2017 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Review
Paul Horrell’s pre-launch 2017 Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.0 Q4 Review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: Stylish, roomy mid-size crossover. The engines are good and it mostly behaves like a car not an SUV, but it’s not as engaging on a twisty road as a Porsche Macan.
2017 Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.0 Q4
Pricing Not stated (expect it to be priced above the Giulia) Warranty 3 years, 150,000km Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged 4cyl petrol Power 206kW at 5250rpm Torque 400Nm at 2250rpm Transmission eight-speed automatic Drive all-wheel Dimensions 4687mm (L); 1903mm (W, mirrors folded); 2163 (W, mirrors out); 1671mm (H) Weight 1660kg Fuel Tank 64 litres Thirst 7.0L/100km combined cycle
ALFA ROMEO’S REVIVAL plan isn’t just limited to the Giulia, which we recently tested. One car, however good, would never be enough to gouge a business out of the busy luxury-sports market. Alfa will make several models off the Giulia’s base platform and powertrains.
Given that the posh crossover sector is going gangbusters, that’s where Alfa’s next car sits. It’s a medium-sized crossover, launching with four-cylinder longitudinal diesel and petrol engines powering all four wheels through an eight-speed autobox. Its basic spec goes to-to-toe with the best rivals (Porsche Macan, BMW X3/X4, Mercedes GLC, Audi Q5), yet at the same time lacks any outstanding innovations. Shortly, a Quadrifoglio version will launch, with a crazed 375kW turbo V6.
In terms of pricing, Alfa Romeo is remaining tight lipped but our best guess would be that the new Stelvio because of its close relationship with the Giulia, will be priced at a slight premium over that vehicle’s range.
WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE?
Like the outside, the inside has a bit of latin baroque to the styling. But it’s not at the expense of practicality. And, let’s get this out of the way first because Italian cars don’t have the greatest reputation in this department, it’s largely very well-made from decent-quality materials. It feels like an upmarket machine.
Although the dash is very saloon-like, the seats are mounted higher above the floor than in the Giulia, by 120mm. The floor itself is 70mm higher, so in total your eyes are 190mm higher. That’s not like being in an old-school 4×4, but it does give enough of the elevation that’s intrinsic to the appeal of SUVs. The driving position is good, with enough adjustment of wheel and seat. That said, the seats don’t embrace you like the sports options on some rivals.
The instruments are clear and straightforward. The speedo and rev-counter are actual physical dials, not virtual graphics on a screen. Between them, though is a smaller screen that you can configure to show navigation arrows, trip computer or entertainment details.
When you first get in, it seems the Stelvio has no other display, but in fact the main central screen lies behind a matt strip that runs across the facia above the central vents. Optionally it’s 8.8in across (6.5in is standard) and runs a TomTom-based navigation, plus infotainment controlled by a wheel down on the centre tunnel. It’s a simpler controller setup than BMW, Audi or Mercedes, but then the actual infotainment system is simpler too.
There are fewer configuration choices for the displays, and fewer systems to control. This makes the Stelvio (and the Giulia too) feel lower-tech than optioned-up rivals, but after driving them for a while I’ve enjoyed being distracted less.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t available at launch – they arrive next year. Climate control is via physical knobs and buttons, so there’s no need to venture onto the screen for that. Good. Three stereo systems are on the menu. The standard has eight speakers, there’s a mid-range option, and finally a 14-speaker Harman Kardon hi-fi.
Other than that though, the list of flashy options is brief. None of the Germans’ active-massage seats or electronic sub-blinds or complex on-board internet functions or configurable instruments or lap timers or active driving. Just a luxury family SUV.
The rear seat is pretty roomy for the class, with plenty of leg room and adequate head clearance unless you’re very tall. It comes with USB charge sockets, storage nets, two eyeball vents, cupholders in the armrest, and reading lights. It’s a 40:20:40 split backrest.
The boot is plenty deep, and has easily-reached remote releases for the seatbacks. It’s got four proper tie-down points and a simple roller-blind cover.
WHAT’S IT LIKE ON THE ROAD?
The new 2.0-litre engine does a strong job. In bald figures, it’ll haul this bluff crossover from rest to 62mph in just 5.7 seconds. But that doesn’t speak of its interesting noise and enthusiastic pickup. Lag before the turbo spins up is only an issue at very low revs, and you’ll only see that if you’ve manually held the transmission in a high gear. Manual over-ride is fun, by the way, and the pleasure’s increased by the positive action of the big metal shift paddles.
You’ll want to hear its cheerful sawing noise rev high, but that pleasure is slightly limited by the oppressively low 6000rpm red-line. Still, better an engine that seems to want to go beyond the red, than one that doesn’t want to go near it.
The alternative diesel engine puts up a strong showing too. Its block as well as head are made of aluminium, which means it’s light for a diesel and doesn’t spoil the handling. But aluminium diesels have generally been noisy. Not this one. It’s an excellent effort.
The steering is very high-geared, which makes it easy to tackle urban junctions and tight hairpins. That could bring a nervous feel to straight-ahead highway driving, but there’s enough self-centering that this isn’t an issue.
More problematic on what’s supposed to be a vehicle that puts the sports in SUV is that there’s a bit of rubberiness in the steering. It’s just not as sharp as I’d hoped, depriving it of an intimate sense of road connection. I suspect the engineers have done this to reduce kickback on bad roads, and in that they’ve succeeded. Potholes, lumps and undulations don’t disturb your hands.
Normally the electronically controlled centre diff feeds all the drive to the rear wheels. But as soon as there’s any slip some is portioned forward. Result is huge traction and security in the road. But the Porsche Macan and the now-superseded Audi SQ5 give you as the driver more sense of being part of the action. Coming on or off the throttle in the Alfa doesn’t alter its attitude much: it just keeps on tracking round the bend in the same trajectory. The Alfa is very capable but less sporty than I’d expected.
Brakes are strong and true. Alfa claims the new integration of the mechanical servo parts, and the controlling ABS/ESP electronics, allows especially short stopping distances. Things aren’t all sunny though. Drawing smoothly to a gentle stop in town driving is somewhere between irksomely difficult and impossible. You always get a lurch. I’ve experienced the issue in a Giulia Quadrifoglio in London, England and two different Stelvios near Naples, Italy, so it seems to be a generic issue rather than something with one particular model.
Its ride is a bit busy much of the time, fluttering as if on a gently corrugated road. But hit some really bad surfaces and it does a good job of protecting you from discomfort. A sensible approach for an SUV that might well be asked to tackle bush tracks.
The Stelvio’s ride is better than the X3 or Porsche. The Mercedes GLC probably rides better, but is a soggier handler. Overall then, the Alfa stretches a very capable chassis compromise.
And over bad surfaces, the body always feels very rigid. The Stelvio is light in comparison with rivals, but it’s not flimsy.
WHAT ABOUT THE SAFETY FEATURES?
If you’re going to have a crash, the Stelvio is a very good place to be. It ought to help you avoid one too, not just because of its stability and traction, but also the autonomous braking aids.
The Stelvio shares much of its structure with the Giulia, a car rated five-star by Euro NCAP, and scoring a superb 98 percent for adult occupant crash protection. Child protection scored a marginal rating for a six-year old in one body area – chest – in one of the tests, but otherwise was OK. There are only two sets of Isofix brackets.
The auto emergency brake systems ‘work well’, says NCAP. They detect stopped vehicles or pedestrians and can brake hard enough and soon enough from 65km/h to avoid hitting them. Up to 200km/h the system can avoid hitting a car in front that stops suddenly, provided the Alfa isn’t following too closely.
Sensors in the rear enable blind-spot warning on highways, and cross-traffic alert for when you’re reversing into a road.
But all this stuff is class-standard. Indeed, it’s available on some superminis now, and certainly mass-market compact hatches. Surprisingly, the Stelvio has only lane-departure warning – a buzzer when you stray over the line – rather than lane-keeping assist that nudges you back into your lane.
The Stelvio lacks, even as options, some of the fancier driver-assist systems such as semi-autonomous steering and traffic jam assistance where it would follow the car in front. But then, do you regard these as true safety aids? Alfa’s view is that you should engage fully with driving. I have some sympathy with that, especially given every time I’ve used the so-called advanced systems they’ve been scarily error-prone.