What is it?
Alfa Romeo’s long-awaited new Stelvio SUV sampled on road for the first time, albeit in its homeland and over the very Alpine pass it is named after.
While most UK-bound Stelvios will be diesel-powered, Alfa reckons the two petrol variants available from launch will make up a significant, and increasing, percentage of sales volume. Both of these use the same basic 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that we’ve already seen in the Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon, with both 197bhp and 276bhp variants. The less powerful version, tested here, is also the entry-level petrol Stelvio, costing £34,690 in standard form and £36,890 in the plusher Super trim.
As with all Stelvios, an eight-speed automatic gearbox is the only transmission choice, with the 2.0T also getting Alfa’s Q4 all-wheel-drive system as standard.
What's it like?
There's much that impresses. The Stelvio sits on the Giulia’s expensively developed Giorgio platform, which makes extensive use of aluminium. That makes the car lighter than its obvious rivals; on Alfa’s numbers, the 1660kg 2.0T is more than 100kg less than the equivalent Jaguar F-Pace, with the company also claiming that the bodyshell is exceptionally stiff.
It certainly feels taut and agile, with a well-damped ride that stayed civilised over the roughest surfaces that the car’s eponymous pass could throw at it. High-speed refinement, as tested on the Autostrada, is also excellent; only the slightest wind whistle from the top of the front door seals disturbed the tranquillity at a rapid cruise.
Handling responses are essentially those of a taller Giulia, with the two cars sharing their major chassis components and electric power steering systems. The Stelvio’s helm is direct and fast-acting, the front end turning keenly, and there’s an impressive absence of body roll even under harder use. What’s missing is any real sensation through the steering wheel beyond raw weight. Alfa is justifiably proud of how well the Stelvio resists understeer - something it demonstrated well on the pass’s numerous hairpins - but in slower turns this seems largely due to the unswitchable stability control system aggressively winding back the engine when the front axle is in danger of running out of grip.
Despite the rear bias of the Q4 all-wheel-drive system and the claim of torque vectoring across the back axle, there’s little give or throttle adjustability in the chassis; even with the controller for Alfa’s so-called DNA system turned to its most permissive 'Dynamic' setting, the engine is never allowed to overwhelm grip. Given the fundamental excellence of the Stelvio’s well-balanced chassis, it feels like a shame that the car isn’t allowed to play more. Roberto Fedeli, Alfa’s chief engineer, confirmed the forthcoming 493bhp Quadrifoglio will have fully defeatable stability control and that the company is considering it for lesser models.
Despite its peak 197bhp output, the basic petrol engine feels more effective than exciting. It’s tuned for torque, the peak 243lb ft available from just 1750rpm, and the eight-speed autobox shifts its ratios adeptly to keep it in the lower reaches of its mid range, where it’s happiest. It will rev when called upon to do so, from the lowly 4500rpm where peak power arrives and all the way to its 6000rpm limiter if forced to. But, although never harsh, the soundtrack lacks the zing and sparkle that used to characterize even Alfa’s humbler four-cylinder engines.