The closest you’ll get to a Giulia wagon.
One need only look at the 2019 Lamborghini Urus to see that crossovers have become a necessary evil for even the most illustrious manufacturers. Alfa Romeo finds itself in a similar position with the 2018 Stelvio SUV, which—as a high-riding utilitarian built atop the lovely, 10Best Cars–winning Giulia sedan—bolsters Alfa’s lineup in its return to the U.S. market. While the Stelvio also illustrates that adding utility to a performance brand’s DNA can sometimes dash our expectations, the end result is a refreshingly satisfying SUV to behold.
The existence of the Stelvio was initially a bit of a letdown, what with Alfa Romeo having teased us prior to its debut with the possibility of building a ground-hugging wagon version of the Giulia. Sexy, low slung, and theoretically imbued with the same delicate tactility that makes Alfa’s four-door one of our favorite new cars, a prospective Giulia wagon had us weak in the knees. But the reality is that a wagon would have been a nonstarter for a reemerging brand in today’s market. Against the shockwave of the industry’s crossover boom, the two-box Giulia didn’t stand a chance.
Serving the Masses
Enter the Stelvio, which is designed to sop up the spills of suburban life with 19 cubic feet of cargo space behind its rear seats—57 cubes with the seats stowed—and a seating height about six inches loftier than the sedan’s. While we’ve yet to sample the 505-hp Stelvio Quadrifoglio—a version that currently holds the lap record for crossovers around the Nürburgring—we have now tested the mainstream, turbo-four model. The Stelvio’s mechanical makeup shadows that of the Giulia: a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four making 280 horsepower and 306 lb-ft of torque, backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission. Alfa’s all-wheel-drive system, which is $2000 extra on the Giulia, is standard on all Stelvios.
The crossover also benefits from the shared aluminum-intensive architecture, which helps make the 4037-pound Stelvio significantly lighter than many of its peers, including the latest Audi Q5 and BMW X3. That lightness didn’t translate to greater fuel economy in our testing, however. Our car’s 19-mpg observed figure was 3 mpg less than its EPA city estimate and toward the lower end of the compact-ute segment. And its 26-mpg performance on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy loop came up 2 mpg short of its highway rating. (For reference, the all-wheel-drive Giulia we previously tested weighed 377 pounds less and managed 23 and 32 mpg in the same measures.)
The Stelvio fares better at the test track, where the heavier crossover actually was slightly quicker off the line than the non-Quadrifoglio Giulias we’ve tested: zero to 60 mph in a solid 5.4 seconds, with a quarter-mile pass of 14.1 seconds at 98 mph. Riding on optional 20-inch aluminum wheels (18s are standard, with 19s also available) wrapped with 255/45R-20 Continental CrossContact LX Sport all-season tires, our test example posted 0.84 g of grip on the skidpad and stopped from 70 mph in 176 feet, respectable returns for a two-ton SUV not wearing high-performance summer rubber. In the greater crossover hierarchy, the Stelvio doesn’t quite have the moves or the speed to match the more powerful, V-6–powered Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan on similar tires, yet it can rout the Audi Q5 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic in nearly all dynamic measures.
Function and Fizz
Exuding a well-balanced comportment that instills confidence in its pilot, the Alfa is more responsive to inputs than most crossovers, especially with our test car’s top-level Ti Sport package ($4500 more than a base Stelvio and $2500 more than a midrange Ti), which consists of 20-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, leather sport seats with adjustable side bolsters, column-mounted shift paddles, painted brake calipers, and black exterior accents. With lots of aluminum in the control-arm front and multilink rear suspensions, the Stelvio offers both pleasing compliance to road imperfections and astute body control when pushed hard. As in the Giulia, the turbo four emits a subdued growl and pulls strongly with minimal lag. The eight-speed gearbox makes the most of the 2.0-liter’s output with smooth, quick shifts and nicely sorted programming that doesn’t immediately race for top gear. Alfa Romeo’s brake-by-wire system also is much better realized in the Stelvio, with a firm, easy-to-modulate pedal that is significantly more linear in action than the Giulia’s.
Buyers expecting the sedan’s playfulness to transfer over intact will be disappointed by the Stelvio’s more distant connection with the road. Chalk up much of that to the physics of a larger, heavier vehicle with a practical mission. But some blame also can be levied on the steering tuning, which, while noteworthy for its precision and quickness, feels inert next to the sedan’s light and talkative helm. Toggling the Alfa’s driving-mode selector on the console to its Dynamic setting helps combat the issue by firming up the tiller’s resistance while sharpening the engine’s throttle response and spurring the transmission. We spent most of our time behind the wheel in that feistier setup. But even in its default Normal configuration, the Alfa sits at the sharp end of the crossover class, and most shoppers should find its athleticism to be more than sufficient.
The Stelvio also presents well at the curb, its iconic triangular grille and shapely visage greeting passersby with class and sophistication. That one can sometimes mistake this Italian siren for a workaday Mazda CX-5 from the rear is a byproduct of its commodity status as a crossover. But make no mistake about this ute’s handsomeness on the road, particularly with its sloping rear glass and big wheels that accentuate its hunkered-down stance. The SUV form also affords the Stelvio 8.1 inches of ground clearance and the ability to tow 3000 pounds with an optional $450 trailer hitch.
Running the Numbers
The Stelvio’s cabin design is virtually identical to the Giulia’s, with ample room for four occupants but not quite as much space to stretch out as in a BMW X3. Cargo space is on the small end of the spectrum, barely surpassing the hold of a Porsche Macan, but the overall ergonomics are sound and the integrated starter button in our example’s flat-bottom steering wheel makes for a neat display piece. However, the aluminum trim in our Ti Sport test car only somewhat brightened the darkness of its black confines (warmer wood finishes are standard in other versions), and the Stelvio’s trappings in general can seem only mediocre at its $43,190 starting price. Its synthetic dashtop material in particular looks cheap and almost reptilian in texture. One glance at the inside of any of the German alternatives provides proof that the interior of a utility vehicle can be quite snazzy.
Standard equipment is plentiful, with all Stelvios coming with Brembo front and rear brakes, adaptive bixenon headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, a 7.0-inch color TFT display in the cluster, a 6.5-inch central infotainment screen, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. In addition to the Ti Sport package, our example also tacked on the $1500 Driver Assist Dynamic Plus package (adaptive cruise control with stop and go, forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beams), the $650 Driver Assistance Static package (blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and auto-dimming exterior mirrors), and the $200 Convenience package (a tie-down rail system in the cargo area and a 115-volt AC power outlet). Other extras that pushed our Alfa’s as-tested price to a not insignificant $55,440 included a $1350 dual-pane sunroof, $950 for navigation in the upgraded 8.8-inch center display that is standard on Ti models, a $900 Harman/Kardon premium stereo, and $2200 for Rosso Competizione Tri-Coat paint.
With sales of crossovers far surpassing those of station wagons, the Stelvio surely will pave the development path for better, future Alfas in ways a longroof Giulia never could. We most look forward to testing the racy Quadrifoglio, but even this standard version makes a strong showing as a more practical take on one of our favorite driver’s cars, and it’s a fetching addition to the SUV scene.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
PRICE AS TESTED: $55,440 (base price: $43,190)
ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled SOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
DISPLACEMENT: 122 cu in, 1993 cc
POWER: 280 hp @ 5200 rpm
TORQUE: 306 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
WHEELBASE: 110.9 in
LENGTH: 184.6 in
WIDTH: 74.9 in HEIGHT: 66.0 in
PASSENGER VOLUME: 94 cu ft
CARGO VOLUME: 19 cu ft
CURB WEIGHT: 4037 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 5.4 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 14.7 sec
Zero to 130 mph: 32.2 sec
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 6.5 sec
Top gear, 30-50 mph: 3.4 sec
Top gear, 50-70 mph: 4.2 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.1 sec @ 98 mph
Top speed (drag limited, mfr’s claim): 144 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 176 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.84 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY:
Observed: 19 mpg
75-mph highway driving: 26 mpg
Highway range: 430 miles
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 24/22/28 mpg