Motoring: A few setbacks won't stop the Stelvio TI Sport AWD from being a stellar vehicle
Credit: NAUMAN FAROOQ
Though there are a few kinks with the 2018 Stelvio TI Sport AWD, it's still a fine vehicle worth taking for a ride.
Alfa Romeo is the only auto manufacturer that can claim to have had Enzo Ferrari as an employee, before he went off to start his own sports car company.
Personally, Alfa Romeo is responsible for making two of my alltime favourite sports cars, the 1970 to 1977 Montreal, and the 1989-93 SZ/RZ.
Over the years, Alfa Romeo had expanded its portfolio, and in Europe and Asia, sells all types of vehicles, from little hatchbacks, to sedan, wagons, coupes and convertibles. One segment they had never entered, was the SUV market — but that all changed last year, with the introduction of the Stelvio model.
Billed as the brand's first ever sport utility vehicle, it is built atop the Giulia sedan platform, which means, that this SUV has actual sporty characteristics dialled in from start. Couple that with powerful engines and active all-wheel drive, and you have the recipe for a great vehicle.
But the ingredients are one thing, it is up to the chef to put it together properly. So, did Alfa Romeo cook up the best SUV on the market? After spending a week with one, I would say, it is better than I expected in certain areas, but is far from perfect — so let us dissect it piece by piece.
Styling: Looks are an important feature for a vehicle in any segment, after all, if you don't like the way something looks, you're not likely to pursue it any further. I think the Stelvio is an attractive SUV, with the rear three-quarter view being my favourite. The front, in my view, is a bit too bold! The Alfa grill and headlights look too big for a vehicle of this size, but most people seem to like it. Overall, the Stelvio is a handsome vehicle, so it is off to a good start.
Interior: From a design point of view, the interior is fine, but it has been put together using cheap, black plastics that surely does not look or feel luxurious. Couple that with an ‘OK' infotainment system, and things aren't looking great from the driver's seat. However, not all is bad about this interior. The seats are wonderful - supportive and well cushioned, making this vehicle quite ideal for long trips. Even the rear seats offer decent space and lots of comfort, which is often overlooked. Adding to its comfort is the noise deadening, Alfa did their homework on this, and as a result, this is a smooth and quiet vehicle to ride in. So, if you spend a lot of time out on the road, the Stelvio is pretty good.
Powertrain: Moving you down the road, the Stelvio currently offers you two drivetrains. There is a fire breathing, 2.9 litres twin-turbo V6 in the Quadrifoglio model that develops 505 horsepower — this is not the model I recently tested. My tester had the base motor, but that is not a bad thing, because this 2.0 litres turbocharged inline-four cylinder motor, that features direct injection, is capable of producing a healthy 280 horsepower and 306 pounds per foot of torque. Power is fed to all-wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Performance is quite good, especially for an SUV, with the 0 to 100 kilometres per hour run taking about 5.5 seconds. Keep the pedal on the right buried, and it'll top out at 232 kilometres per hour.
Driving Dynamics: Performance numbers are one thing, how a vehicle carries itself on the road, is quite another. The Stelvio is well damped, and on the highway, at speed, feels stable enough for a SUV. In the corners, it manages to hang on just fine, but it just feels like its centre of gravity is a little higher than it should have been. So, while it handles well, it never really encouraged me to seek out the best twisty roads. The steering is partly to blame, being an electronic system, it lacks the feel I look for — however, it is far from the worst in the business. What is quite possibly be its worst quality, is its pedal box! We are used to drive-by-wire throttles by now for over two decades, but the Stelvio even has brake-bywire, which means, there is no mechanical connection between the brake pedal and the disc brakes. So, when you get on the brake, it gives a little feel of the brakes engaging, but as you push them in by another inch, the pedal feels dead! Push the brakes harder -out of panic- and the vehicle comes to a very hard stop. It is very hard to modulate the brake pedal in the Stelvio, and even after a week, I struggled to get used to it. I know Alfa Romeo had a brake recall on the Stelvio, so it could be that my tester had not gone through that correction — if this is how they all are, then the Stelvio probably has the worst brake pedal I've ever come across!
Fuel Economy: During my test week, where I had measured it on a 170 kilometres highway run, and 130 kilometres of city riving, the Stelvio TI Sport AWD had averaged 10.9 litres per 100kilometres. That is not bad, especially for a winter test, so it is quite frugal.
Pricing: The Stelvio has a base price of $52,545. My very well equipped tester —which had the Harmon Kardon premium sound system, dual-pane sunroof, and many other options- listed at $67,502 (including destination charge). So, it is not cheap, but it isn't crazy expensive either. So, on pricing, I think it's a fair deal.
Verdict: Alfa Romeo's first ever SUV could have been a hodgepodge disaster, but it is surprisingly good in most areas. If Alfa can fix the issue with the brake pedal (and I'm not the only one to complain about it, check out some YouTube reviews of this vehicle), then the Stelvio can actually be counted as one of the best vehicles in its category.