From £31,6907
The Stelvio is as entertaining as the Alfa Romeo badge promises, combining enthusiastic thrust with enjoyable handling. Ride is an unknown, though
Richard Bremner Autocar
22 February 2017

What is it?

The Alfa Romeo Stelvio has a big boot. It has rear seats that conveniently split-fold in 40/20/40 portions. It has sensible black plastic wheel arch lips. It has multiple cupholders, a power tailgate, several shopping hooks and… 280bhp. Which is quite a lot for a high-riding five-seat family car.

This certainly isn’t the first time that Alfa Romeo has set about building a more practical vehicle – it made a rugged, Jeep-like 4x4 called the Matta in the early 1950s - but what its Canadian boss Reid Bigland underlines is that ‘the Stelvio is an Alfa Romeo first, and an SUV second.’ And, as any car enthusiast knows, that should mean a recipe to include excellent handling, feelsome steering and a tunefully characterful soundtrack. To this end, chief engineer Roberto Fedeli points out that Alfa Romeo consulted a couple of musicians (of rock, blues and pop leanings rather than orchestral, rap or trance, apparently) to create a backing track in harmony with the rest of the car in the interests of bestowing it with a ‘coherent character’.

That character is built on the so-called Giorgio platform that also underpins the Giulia saloon, with Fedeli pointing out that the Stelvio was developed at much the same time in a ‘cluster’ of models that will grow from this architecture. Meanwhile, Bigland reminds us that Giorgio was developed as a premium architecture, and that by making its debut on the 503bhp Giulia Quadrifoglio it was possible to develop high-cost items such as a lightweight carbonfibre propshaft that also appears below the floors of all the mainstream Giulias, and the Stelvio besides. Had the less potent versions been developed first, he explains, the finance department would have vetoed such functional indulgences.

The Stelvio is rich in lightweight aluminium, too. The doors, bonnet and tailgate are all alloy, as is the suspension and its sub-frames. The result is a mid-sized, four-wheel-drive SUV that weighs in at 1659kg with fluids: impressively competitive heft even against the equivalent predominantly aluminium 1775kg Jaguar F-Pace. The Stelvio's body is also exceptionally rigid, a vital requirement both of a keen-handling car, and an SUV with off-road capabilities. It’s presumably no Land Rover – there are no terrain settings to choose from – but there is a hill-descent facility and a heated steering wheel for sub-zero adventuring.

Mostly, though, the Stelvio’s innards have been arranged to provide an entertainingly diverting drive, to which end Fedeli and his colleagues established an unusual dynamic goal: to reproduce the handling of the Giulia in a car whose driving position – or H-point, in industry-speak – is 190mm higher. And that includes replicating the Giulia’s low-roll cornering habits. No trick roll-resisting devices are employed, with Fedeli confirming that this goal has been achieved with stiffer springs and anti-roll bars. To which the obvious next question is: ‘what about the ride?’ Specially developed dampers are the apparent solution, and on the petrol and diesel versions we’ll try today, of the non-electronic variety. 

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What's it like?

There’s little chance of finding out how effectively Alfa's ambitious approach to the Stelvio's chassis tuning works at its Balocco test track, most of which is as smooth as a fresh-shaved cheek, but there’s some reassurance to be drawn from the fact that the Stelvio has been tested on roads in Wales, Scotland and England. But for this car more than most, it’ll take a UK drive to determine what the ride is really like.

There is, however, plenty of scope for testing the Stelvio’s thrust. Its 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine not only delivers an enticingly generous 276bhp, but also 295lb ft of torque, and you can feel the full strength of this from 2250rpm if you floor the throttle from idle in a low gear. The four-cylinder Multiair motor is smooth, although what you notice most is the mild rort issued across most of the rev range. It’s certainly not loud – that would get irritating within miles – and it’s not as sweet as you’ll hear from an old Alfa Romeo 75 Twin Spark, for example, but it’s assertive enough to give the engine a characterful voice. It also encourages you to drive the Stelvio with zest, especially as its chassis is at least as eager.

The steering's swift-acting ratio is exactly the same as the Giulia’s, and at low-to-brisk speeds on Balocco’s dampened tracks, the Stelvio changes direction with a crisp immediacy that’s heightened by the promised lack of roll. What you feel at the rim is more resistance than topography, but at least it’s accurate and consistent. It’s not long before you forget your distance from the road below, and begin to drive the Stelvio with the verve of its lower-riding Giulia sister.

The Stelvio is fundamentally rear-wheel drive, like the Giulia, with 100% of the engine’s effort channelled to the rear axle – for which a mechanical limited-slip differential is optionally available – unless traction issues require a contribution from the clutch-controlled front axle. How much time does this take? ‘Nothing,’ is the unbelievable answer from a smiling Fedeli, and he doesn’t follow up with the millisecond interval in question. But, on the track, the Q4 system responds briskly enough to avoid feeling clunky. Up to 50% of the torque can be redirected to the front wheels, matching the Stelvio’s ideal 50:50 weight distribution. There’s plenty of urge to direct, too, with the 276bhp engine launching the Alfa to 62mph in 5.7sec – usefully faster than the latest Golf GTI. The diesel Stelvio is capable of the same sprint in 6.6sec.

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Balocco’s slightly slithery Tarmac provides a decent chance for exploration of the effectiveness of this hardware, with tight low-speed corners soon revealing the amusing discovering that the Stelvio’s quite substantial rear-end can be poked decisively sideways. That’s if you’re in the dynamic setting of Alfa Romeo’s familiar DNA driving modes, which allows some slippage but not enough to spike your heart rate. The electronic stability program (ESP) can’t be completely killed, which is probably a good thing, given that it’s also quite easy to make the Stelvio’s front tyres slide towards understeer. The realisation that this is good comes during a long, 75mph sweeper that starts edging the Alfa unnervingly wide, a situation you’d be highly unlikely to encounter on the road. As we know, tracks can often be highly deceptive, so it will take a twisting, bump-scattered road – or indeed, the Stelvio Pass – to discover what this Alfa’s really like. So far, though, it’s more than promising.

And so to seat folding, boot space and the mundane necessities of family car life. The Stelvio manages two fair wins with decent rear room and a long, uniformly shaped boot, although it might have been wider had its sides not been packed with components-unknown behind carpeted trim panels. The rear seats can be semi-released from the tailgate end, but only semi, because the backrests don’t drop once their catches are released, making this facility rather pointless. The backrests do fall fairly flat however, and the tailgate is powered as standard on all models.

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Should I buy one?

Our early-build test had one or two frustrating bugs, among them wind noise that roared too obviously and a driver’s seat with no tilt adjustment. But, on the flip side, further positives included the Stelvio’s robust aura, the high quality of much of the interior trim, a particularly tactile steering wheel - with a perfectly positioned starter button - and the enjoyment of driving an SUV with a bit of verve.

The Stelvio faces stiff competition from a renewed Audi Q5, the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace, but it certainly deserves short-listing if its turns out to be as impressive on the road as it is on the track.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.0 280 Super AWD

Price circa-£35,000; On sale Autumn 2017; Engine: 4 cyls, 1995cc, turbo petrol; Power 276bhp at 5250rpm; Torque: 295lb ft at 2250rpm; Gearbox 8-spd auto; Kerb weight 1660kg; 0-62mph 5.7sec; Top speed 170mph; Economy 40.4mpg; CO2/Tax 161g/km, 29%; Rivals BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace

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Comments
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bowsersheepdog 27 February 2017

Horrendous

What an absolute abortion that thing is.
The Apprentice 27 February 2017

The diesel is actually going

The diesel is actually going to be the big news, even though it gets no real mention in this review (I know they tested the petrol but even so..) It will have 210PS, 8 speed auto and 4 wheel drive with a CO2 of 127g/km which is pretty amazing. A 180PS 6 speed Disco Sport is 139, F Pace the same, Q5 132, X3 136, Tiguan 149 and so on. With many company policies capping at 130 now who do you think is going to be on the potential shopping lists?
nomayor 23 February 2017

There is a reason...

"A perfectly positioned starter button"... There is a legitimate reason to spend many tens of thousands of pounds. Typical nonsense pro-alfa bias "reporting" there for you.
nomayor 23 February 2017

There is a reason...

"A perfectly positioned starter button"... There is a legitimate reason to spend many tens of thousands of pounds. Typical nonsense pro-alfa bias "reporting" there for you.