Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - Stelvio - First Edition
Alfa Romeo models
Punchy turbo-diesel performance, smooth automatic transmission, precise steering, sporty handling, attractive styling
Room for improvement
Annoying idle-stop system, firm suspension tune, harsh ride on 19-inch alloy wheels, questionable interior elements
Alfa Romeo joins the SUV ranks with its impressive but flawed Stelvio mid-sizer
6 Aug 2018
ALFA Romeo has some serious aspirations of taking on the German leaders Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi in the premium market space. In a world where ‘mad SUV disease’ has led to new-car buyers turning to crossovers in alarming numbers, the only way for the Italian brand to compete is with a higher-rider of its own. Enter the first-generation Stelvio mid-sizer.
While the Giulia mid-size sedan has been viewed by many pundits as critical to the ‘relaunch’ of Alfa Romeo, no model is more important than the Stelvio. Put simply, it will either make or break the marque in its latest bid at relevancy.
One key question needs to be answered here: can the Stelvio bloody the noses of its GLC, X3 and Q5 rivals, or is it destined to be another low-volume, attractive but uncompetitive offering from Alfa Romeo? We test it in First Edition Diesel form to find out.
Price and equipment
Priced from $73,900 before on-road costs, the Stelvio First Edition Diesel is limited to 200 units, while 100 examples of its $2000-cheaper Petrol counterpart are also available. Our test car is finished in Vesuvio Grey metallic paintwork, which is a $1300 option. As such, the price as tested is $75,200.
Standard equipment includes adaptive bi-Xenon headlights with dusk-sensing functionality, LED daytime running lights, front foglights, cornering lights, LED tail-lights, power-folding side mirrors, power-operated tailgate, rain-sensing windshield wipers, an 8.8-inch infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity, digital radio, satellite navigation, a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, an electric park brake, full-grain leather upholstery, six-way power-adjustable front seats, driver’s seat memory functionality, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and column-mounted aluminium paddle shifters.
The First Edition also features the Veloce package, which is a $5000 option on the regular Diesel that kicks off at $67,900. It includes 19-inch First Edition alloy wheels wrapped in 235/55 run-flat tyres, gloss-black roof rails and window surrounds, red brake callipers, Koni Frequency Selective Damping, ambient interior lighting, sports front seats with heating functionality, a sports steering wheel with heating, and aluminium interior trim and sports pedals.
When you’ve got premium ambitions, it’s important that your interior execution is premium, too, especially when owners spend almost all of their time sitting in the cabin.
The purposefully designed centre stack features an auxiliary input and a 12V power outlet, while the central storage bin hides an auxiliary input and a second USB port. However, operation of the latter’s lid can be a little clunky, as it requires a bit of force to open and shut due to its unusual lack of a button.
To our tastes, the steering wheel is not as thick as it should be, feeling too thin to be considered sporty, while Alfa Romeo claims the tiller is leather-wrapped but this is only partially true.
The infotainment system’s live feed from the reversing camera is frustratingly low-resolution. To make matters worse, the display splits in two, reducing the size of the live feed to an almost-illegible level.
Measuring in at 4687mm long, 1903mm wide and 1671mm tall with a 2818mm wheelbase, the Stelvio offers 525L of cargo capacity, but this can be expanded to 1600L when its 40/20/40 split-fold second row is stowed.
Engine and transmission
The First Edition Diesel is motivated by a 2.1-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 154kW of power at 3750rpm and 470Nm of torque at 1750rpm. An eight-speed ZF torque-convertor automatic transmission sends drive to all four wheels via Alfa Romeo’s rear-biased Q4 system, which can direct up to 60 of per cent of torque to the front axle.
This combination is very, very sharp. Sprinting from standstill to 100km/h in 6.6 seconds while on the way to its top speed of 215km/h, the 1620kg First Edition Diesel feels properly quick in a straight line, surprisingly so. To put it in perspective, the oil-burner is quicker than a Volkswagen Golf GTI!
This pace is defined by the Stelvio’s three DNA driving modes – Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency – which allow the driver to adjust engine, transmission and all-wheel-drive settings while on the move.
Thanks to its thick wad of maximum torque coming on stream at such an early engine speed, the turbo-diesel unit has plenty to offer, doing its best work down low.
However, the engine’s idle-stop system lets down what is otherwise a great package. While this set-up’s eagerness is admirable, it proves disruptive in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres for the Diesel, while its carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 127 grams per kilometres.
Ride and handling
The Stelvio’s suspension consists of double-wishbone front and multi-link rear axles, while the First Edition also features Koni Frequency Selective Damping. This set-up is teamed to speed-sensitive electric power steering, which provides razor-sharp precision and an impressive level of feedback that lets the driver know exactly what is going on.
It’s no surprise then that the Stelvio is one of the more competent handlers in its segment, pushing for class leadership. It belies its SUV origins by remaining flat during hard cornering, showing that Alfa Romeo’s sporting blueprint is not lost on its newest model. Its composure fills the driver with competence as they approach each corner with more vigour than before.
However, in order to achieve such handling prowess, there has been a trade-off: firm ride quality. While smooth roads and some uneven surfaces are kind, unsealed stretches are simply unforgiving.
The aforementioned Q4 all-wheel-drive system does not help matters either, with it often failing to provide adequate traction the moment it is needed as the set-up sends 100 per cent of torque to the rear axle by default to increase dynamism.
The Diesel’s braking package consists of ventilated discs with two-piston callipers up front and single-pot stoppers at the rear. Curiously, the rear rotors are smaller (292 x 22mm) than the Petrol’s (320 x 22mm), although their front units are the same size (330 x 28mm).
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Stelvio’s Petrol and Diesel variants a five-star safety rating in May 2018. They scored 97, 84 and 71 per cent in the adult occupant, child occupant and pedestrian protection categories respectively, while safety assist testing returned a result of 60 per cent.
Advanced driver-assist systems in the First Edition extend to forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, hill-descent control, high-beam assist, tyre pressure monitoring, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, and cruise control.
Other standard safety equipment includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), anti-skid brakes, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, and the usual electronic stability and traction control systems.
As with all Stelvio variants, the First Edition Diesel comes with a three-year/150,000km warranty, including roadside assistance. Service intervals are every 12 months or 20,000km, whichever comes first.
As far as first efforts go, Alfa Romeo has put its best foot forward. While the Stelvio is by no means a perfect mid-size SUV, it makes a serious splash in the segment. Buyers will especially appreciate its value proposition, good looks and strong-performing engine-transmission combination.
Those that sign on the dotted line and become owners will be even more pleased with the Stelvio’s sporty handling, which sees it contend with the BMW X3 for class leadership. However, it does come at the cost of firm ride quality that can prove very tiring in every-day driving.
Ultimately, the Stelvio’s success will boil down to whether or not Alfa Romeo can convince buyers to become owners. Time will tell if it will be successful, but this mid-sizer won’t disappoint … for the most part. Just be sure to turn off its idle-stop system every time you get in.
BMW X3 20d (from $69,900 before on-road costs)
A peppy turbo-diesel engine pairs with a matured design in this third-generation X3, which is let down by its vague steering feel and, like any BMW model, long list of pricey options.
Audi Q5 2.0 TDI Sport (from $70,700 before on-road costs)
Capable performance from the 2.0-litre unit helps excellent fit and finish to make this second-generation Q5 a strong offering, but its lack of lane departure warning is disappointing.
Mercedes-Benz GLC250d Wagon (from $74,000 before on-road costs)
Generously equipped and matched to a sporty chassis and solid drivetrain combination, this first-generation GLC is tripped up by its fussy suspension on rough surfaces.
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