Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Giulia-grade handling offered up to the SUV set

TONY O’KANE

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

PLUS & MINUS

Class-leading dynamics; performance; seductive styling; value

Some cheap cabin plastics; grabby by-wire brakes

Model Alfa Romeo Stelvio First Edition

Engine 1995cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo

Max power 148kW @ 4500rpm

Max torque 330Nm @ 1750rpm

Transmission 8-speed automatic

Weight 1619kg

0-100km/h 7.2sec (claimed)

Economy 7.0L/100km

Price $71,900

On sale Now

SEXY looks count for nothing if the sheetmetal is writing cheques the chassis can’t cash. But with Giulia-shared Giorgio underpinnings we were expecting plenty from Alfa Romeo’s first SUV.

Swinging for the likes of the BMW X3, Mercedes GLC, Audi Q5 and Jaguar F-Pace, the Stelvio has arrived in Oz in 148kW petrol and 154kW diesel guises, and will be bolstered later this year with the 206kW petrol Stelvio Ti, then the twin-turbo V6 Stelvio Quadrifoglio. And initial impressions suggest it’s much more than a shallow Italian supermodel.

Our first taste of the Stelvio in Northern Ireland (Wheels, Dec ’17) left plenty of positives, but also question marks over the rear-end’s ability to contain big hits.

Three damper set-ups are offered for Oz – Koni dampers on the rear only, Konis at each corner, and electronically adjustable adaptive dampers. We tested Stelvio petrol and diesel in limited First Edition spec – an extra $6K – which adds heated sports leather seats, a heated steering wheel, a panoramic glass sunroof ... and four Koni dampers.

In this spec, driven hard on Victoria’s Reefton Spur, the Stelvio impressed. A decidedly sporty SUV, its crisp steering is the highlight, with the quickest rack in the class. The Stelvio is highly resistant to roll and understeer, the latter helped by 50:50 weight distribution.

A lightweight in the domain of mid-size SUVs (at 1619kg as a turbo petrol), the Stelvio does plenty with the four’s somewhat modest 148kW and 330Nm, to deliver a claimed 7.2-second 0-100km/h. The 154kW/470Nm 2.2-litre Stelvio diesel is (almost) equally trim, at 1620kg, and does 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.6sec.

Some of the straight-line effectiveness can be attributed to the all-wheel-drive system and decisive eight-speed automatic. The latter is quick to snick ratios when you pluck a paddle; it’s a shame the brake-by-wire system is equally snatchy.

Up front, the seats are nicely contoured, and mounted low for a sportscar-like feel. The rear offers plenty of legroom and a backrest canted for better long-distance posture, with a firm cushion. Just as in the Giulia, there are some quality shortfalls in the cabin. Better quality plastic finishes would certainly lift the ambience.

There are more utilitarian SUVs around, but does that diminish the Stelvio’s appeal? Not when few SUVs in this price spectrum feel so brilliantly alive. In the forthcoming Stelvio Quadrifoglio, the dynamic ability is even quantified with a ‘quickest SUV’ Nurburgring record. The Stelvio also looks pretty damn hot and, for a great many, that still counts for a lot.

TONY O’KANE

Wagon school

The Stelvio’s side profile, without glass aft of the rear doors, has the look of an oversized hatch rather than an SUV/wagon like most of the class. Yet with a 525-litre cargo bay – or 499 litres if you opt for a spacesaver rather than an inflator kit – it’s certainly an SUV, and is about on par with the Mercedes GLC (505 litres), Volvo XC60 (490 litres) and Porsche Macan (500 litres) for carrying stuff. Though it is shaded by the Jaguar F-Pace (650 litres) and the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 (550 litres).