitive. Or you can wait for the adaptive setup.
Though it shares the sedan’s wheelbase and steering ratio, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio’s steering didn’t feel as quick to me as the AWD Giulia Ti we recently tested, but neither did it feel as overboosted. Perhaps it all just jelled with the SUV’s characteristics — when equipped with the Sport Package.
Ironically, the one thing that somewhat put the brakes on my enthusiasm was the Stelvio’s brakes. In a couple of staged panic stops, the standard Brembo brakes with four-piston front and single-piston rear calipers provided decent stopping power, but pedal feel overall was quite numb and the action nonlinear. This is a complaint I’ve also had, even stronger, about the 4C. What appear to be the same brakes as the Stelvio performed a bit better on the Giulia, with stronger stopping power (understandable, given the weight difference) and better linearity and feel, though still not the best.