2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Review
Christian Wardlaw | Jul 04, 2018
IntroductionNamed after a treacherous mountain pass in Italy, the new 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio is a compact luxury performance vehicle that puts the ‘sport’ in ‘sport-utility vehicle.’
Based on the same rear-drive platform and architecture as the critically acclaimed Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan, the Stelvio adds cargo space and a higher ride height while preserving the uniquely Italian visual flair and dynamic driving characteristics that are synonymous with the brand. You could call it a Giulia wagon, but that would be bad for business.
Can Alfa Romeo—and its parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)—carve out some territory for the Stelvio from within the crowded compact premium SUV segment? A week-long test suggests the answer is yes.
For this review, we evaluated an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport equipped with extra-cost paint, Driver Assistance Static and Driver Assist Dynamic Plus option packages, a premium Harman Kardon sound system, navigation system, dual-pane sunroof, and a compact spare wheel/tire. The price came to $54,140, including the $1,245 destination charge.
What Owners SayBefore we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio, it’s helpful to understand who buys compact premium SUVs, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
According to J.D. Power data, the majority of buyers in this segment are men (56% vs. 44% women). The average age of a Compact Premium SUV buyer is 57 years, and they earn a median annual household income of $157,767.
More than a third of them identify themselves as performance buyers (38%). Not surprisingly, then, they frequently agree that responsive handling and performance are important when they choose a new vehicle, and they frequently disagree that a vehicle is just a way of getting from place to place.
Compact Premium SUV buyers also commonly agree that both reliability and quality of workmanship are important factors when they select a new vehicle. Fuel economy and buying a vehicle from a domestic company are not high priorities.
Buyers say their favorite things about Compact Premium SUVs are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, engine/transmission, seats, and interior design. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about this type of vehicle are (in descending order) the visibility and safety, climate control system, storage and space, infotainment system, and fuel economy.
What Our Expert SaysIn the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM
ExteriorIt’s not easy to make an SUV drip with sex appeal, but Alfa Romeo succeeds. The Stelvio, as long as you’re cool with the classic Alfa grille shape, is stunning in a 2-box vehicle segment overly reliant on exaggerated sport-ute styling cues like skid plates, gray body cladding, and oddly swollen haunches.
InteriorMinimalism rules within the Stelvio’s cabin. Huge gauges form the only ripples atop the dashboard, which is anchored by classic, round air vents. Quality materials and spare yet artful detailing are the rule, but the test vehicle exhibited more creaking than luxury buyers have come to expect.
Controls are a bit quirky, such as the engine start button on the steering wheel, which can be hard to find if you’ve parked with the front wheels turned. Long, slender paddle shifters look purposeful, but can interfere with stalk operation until the owner acclimates to the design. The gauges look terrific, but vehicle speed is hard to reference unless the digital speedometer is showing within the driver information center.
Many interior functions are controlled using the infotainment system, though commonly required features related to stereo volume and climate control are separated. You will need to reference the owner’s manual while getting up to speed with the Stelvio’s controls.
SeatsIn spite of 12-way power adjustment, finding a perfect driving position within the Stelvio Ti Sport’s deeply bolstered front seat proved elusive. I prefer to sit high rather than low, and could not move the seat in such a way as to provide optimum thigh support combined with preferred height.
With that said, many people will no doubt be satisfied behind the Stelvio’s steering wheel. They are unlikely to enjoy the front seat belt buckles’ propensity to slide down the belt to the floor, making them hard to find upon entry.
As is expected of a compact SUV, the Stelvio’s rear seat is snug, but not necessarily uncomfortable. Padded lower front seat backs and large air vents supplement a comfortable seat cushion and agreeable seating position.
Climate Control SystemTested in Southern California in the early spring, moderate temperatures taxed neither the heating nor the air conditioning systems. The automatic dual-zone system includes humidity and air quality sensors, along with an air filtration system. Heated front seats and a heated steering wheel are standard with Ti and Quadrifoglio trim, but ventilated front seats are unavailable.
Infotainment SystemFor the Stelvio, Alfa Romeo does not use FCA’s user-friendly Uconnect infotainment technology. Rather, a unique system is in place, featuring a small standard 6.5-in. display and operated similar to Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz systems by using a combination of center console and voice controls.
An upgrade supplies an 8.8-in. display with split-screen capability and plenty of vehicle configuration options, and buyers can choose a 14-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system. Both infotainment systems include Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto.
The test vehicle had the larger display and the premium sound system. Because I’m familiar with how these types of infotainment systems work, I quickly acclimated to the controls. Your experience may vary.
Alfa Romeo does, however, need to improve the voice-recognition technology. It is very specific, with narrow lanes in which to operate. For example, if radio information is showing on the display, and you issue “Navigation” as a voice command, it simply switches to the navigation map display rather than initiating destination programming. For that, you must specifically say: “Set destination.”
Additionally, if you’re in an unfamiliar area and you need a shot of caffeine, you can’t simply command the system to “Find nearest Starbucks.” If, however, you run Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, you can leverage the superior navigation capabilities of those platforms.
Storage and SpaceThe most significant compromise you’ll make in choosing the Alfa Romeo Stelvio pertains to storage and space. This is a small vehicle, and its voluptuous exterior and purposeful interior designs extract a cost when it comes to bins, nooks, crannies, and cargo.
Surprisingly, rear-seat passengers have a decent number of spots in which to stash their stuff, as well as dual USB ports. Up front, though, the most useful locations for phones, keys, and other items are the fabric-lined lower door panel bins.
Around back, the Stelvio supplies 18.5 cu. ft. of cargo capacity, barely more than a typical midsize family sedan. Useful 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats allow the Stelvio to carry longer items and four people at the same time. Fold them down and this Alfa hauls up to 56.5 cu. ft. of cargo.
Visibility and SafetyForward visibility in the Stelvio is excellent, and huge side mirrors make it easy to change lanes. The view to the rear, however, makes using the SUV’s standard reversing camera and rear park-assist sensors mandatory.
The test vehicle included both option packages that equip the Stelvio with a full complement of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems. Neither contained anything unusual, though it is worth noting that Alfa Romeo does not offer any semi-autonomous technologies such as lane-keeping assist, lane-centering assist, traffic jam assist, or parking assist. Given how enjoyable the Stelvio is to drive, perhaps this is as it should be.
In any case, during testing, the adaptive cruise control system operated with subtle sophistication, and the forward-collision warning and lane-departure warning systems emitted no false alerts. Alfa Romeo provides the safety net that people want in a modern vehicle, without foisting upon its owners the often rudimentary building blocks of autonomous driving technologies that can cause concern and confusion.
At the time of writing, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has performed crash testing on the Stelvio.
Engine/TransmissionThe Stelvio and Stelvio Ti have a turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 280 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 306 lb.-ft. of torque while burning premium fuel.
Dynamic, Natural, and Advanced Efficiency (DNA) driving modes are available via the DNA selector on the center console. When set to Dynamic, Alfa Romeo says the Stelvio will accelerate to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds.
No matter which setting you choose, turbo lag creates momentary disappointment when the driver steps on the accelerator pedal. However, once the engine’s revs rise and the twin-scroll turbocharger spools, the Stelvio scats like a scalded cat.
People who love to drive will find the best results using Dynamic mode and the paddle shifters. People who do not love to drive should be shopping for a different vehicle.
Fuel EconomyThe EPA says that my Stelvio test vehicle will return 24 mpg in combined driving. That must be with the DNA selector set to Advanced Efficiency, and with the SUV driven by a person without a pulse.
On my test loop, the Stelvio returned 20.1 mpg. Half of the miles were covered in Dynamic mode, and half in Natural mode. I used the paddle shifters during mountain driving, keeping revs high and enjoying the Stelvio’s thrilling driving dynamics.
Driving DynamicsAside from brake pedal feel and modulation, which could benefit from some fine-tuning, the Stelvio Ti Sport’s driving dynamics are near perfect. This is an exceptionally well-balanced vehicle, equipped with laser-sharp steering, expertly attenuated body motion, and a deftly tuned ride and handling character.
While the brakes are stout and proved fade-free under significant abuse, they’re grabby around town and in traffic, and they don’t bite as quickly or as authoritatively as they should when the Stelvio is driven like you stole it.
This isn’t a quiet vehicle, either, with plenty of road rumble delivered to the cabin via 20-in. 255/45 tires. Vibration causes plenty of cabin buzzing, too.
Nevertheless, for the driving enthusiast drawn to the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, such things are features of the vehicle, not bugs.
Final ImpressionsThe Alfa Romeo Stelvio is not suitable for every compact premium SUV buyer. Alluringly designed and thrilling to drive, it is rather cramped and impractical inside. Sometimes the controls are difficult to sort out, too. And fuel economy is unlikely to impress.
Nevertheless, because of its driving dynamics, because of its gorgeous looks, and because it is a relative rarity on the road, it is one of my favorite vehicles in the segment.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio review.
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