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Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - Stelvio - First Edition

Our Opinion

We like
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

Alfa Romeo logo6 Aug 2018

Overview

 

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.

Needless to say, expectations are pretty high, and so they should be. The marque has had plenty of time to prepare its entrant in the SUV market.

 

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.

However, it doesn’t really matter which hue you choose, because the Stelvio will still look absolutely stunning in the metal, thanks to all of its signature cues. It is yet another example of how Alfa Romeo continues to hit their exterior designs out of the park. Magnifico.

 

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.

The First Edition also bundles in a panoramic sunroof, a 900W 14-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system and rear privacy glass.

 

Interior

 

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.

It’s no surprise then that Alfa Romeo has put forth a considered effort with the Stelvio. Soft-touch materials and leather upholstery adorn most surface areas, but the former’s grain strangely varies from full on the dashboard to fine on the lower trims. Meanwhile, the beautiful instrument cluster is enhanced by the clear and easy-to-use 7.0-inch multi-function display.

 

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.

Meanwhile, rear passengers are treated to two USB ports of their own.

 

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.

An unusual textured-material is found on the main touchpoints. Your opinion of this will depend on your definition of premium, but we are a bit miffed, to be honest.

Nonetheless, the long alloy paddle shifters are an absolute delight in hand. It’s just a shame that they’re column-mounted and not fixed to the steering wheel itself.

 

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.

This wouldn’t be so bad if visibility through the rear window was good, but it isn’t. The driver is offered a compromised rearward view due to the Stelvio’s style-focused, heavily-raked tailgate.

For some unknown reason, First Edition versions of the Stelvio miss out on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support found in regular variants.

 

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.

While rear leg- and headroom behind our 184cm driving position is more than ample for two adults on a long journey, the space can still feel a little claustrophobic. Due to its rear air vents, the centre console juts out into the second row, compromising the legroom of the middle passenger.

Front passengers are in for a treat, though, as their seats are very comfortable, thanks to their beautifully executed, supportive side bolsters.

 

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.

Throttle response when Dynamic is engaged is properly sharp, with the Diesel feeling like it wants to leap off the line and attack the tarmac. Natural is more subdued but still enjoyable, while Advanced Efficiency dulls the throttle response to such a level that it is not fun anymore.

 

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.

The eight-speeder is predictably good, too, providing quick, smooth and intelligent gearshifts that ensure the engine is always in the right band for performance, as has become expected from German automotive parts supplier ZF.

 

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.

Specifically, the wheels are set in motion as speed is reduced to 7km/h and lower. The transmission seemingly goes into neutral while the system readies itself to fully engage the second the speedometer reads 0km/h.

However, as we all know, not every stop is prolonged, so this can be quite a clunky experience when you need to immediately jump back on the accelerator after pulling up stumps. Needless to say, we are thankful for the off button.

 

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.

During our week with the test car, we averaged 8.0L/100km, which is significantly higher than Alfa Romeo’s mark. Granted, our 375km test drive was skewed towards city driving over highway stints, but the official urban cycle is pegged at 5.5L/100km when tested under the outgoing NEDC regulations. An interesting result to say the least.

 

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.

In fact, the steering is so good that our only criticism would be it could be heavier as it is too light in hand to truly fulfil the sporting brief.

 

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.

Every imperfection is felt by occupants as the suspension fails to rise to the challenge. It also crashes over potholes and speed bumps. While it does recover quickly, the thud endured does not quickly leave the minds of those that experience it first-hand.

 

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 tyres also skip when debris is encountered on the road, and the poor ride quality is accentuated by the First Edition’s 19-inch alloy wheels that can truly be felt throughout the cabin.

 

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).

Stopping power feels compromised, but whether or not this issue is linked to Alfa Romeo’s decision to fit smaller rear discs, we’ll have to wait and see until after we drive the Petrol.

Increased pedal pressure is required to wash away speed in the Stelvio, as we have found ourselves jumping on the brakes earlier than usual.

 

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.

 

Verdict

 

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.

 

Rivals

 

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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