Redefining Sports Utility
I’m going to take a different approach to this story. The chances are if you have seen an Alfa Stelvio and loves the look, the other premium SUVs are going to feel like a bit of a compromise… unless it isn’t very good. So without drawing it out, the Stelvio is well worth a look and is an engaging drive in the same way its sister in the stable, the Guilia, is.
The problem is, you don’t feel that straight away.
It is like seeing someone in the bar that you really want to talk to. There’s an attraction you can’t explain, eventually to do make your way over. The conversation starts stilted and is hard work, you have to keep talking away, asking new questions just to be fended off, but only just. The interest in there all the way through, but you just aren’t sure how far you will get.
With the Stelvio, the first thing you notice is the directness of the drive and the steering. Alfa says it has the fastest rack – eyes up boys, not that rack - in its class. Which means you get an immediacy of response to your inputs, the drama is that you actually have to work a little to keep tracking straight in your lane. It is not a set and forget drive.
But take her out afterwards, got for a drive, a real drive, and the Stelvio makes sense. Even in the near base level guise of the First Edition with a diesel engines it begs to be pushed when the roads gets twisty. It grips well, but mist importantly she talks now, the chassis is alive with feedback.
Best of all though, when you get back the city the car makes sense, and that lust of first gaze can now turn into so much more.
It is hard not be struck by the gentle curves that define the Stelvio’s sexuality. There are curves in places no car ought to have curves, like the gentle little ones below the headlights in the bumper. Even if they do nothing for airflow, they give the nose so much character. Of course the trilobe front grille does a lot for that too, tying in both the family relationship with other Alfas while giving it such a unique and distinctive look it could be nothing else.
Inside things get a little simpler and perhaps less impressive. The dash flows nicely from the twin dials with little room for a more elaborate LED dash, and the infotainment screen is house in that flow. The quality of the screen is great, it is crisp and works well in all sorts of light, it is just that it is small. And for an old man with the need for reading glasses, this proves a problem every so often.
The equipment is pretty good, albeit not up to speed with the only slight less expensive Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander we had a couple of months back. It has sat nav and the like, but the cruise control is not active, meaning on downhill slopes you can run over the speed and it also will not stop before you hit the back of another car.
The Safety Kit is good otherwise with everything you would expect in this price bracket, save for the above which does comes with Ti model and no doubt the stonking QV which is to come.
The boot is big and will swallow a couple of sets of gold clubs or a small horse, and the seating is pretty good although a little compromising for someone of my size with the high side bolsters. But a few hours in the car and you are no less comfortable that when you started, and that is not such a bad thing. The rear seat is also big enough for the rapidly growing Byron.
The cooling system is simple to use, as is the stereo which is the way it should be, but often is not. Dials, they are often the things removed the modern car, but Alfa has thankfully stuck with it.
This is where the Stelvio shines. The Stelvio Pass which has lent its name to the car, is one of the most amazing pieces of road in the world. On just the eastern side of the Pass, there are 48 hairpin bends as the road climbs from Italy to Switzerland and is the highest paved road in the Eastern Alps of Europe.
For a driver, it is just one of those roads you have to drive, and maybe one day Alfa will send me there to drive the Stelvio QV – the ultimate version of this car – on the ultimate road. Knowing what that engine sounds like – and it is better than the diesel in the First Edition – it will certainly echo down the valley with an ear splitting scream.
We don’t have a Stelvio pass, so we headed to the Otways where we found some roads to challenge any car. Some were smooth and that meant the four wheel drive system could simply grip and go. Other parts of the road where bumpy and off camber, and the Alfa soaked it all up without losing any poise or losing speed.
The diesel engine was amazing. It pulled out of the corners with enough to let you know you were going quickly, but not with so much that you had to keep swapping gears. The DNA system provided enough difference in the modes to make it worthwhile. In the hills, it was Dynamic and it was good.
The Italians spent quite some time on the weight of the car and have kept that to a minimum. Carbon fibre drive shafts are not cheap, but they are strong and light. Light weight makes changing directions easy, and it also mean less fuel is needed too.
This is a very good car, my sort of SUV. I like the engaging drive after I fell in sync with it, and I felt good walking up the door and opening the car, gazing at its beauty as much as the athleticism of its design and shape. It is bigger that it looks, and better than you make think.
But you have to forgive Alfa for its sins of the past, this new wave of cars from the famous Italian are nothing like the ones of the past. There is nothing to fear from the electrics or the build quality, which is why Alfa now backs it all with a 5-year warranty.
This though, is a great drive, and SUV for the driver and an admirer of beauty.
Stelvio – from $569,990
First Edition – from $75,990
Ti – from $83,990
QV – Coming Soon
Only European here…
BMW X3 and X4
Range Rover Velar