Alfa Romeo Stelvio reviewed by Motoring
Style, comfort and driving enjoyment underpin Alfa Romeo's lightweight SUV
Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2018 Review
By Ken Gratton, Motoring
Two out of three German prestige brands will tell you: medium SUVs are more popular than medium passenger cars in Australia. That’s confirmed by VFACTS figures for 2017. Little wonder that non-German prestige brands are lining up to join the medium SUV segment. The latest is Alfa Romeo, with its new Stelvio SUV – a model based on the Giulia sedan’s Giorgio platform and boasting fuel-efficient powertrains, a comfy cabin, practical packaging and non-teutonic design.
Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio promises to be the brand’s most popular model in Australia, now that it has officially gone on sale. The range will expand in coming months with the arrival of the 206kW Alfa Stelvio Ti and the V6-engined Alfa Stelvio QV. Either of these variants are sure to appeal to Alfa loyalists (‘Alfisti’) in the market for an SUV.
For the moment, however, the Stelvio is available in just two entry-level variants – a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder and a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder. With pricing that starts from $65,900 and fuel consumption of 7.0L/100km or less (4.8 for the diesel) there’s no luxury car tax payable on the Stelvio at this level.
Local distributor FCA arranged a drive program through Victoria’s Yarra Valley and the Dandenong Ranges for the Stelvio’s Australian launch. As it turned out, the sweeping bends and undulating straights provided the ideal showcase for the new SUV’s on-road dynamic ability.
Alfa Romeo is (rightly) proud of the Stelvio’s ride and handling balance. Even in dynamic drive mode – all Stelvio models featuring adaptive rear suspension as standard – the ride was relatively compliant over longer and larger bumps frequently fixtures of Aussie country roads, with just a touch of choppiness evident at speed. The First Edition models tested were fitted with special Koni dampers, which probably helped the car’s composure.
In normal mode the Stelvio rode better, but not at significant detriment to cornering prowess. On sharper bends the Stelvio turned in rapidly and kept the driver fully informed of what was happening at the front wheels. The directness of the steering was startling at first, but the rapid response became familiar in no time and complemented the car’s flat and stable handling, as well as the Stelvio’s surefooted road-holding in the slightly damp conditions.
Alfa Romeo’s Integrated Brake System is described as “an advanced electromechanical system that combines stability control with a traditional servo brake to deliver instantaneous brake response”. As fitted to the Stelvio, the system did indeed react immediately to the lightest pedal pressure applied. In fact, it took a little while to summon the finesse necessary for smoother stopping, but once that art had been mastered, the pedal feel and soft-stopping ability of the Stelvio’s braking proved worthy of praise.
Under the bonnet, the base petrol engine shares nothing with the classic four-cylinder Alfa engines from the past. It tops out at a redline of 5500rpm and produces a refined but sanitised engine note, lacking the raspiness of old Alfa powerplants with twin-choke carbs. Performance builds in a linear scale, but feels somewhat anemic when overtaking, for instance.
For those who want to recapture some of that old-fashioned charisma (and higher engine output as well), the 206kW engine in the Stelvio Ti that’s due to be launched around August or September may be the answer. The Stelvio with the 148kW engine posted a fuel consumption figure of 9.1L/100km, mostly on the Eastern freeway/Eastlink and some slower suburban arterials and country roads.
According to the factory figures, the petrol engine is only around half-a-second slower than the diesel for its 0-100km/h time, but that time seems to count. The diesel Stelvio felt altogether quicker up and down dale, and accelerating out of hairpins along the Black Spur. What makes all the difference is the engine output – just 6kW more than the petrol powerplant’s peak power rating, but the added torque (an extra 140Nm) brings with it enough verve to push you back in your seat at lower revs and overpower the Stelvio’s traction on damp surfaces.
It’s a much meatier power delivery, on tap immediately. And for just $2000 more than the petrol Stelvio, the diesel is money well spent if the Alfa’s daily running is not confined to five-minute trips to the shops or school. Total cost of ownership should be lower with the diesel too, since its fuel consumption for the drive program finished at 8.5L/100km, based on a mix of harder driving along the winding country roads and some open-road cruising on the run back to Melbourne.
To cap it all off, the diesel is one of the new breed of smooth-running engines, free of coarseness and labouring at lower speeds, with just some diesel murmur at idle to betray its true character.
The Stelvio’s adaptive eight-speed automatic transmission shifts with a certain degree of aggression when used manually, in conjunction with the shift paddles – particularly with dynamic mode selected. While the transmission is a bona fide automatic with a lock-up torque converter, it shifts with all the directness of a dual-clutch system and the lane departure warning in the Stelvio is disabled once manual mode is selected.
This is Alfa thinking coming to the fore. Want to cross the centre line for a high-speed tilt at a corner? Drag the lever across to the manual détente and the Stelvio will let the driver adopt that racing line without the bass-boom accompaniment of the lane-departure warning system.
The large shift paddles are fixed to the steering column, which places them occasionally out of the driver’s reach when some steering lock is applied, but they’re otherwise easy to grab when needed. Overall, the Stelvio’s driving position was ergonomically sound, offering enough power adjustment in the seat and adequate reach and rake adjustment for the right relationship to pedal and wheels. The heavily bolstered seats hold the occupant securely in place when the Stelvio is being thrown around, yet they were comfortable for the duration of the drive program.
A stylish dash incorporates major instruments of a traditional design. There’s nothing particularly challenging about the switchgear functionality or instrument readability, and we like the starter button being placed where it is on the steering wheel – easier to find than most, which are often tucked away out of site on the dash. A button for the steering wheel heating is located in among the other climate control switchgear, but closer to the front passenger’s seat, which arguably gives away the Stelvio’s left-hand drive design origins.
In the rear, there’s respectable headroom and kneeroom for adults, although in that respect the Stelvio doesn’t appear much roomier than the smaller Jaguar E-PACE. There are adjustable vents in the rear of the Stelvio’s centre console, along with a couple of USB ports for recharging portable devices.
According to Alfa Romeo, the First Edition Stelvio models come without a spare tyre and the luggage capacity is rated at 525 litres. Other Stelvio models will be packaged with an inflatable compact spare tyre and the luggage capacity consequently shrinks down to 499 litres. That sort of boot space lags behind the Stelvio’s longer established German rivals, but like them, the Alfa has fold-down rear seats. It also features finger-pull releases in either side of the load compartment to unlatch the rear seats for extra load space. But the seats won’t fold down unaided, even unlatched this way. Nor do they fold completely flat, although they do come close to it.
The Stelvio was quite accomplished when it came to suppressing road noise, but there was some wind noise present – admittedly on a day blustery enough for the Stelvio to be blown about by cross winds on freeways. Something was rattling in the front passenger-side door at intervals, which was the only other noise-related issue. Apart from that rattle, the Stelvio appears to have been put together properly, with just a few minor examples of hard plastic fixtures in the cabin detracting from the overall look and feel of the cabin.
So with those remarks out of the way, the Stelvio deservedly scores a thumbs up from us. It’s safe to drive (and safe to crash), but it’s also fun in the twisty bits, much more comfortable than any ‘driver’s SUV’ should legitimately claim, better value on a range of fronts than its nearest and dearer competitors.
Best of all… it looks the way a prestige SUV should.
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