- Limited choice but powerful engines
- Low kerbweight for an SUV
- Doesn’t sound as exciting as an Alfa should
In SUV terms, the Stelvio certainly places a priority on performance – there might only be two engines to choose from but they both pack plenty of punch.
The petrol option is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces 280hp and 400Nm of torque (pulling power).
The raw performance figures are 0-62mph in 5.7sec and 143mph flat out, and it’s certainly keen to get going on the road – helped by an impressively low (for an SUV) kerbweight of 1,660kg.
The eight-speed automatic – the same ZF transmission used by a number of other car makers, including BMW and Jaguar – provides snappy manual changes but also works intuitively when left to its own devices.
That said, the petrol doesn’t sound especially inspiring, and it lacks the high-revving zing you might expect from a sporty Alfa Romeo engine. So it’s fast, but not especially soulful. It is still the engine we would choose if running costs were no object.
A short drive of this engine showed it's even less interesting than the 280hp, which is technologically identical but with a higher state of tune.
Torque drops to 330Nm and as a result you can expect a slower 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds and a 133mph top speed.
The 210hp 2.2-litre diesel does 0-62mph in 6.6sec and has a 133mph top speed.
Despite this – and 470Nm of torque – we thought it felt a little slow. This probably wasn’t helped by the high-altitude Alpine test route, so we’ll update this impression after we’ve driven it in the UK.
At 1,659kg it weighs almost exactly the same as the petrol, and produces its performance smoothly enough. But it also sounds very thin and reedy, which becomes quite grating over time – especially as there’s more engine noise inside than you might expect from a car of this class.
The lower-powered diesel option is available with rear-wheel drive only, which offers the lowest-possible running costs, or all-wheel drive as with the rest of the line-up. It generates 450Nm at 1,750rpm, so only slightly less than the high-powered version.
We've driven this motor, which covers 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds with a top speed of 130mph, and if you have to have a diesel, this is the one we'd pick.
It doesn't suffer with the lower power output because it still has more than enough torque to accelerate rapidly, and will overtake on the motorway with ease.
As with the 210hp motor, it's a little noisy when pushed hard, but this is far more noticeable outside the car than it is inside.
Alfa Romeo's DNA drive mode control
Both the gearbox and the engine response can be fine-tuned to a certain degree by the DNA driving mode control, which offers a choice of Dynamic (sporty), Natural and Advanced Efficiency (slower but better on fuel) settings. These are adjusted using the rotary controlled situated behind the gear lever.
- Sharp steering
- Flat cornering
- Keen responses
Alfa Romeo throws around all sorts of complex terminology – such ‘semi-virtual steering axis’ and patented ‘four-and-a half-link’ rear suspension – when describing the Stevlio’s chassis design.
All you really need to know is that for an SUV it stays remarkably flat when tackling even very tight corners. In fact, Alfa Romeo reckons it not only out-performs all its direct rivals in this regard, but that the Stelvio rolls less than some competitors’ saloon cars.
Certainly its resistance to lean is very impressive, and with the super-sharp steering – which is most definitely quicker than any alternative SUV – you can cut quite the dash along a mountain road.
Quick but muted
The steering is not especially communicative, however, as if holding you at slight remove. This means the Stelvio doesn’t feel quite as involving to drive as some rivals – notably the Porsche Macan.
Similarly, while the Q4 four-wheel drive system is heavily rear-biased – only engaging the front wheels when required – it’s not as dynamic as the Porsche system. The optional rear limited-slip differential may improve this, but we’re yet to try it.
The steering weighting changes not just with the DNA driving mode selector, but also the speed you’re travelling. We found this well-judged, creating little cause for complaint. Of the two, the petrol is the keener to change direction. Not that the diesel is any slouch in this regard.
Easy to drive
For all that this sounds quite aggressive in its appeal to keen drivers, the Stelvio is still an easy car to drive. With good visibility and very light steering at low speeds, it is straightforward to manoeuvre around town.
- Cabin quality not up to premium rivals'
- Design is clear and easy to use, though
- Gorgeous aluminium paddleshifters
At first glance the Stelvio’s interior looks rather alluring – there’s what appears to be a large widescreen display for the infotainment in the centre and some interesting choices of aluminium and wood trim (the latter not to everyone’s taste, but still).
Get closer, however, and the quality sadly seems more supermini than premium exec – if at least on par with the Jaguar F-Pace – and you realise that the limited amount of button clutter is because it doesn’t really have that many toys. Plus the screen isn’t as big as it seems, as there’s a large bezel on either side of the square display area.
You really notice where Alfa has cut costs when you touch the large airvents on either side of the dash - they're constructed of very flimsy-feeling plastic that feels as if it'll break in short order.
Still, the rotary controller makes the infotainment system easy to navigate and the menu system is easy to understand. Shame the gloss top of the controller is a magnet for fingerprints, and the rotating mechanism doesn’t feel as premium as rival equivalents from BMW and Audi.
The uncovered – but illuminated – USB port positioned off-centre in the middle console seems haphazard as well. On a more positive note, the vast, column-mounted paddleshifters for the automatic transmission are gorgeous pieces of aluminium art, making an already great gearbox a pleasure to use.
- Firm suspension
- Diesel comfort is best…
- …but its refinement could be better
This is where you start to pay the price for that keen cornering capability. To keep a big, tall car like the Stelvio upright in the turns you need firm suspension, and this does have an impact on ride comfort.
Diesel does it better
Driving on launch in Italy, the diesel we drove felt impressively well damped at first – especially considering it was fitted with larger 19-inch alloy wheels (17-inch and 18-inch are standard, depending on trim level).
However, on less pristine surfaces it began to exhibit a jiggling sensation that if not actually uncomfortable, certainly veered strongly towards the annoying. And we fear that such surfaces are similar to the kind you get far more commonly in the UK.
By comparison, the petrol – also on 19-inch wheels – immediately felt firmer, more uncompromising, and more unsettled at the back. The petrol is dynamically superior to the diesel, so this makes some sense. But it will be less comfortable in the UK.
We’ve already mentioned that the engines aren’t particularly nice sounding in the performance section – and that you can hear a little too much of the diesel for a premium car.
Both the Stelvios we’ve tested so far have also suffered for a high degree of wind noise, seemingly caused by poor seals around the windows. Road noise is well suppressed, though, even on the optional 19-inch alloy wheels.