The Stelvio isn’t perfect, but it definitely is one of the more athletic offerings in the game.
Even though the sea of crossovers that has taken over our automotive market is making copious amounts of money for automakers, the vast majority of them are just so darn boring. Of course, the mainstream public will argue that a family crossover needs to be versatile and capable, not exciting. They’d be correct, but that doesn’t mean you need to be bored out of your mind when the time comes to compromise the sporty family sedan in favour of one of these. Enter the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio TI Sport, a first-ever North American foray into the crossover market by the Italian automaker.
The Stelvio is heavily based on the Giulia (reviewed here) four-door sedan, and this is immediately evident from both the way it looks as well as the way it drives. If there’s one area in which the current crop of Alfa Romeo models wins, it’s the design. When the Stelvio is optioned in Quadrifoglio form, it looks properly sinister. When it comes to the TI Sport model tested here, it’s a little bit more low-key but still much easier on the eyes than the likes of the Cadillac XT5 (reviewed here).
Sitting just ahead of the driver is the Stelvio’s very Italian heart; a crisper and more inspiring take on a very common displacement. Like nearly everything else it competes with, the Alfa packs a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder, but its 280 horsepower and 306 lb-ft. of torque are numbers that surpass every single rival. This means this Q4 all-wheel-drive model can jet to 100km/h in just 5.4 seconds, and on to a top speed of 233 km/h. A hint of turbocharger lag is evident as expected, but the Stelvio’s engine inspires confidence in a way few crossovers can, especially at this price point.
It’s not that the Stelvio’s powerplant feels all that new – the agility of the Giorgio platform is what sets it apart from the pack. This is the first vehicle ever to use actual carbon-fiber on the propshaft, which reduces weight significantly. It also uses magnesium as well as aluminum in various parts, which all comes together to create a very agile and flickable crossover. The Stelvio uses the same 2,820mm wheelbase as the Giulia, but tracks wider and feels crisp.
For a crossover, the handling of the Alfa is simply superb, and that’s where the Italian flair of the Stelvio comes alive. The steering is razor sharp, and extremely fast. It genuinely feels like a Porsche Macan GTS (reviewed here) but with a faster rack. As we discovered with the Giulia, fast steering doesn’t equate to good necessarily, but the Stelvio feels like a premium scalpel. The eight-speed automatic does a delightful job of keeping you in the right gear at any time, and the large column-mounted aluminum paddles are some of the best in the business.
All of this is fine and dandy, as long as the “DNA” drive mode selector is left in its most dynamic setting. Set the Stelvio to “Natural” and it becomes significantly more bogged down. Throttle response is artificially held back to maximize efficiency, and it feels dull in the process. The transmission shift points are also adjusted, and they go from imperceptibly unpredictable to confusing. The dampers are adaptive as well, and while the Stelvio feels far better in the more athletic setting, it rides far too harshly in the city, with the majority of road imperfections making their way to the driver’s seat.
Alfa Romeo rates the Stelvio at 10.8L/100km city, 8.3L/100km highway, and a combined rating of 9.6L/100km. It will only swallow premium 91-octane fuel, but our test could not best 11.0L/100km in combined driving. The cold weather contributed significantly to the poor average, along with the fitted winter tires. Over the course of our week-long test, we were able to get 9.4L/100km out of one longer highway drive, but that’s the best the pretty Italian would do.
Those who prioritize active safety features will be happy to know the Stelvio offers everything now expected, including forward collision warning, a rear-view camera, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking. The Q4 all-wheel-drive system is rear-biased, but should it need to, it is capable of transferring 60% of available torque to the front wheels.
At first glance, the interior of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio appears to be simplistic and modern. Getting in, the seats are brilliantly supportive and offer plenty of bolstering for the average driver, regardless of height. Rear seat passengers also see just about as much space as the competition, but the low roofline means it’s easy to bump your head on exit. Heading back to the driver’s seat though, I found the headrest to be too hard and a bit annoying, and the 10-way power seat could use a smidge more adjustment.
The rest of the cockpit is a bit difficult to understand once you’ve gotten comfortable. The three-spoke steering wheel with flat bottom has a thin rim and feels good, but it will take the average driver a few seconds to figure out that the engine start/stop button is mounted on the wheel like an F1 car. The 8.8” infotainment system has been improved over the Giulia in just one aspect – it now has Apple CarPlay connectivity, which is a godsend considering how agitating the proprietary Alfa system is. How typically Italian!
The price point of the Stelvio starts at $49,450, but the base price for our TI Sport is $54,995. This test vehicle was significantly optioned, including $2,500 for Rosso Competizione paint, a dual-pane sunroof, navigation, and Harman/Kardon audio. Individual packages include a 22S package that includes leather seats, sport-tuned dampers, 20” wheels, and paddle shifters. A Driver Assistance package adds blind spot detection, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. The total sticker crests $65,000, which isn’t any more than a comparably equipped BMW X3 or Mercedes-Benz GLC (reviewed here).
Much like its Giulia sister, the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio TI Sport offers an out-of-the-box choice for crossover shoppers. It has its quirks, being Italian and all, but some of them have been smoothed out by parent company Fiat-Chrysler. The Stelvio isn’t perfect, but it definitely is one of the more athletic offerings in the crossover game, and that’s not a bad position to be in. If in the market for a fun crossover, we recommend taking this one for a test drive. You may end up with something from the competition, but there really isn’t a poor choice in this segment.