2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Review - Stelvio Pass or Fail?

 

Alfa Romeo’s first SUV follows the others into a crowded premium market full of choice. No doubt it’s stacked with charisma but does it also deliver enough substance?

Words: Kyle Cassidy   |   Photos Supplied/KC
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So far we’ve liked the rebirth of Alfa Romeo.

There was the fascinatingly bonkers 4C and the Giulia performed even better than it looked. And it didn’t break down. Now we finally get a chance to drive the Stelvio, Alfa’s first SUV.

This began arriving here in June last year, though it’s been a slow start with just 55 retailed in six months. Are people still apprehensive to take the plunge with Alfa? Perhaps, but then the marketplace is awash with like-sized, similarly priced contenders from more established players. Just think, there’s the Q5, X3 and X4, F-Pace, GLC and GLC Coupe, the Macan and even the XC60.

It’s hard to establish a beachhead when you’re the new nameplate raiding the market. The base Macan is Porsche’s best selling model variant here and, like Stelvio, has a 2.0-litre turbo and drives all four wheels. It’s perhaps the closest rival in concept but retails for $115,000 prior to adding the options required to match the spec of the $99,990 Stelvio Ti, the current range topper.

So a bit like the Giulia, Stelvio has the panache to foot it with high flyers but doesn’t ask quite as much up front. It’s styled to win admirers too, particularly in red and rolling on 20s, though someone, seeing it from the rear, mistook it for a CX-5. They’ve since been sent to the optometrist, the cataract surgery booked.

Initially a three-model line-up, Stelvio starts at $80k for the 148kW 2.0 turbo, the 154kW 2.2 diesel is $82k, while the featured Ti packs a 206kW turbopetrol and a higher, more performance-orientated spec. The hyper Quadrifoglio is expected to dot down here later in the year. Stelvio shares the Giorgio platform that underpins the Giulia, and Alfa set out to engineer the SUV to drive in a similar manner to its sedan. Now that’s a challenge.

All Stelvios run an eight-speed ZF auto and wear the Q4 badge, which is Alfa for variable AWD. But this is a bit different from the norm; it’s essentially a rear drive set-up with an active transfer case sending up to 50 per cent of the drive to the front differential, but only when the going gets slippery. Much is made of the Stelvio’s weight, with a claimed mass of 1660kg. That’s clearly for a Euro stripper model for when we weighed this Ti it tipped in at 1833kg. At least the claim of a 50/50 weight balance was more accurate.

not bad for a 2.0-litre and it’s faster than the Macan

We can’t confirm if the torsional rigidity claim is segment-leading either but there’s no doubting it has ‘the most direct steering ratio’ in its class, the helm being very quick on the turn. This Stelvio came with adaptive damping, its demeanour adjusted via the DNA drive mode switch (Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency).

Highlighting its intent to impress on road, there’s no pretense to any trail ability, not even a descent control button. The Ti also adds a mechanical LSD on the rear for improved traction. The 2.0-litre in the Ti gets pumped up to 206kW with 400Nm coming along at 1750rpm. It’s supposed to dispatch 100km/h in 5.7sec, but guess we can blame the extra weight for a failure to match that, running to 6.0sec. Still, that’s not bad for a 2.0-litre and it’s faster than the Macan, which is even porkier and won’t crack seven seconds.

Consumption wise, Alfa says it’ll average 7.0L/100km whereas we noted 13.2 on the trip computer, and a long term average of 12.7 over 3500km (not all ours, of course). The four always feels lively, even in its Natural setting, and while the vigour is summoned quickly from idle, the powertrain delivery is polished. The auto changes fluidly, and the call for added go is answered smartly, a downchange and additional torque never too far away.

Why you’d want the diesel is beyond us. Even the idle stop system manages not to annoy. Twisting the DNA knob around to D, the throttle response is immediately quickened and there’s a bit more (synthesised) sound present. The engine spins freely and the turbo pumps up the urge from 2000rpm through to just past five five. While it’ll continue past 6500rpm, there’s never really much point.

The eight speed does the business when left to self motivate, only occasionally missing the optimal gear. Or you can take to those deliciously formed paddles, complete with a proper snickity snick action. These are quite handy for knocking the engine speed back to keep the 2.0-litre sizzling in the juice of the fat midrange, conserving some gas but still making good progress.


Back in Normal, sorry, Natural, the auto takes a measured and smooth approach, still quick to drop the gears for an overtake before settling, with an easy 1800rpm registering at 100km/h. The suspenders in full Dynamic mode are a mite taut for the big bumps, the ride getting busy at speed and the stops will get a rev up through decent depressions, but you’ll want the added control they deliver if you’re on it like Ascari.

Stelvio turns most unlike other high riders with that quick steering pointing it about keenly, making it easy to latch on to a line. The feel suffices too, as does the assistance. Its even weight split brings poise through balance while the lean angles are tamed by stout damping and strict roll bars. On dry tarmac, this is all but a rear driver and so manages to feel Giulia-like.

When pedaling SUVs with variable AWD, you get used to braking, turning and gassing in quick succession with minimal finesse required. The variable nature of the driveline sorts the traction, nips the understeer and spits you out the other side. But not Stelvio. Like Giulia, a little too much throttle too early gets the nose pushing wide. We guess it’s that LSD on the rear laying traction and just nudging the front on.

But Stelvio manages to redeem itself. In Dynamic mode at least, the ESP allows both ends to slither about so when the front does start to slip, a touch less of either the gas or the steering has Stelvio dancing through corners like few SUVs will. It’s not always easy to get right, and it’s not the most efficient or quickest way but it’s satisfying. It’s a talent that will be lost on 99 per cent of mid-size SUV buyers, but perhaps a few Stelvio owners will appreciate it.

You can add some more bump and rebound to the ride by selecting a Soft mode for the dampers, but the brake system needs a reboot. It’s electronically variable, and just never feels quite right. In the Natural DNA mode, the pedal often feels oddly squishy under foot, while in Dynamic the initial bite is quick but you can run into the ABS too often with no room to modulate the braking power. Otherwise they work well, lasting the distance and hauling things up in a hurry when stood upon.

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While Stelvio passes the one per cent test, what about the other 99 per cent of SUV life? In Normal, the suspension smooths most city streets but occasionally crashes over a harsh edge. It traverses speed bumps well and with the quick steering parking manoeuvres are a snip, while the turning circle is about the same as most medium/large SUVs. The active cruise operates as you’d expect and takes care of traffic queues while the lane departure warning can be quickly snuffed via the wand-mounted button.

Blind spot monitoring comes in handy as the mirrors aren’t overly generous with their rearward view. There’s a chunky C pillar but the reverse camera has a wide angle to compensate. The interior is much like that of the Giulia, except you’re sitting up higher. There’s hard plastics lining the lower half of the cabin but the rest imparts a premium feel with no obvious nasty edges.

The seats look sporty but do comfort and support well, while the adjustment is sufficient. There’s even some usable storage space, most nooks being lined and the cup holders are deep and well sited. Alfa’s used to have poor ventilation, but the AC blows plenty of cold air once you work out how to direct the flow. The infotainment screen is nicely integrated, but is too small and the resolution needs improving, while sat nav operation frustrates.

The rear quarters offer reasonable space for the class with enough room between the rows and plenty of head clearance. The seat back is a little upright, with no option to recline it but egress is okay, even if the sill is a tad chunky. Fastback styling for the tailgate eats into overall load space, and the tall shock towers of the rear suspension result in a narrow hold, so it’s not the most cavernous of boots.

Alfas have never inspired great confidence in a reliability sense. Even a loan period of a week would be enough for them to throw up the odd electrical gremlin and for bits to fall off. At least that used to be the case. We didn’t have anything go wrong with the Guilias we experienced last year and it was plain sailing for Stelvio too, as you’d hope. There wasn’t even a loose bit of trim to report.

About the only quirk was a wonky reading from the fuel gauge. This went from registering 90km left to suddenly displaying the dreaded three dashes signalling a low range. But after a 10L splash and dash, it was back up to half way with 200km to go. Weird, man.

Stelvio comes with a three-year, 150,000km warranty cover along with a three-year, 45,000km service plan. So Stelvio pass or fail? It’s definitely a pass as we like the way it goes both when you’re on it but also as a commuter. There’s enough space inside given how good it looks, and the package is sound in terms of what’s on offer versus the competition. Looking forward to the Quadrifoglio we are.

The Stats

Image of badge

Model Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti  Price $99,990

Engine 1995cc, IL4, T/DI, 206kW/400Nm

Transmission 8-speed auto, on-demand AWD

Vitals 5.65sec 0-100km/h, 7.0L/100km, 161g/km, 1833kg

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