by Gerhard Horn
Think of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio as the anti-SUV. The acronym SUV stands for Sports Utility Vehicle. Historically, the first two words were never placed together because they are mutually exclusive. Something utilitarian and practical is, by nature, not meant to be sporty. You'll never find a forklift GTI, for example. In the context of cars, the "sports" in the acronym is rather a fancy way of saying that this large vehicle's handling is car-like. There are a few exceptions to the rule and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio is one of them. It's powered by a 280-horsepower engine and features a stunning exterior. Everything about it shouts performance. It does lack a certain amount of utility, however. You wouldn't dream of taking it off-roading, never mind towing something behind it. No, sir. This is an SUV for people who want to upgrade from a hot hatch and into something a bit more practical. They want the utility of a bigger car, without having to sacrifice too much of the driving experience they love so much. In that context, the Stelvio shines. But so do rivals like the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, making this segment one of the most difficult to compete in.
The Stelvio received a significant makeover in 2020. Alfa upgraded the infotainment system and added some additional safety features. The quality of the materials used on certain surfaces was also improved, while the engineers made it a tad more practical by adding some storage spaces for small items. For the 2021 Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the Italian marque has cut the model line-up to three models to streamline the building process. The most popular features available last year have either been included as standard or as part of a small selection of optional packages. Four new colors were added to the existing color palette: Ocra GT Junior, Rosso GTA, Rosso Villa d'Este, and Verde Montreal. These colors will be introduced during the course of 2021. The various optional driver-assist features have been reworked into two packages called Active Assist 1 Package or Active Assist 2 Package, both of which add features like adaptive cruise control and active blind-spot assist.
See trim levels and configurations:
There's no mistaking the Stelvio for anything but an Alfa Romeo. It features all of the most well-known historical design features, including the V-shaped grille, curvaceous lines, and aggressive alloy wheel designs. It's essentially the Alfa Romeo Giulia's design but lifted and rounded off at the back to form an SUV shape. This modern, striking design incorporates features like LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, and alloy wheel sizes that range from standard 18-inch items to optional 21s.
The Stelvio is a chunky crossover, with a wheelbase of 110.9 inches. Other dimensions include a total length of 184.6 inches, making it slightly longer than the Mercedes-Benz GLC, but only by 1.3 inches. Standing 74.9 inches in width excluding mirrors, the Stelvio at least fixes its sedan brother's main problem, namely, a lack of space in the rear. Finally, the Stelvio's height works out to 66 inches. The Stelvio Sprint weighs in at 3,901 pounds thanks to its lighter rear-wheel-drive layout, while the four-wheel-drive Ti and Ti Sport weigh in at 4,007 pounds.
Alfa White and Rosso are available as no-cost options in the USA, while an additional $600 opens up nine metallic colors to choose from. They are Vulcano Black, Vesuvio Gray, Stromboli Gray, Silverstone Gray, Montecarlo Blue, Anodized Blue, Misano Blue, Verde Green Visconti, and Lunare White. Upgrade to either the Ti or Ti Sport and you can also choose between two tri-coat options, namely Trofeo White and Rosso Red Competizione. However, these both go for a much more expensive $2,200. There are four new colors, but they'll be added during the course of 2021.
In the more traditional colors, the Stelvio looks quite handsome and elegant, while choosing a color from the more funky side of the spectrum will result in an SUV that stands out even more in a parking lot. Just play around on the configurator and choose either Verde Green Visconti or Misano Blue to see the effect a striking color can have on this SUV.
Every model in the Stelvio lineup is equipped with a turbocharged four-pot, except for the manic Quadrifoglio. We review that Alfa Romeo Stelvio model and its 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 separately. You might be thinking that a four-pot isn't enough, but this 2.0-liter unit develops a healthy 280 horsepower and 306 lb-ft of torque. This is quite a few horses more than we usually see from an engine with such a small capacity, but it works a charm. In rear-wheel-drive Sprint format, it can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. The Ti and Ti Sport, which offer all-wheel drive as standard, can sprint to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds, thanks to the added grip, although we don't recommend chassis the top speed of 144 mph.
This makes the Alfa Stelvio one of the faster competitors in this segment, even outperforming the likes of the BMW X3 30i. If you're looking for a car to tow with, the Stelvio isn't it. Its maximum towing capacity is rated at just 3,000 pounds, which is a significant 1,400 lbs less than the BMW X3 can manage.
The Alfa's 280-hp and 306 lb-ft turbocharged 2.0-liter four-pot, mated to a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission, is one of the best engine/gearbox combinations in the business. While the Stelvio weighs around 300 lbs more than the Giulia sedan, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference in performance. The gearbox is quick, smooth, and efficient, making the most of the available horses. As you've seen from the claimed figures, acceleration is quite brisk, and it feels that way right through the rev range. Passing slower cars is a joy, as is driving slowly in peak hour traffic. There simply isn't a scenario where the gearbox doesn't seem to feel at home. The available shift paddles on the steering column are a joy to use, but their sheer size means they do get in the way of the stalks mounted behind them.
It's an odd sensation to drive an SUV as responsive and fun as this one. And it isn't even the halo performance model in the range. As with the Giulia sedan, the first thing that strikes you is the steering. It's light but direct, quite unlike anything else in this segment, but in a good way. It feels odd and unnerving at first, but a day or two later you start wondering why all SUVs don't handle and respond this way. Mechanically speaking, it doesn't have more grip than the competition, but it's the way it's set up that makes a huge difference.
The rear-wheel-drive model sends all of the power to the rear axle, leaving that swift and responsive steering to do its job up front. In AWD guise, the usual default in most rivals is to understeer, and there's a good reason for that. When the system is based on a front-wheel-drive chassis, it sends power to the front wheels and only engages the rear wheels when needed. In the Alfa, it's the other way around. Its default setting is rear-wheel drive, only engaging the front wheels when additional grip is required.
The Stelvio is equipped with Alfa's DNA driving mode selector with Dynamic, Natural, and Advanced Efficiency modes. In Dynamic mode, the throttle response is near immediate, and it has a fantastic four-pot soundtrack. Add in those engaging paddle shifters and you have yourself quite an entertaining car to drive. Since this is an SUV, a dynamic drive won't be needed that often. So it's a good thing that Natural mode offers a compliant, comfortable ride, even though there is still an underlying firmness to remind you that it can hustle when it wants to. The Stelvio is equipped with large Brembo brakes, and they do an admirable job of bringing this chunky SUV to a standstill, even from higher speeds.
The Stelvio's gas mileage borders on average, rather than good. It returns an EPA-rated figure of 22/29/25 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles in rear-wheel-drive format, and 22/28/24 mpg in all-wheel-drive guise. The 16.9-gallon tank is good for a 422-mile range between refills for the RWD model. BMW's RWD X3 30i returns much better overall consumption figures of 25/29/27 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles.
The Stelvio's interior is a mixed bag. It's brilliant in some places and decidedly sub-par in certain areas. Given the price of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, you'd expect an interior to match the Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X3, and Audi Q5, but it just doesn't. There are certain things in the cabin that are stunning. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter look and feel magnificent, as do the aluminum shifters behind the wheel. Opt for a contrast interior and it looks even better. But investigate a bit further and you'll note some cheap plastic trim and the poor rearward visibility. The infotainment system is good, however. The 8.8-inch touchscreen works well, as you can set up your quick-access widgets for whatever function you use frequently.
While the Stelvio is bigger than its sedan brother, there remain some issues with regards to the seating and interior space. It's not that it's cramped, but the seats are quite firm. It can be quite a hassle to find the right seating position that won't result in back pain over a long stretch, and passengers can forget about sleeping. The firm ride and the equally firm headrests will keep them awake. Getting in and out of the Stelvio is easy enough, thanks to its elevated driving position. The floor is still quite low, and the roofline is a bit of a hassle, but that's about it.
The front legroom measures in at 36.6 inches, rear legroom at 31.9 inches, front headroom at 40.2 inches, and rear headroom at 38.9 inches. To put that in perspective, the Mercedes-Benz GLC has 40.8 inches of front legroom, 37.3 inches of rear legroom, and 41.9 inches and 38.5 inches of headroom respectively. The GLC is bigger, but in this segment none of these feel particularly small.
The Stelvio is the perfect SUV for extroverts. That much is clear from the aggressive styling and the funky color palette. This trend continues on the inside, where the Stelvio offers multiple trim options. Most of it is standard, while on the more expensive models, inlays like wood and carbon fiber form part of optional packages.
As standard, every Stelvio in the range is equipped with leather seats, with both these and the lower dashboard and door panels available in various shades. These include Black, Ice, Black/Ice, Ice, Black/Red, and Black/Chocolate. Moving up to the Ti avails a Crema interior in luxury leather, but this requires adding the Lusso Package at $2,200, as well as the $2,300 Lusso Package. The Ti Sport, meanwhile, isn't offered with the Black/Ice, Ice or Crema color schemes. While some areas of the interior are below par, the Stelvio makes up for it by looking and feeling special in all the right places. Everything you interact with as the driver feels solid, especially the satin aluminum door handles, sports pedals, and paddle shifters. The steering wheel is a thing of beauty, featuring a Ferrari-style starter button on the lower-left portion of the wheel.
The Stelvio's 18.5 cubic feet of cargo space is average rather than class-leading. The more practical BMW X3 offers 28.7 cubic feet of cargo space, for instance. It won't be noticeable on the day-to-day grind, but when you have to load luggage for five passengers, it will be. The rear seats can be folded down in a 40/20/40 split, offering 56.5 cubic feet of cargo space. A power liftgate is standard across the range, and the low load-in height makes it easy to load heavier items.
The new center console, available since 2020, offers more storage spaces for wallets and phones, while an optional wireless charging pad makes it much easier to charge a compatible smartphone without having to plug it in. You simply place it on the pad and forget about it.
All Stelvio models from the base Sprint model upwards are equipped with standard leather trim, keyless entry with remote start, bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights, Alfa's DNA drive mode selector, a backup camera with parking sensors at the rear, and full-speed forward collision warning. The Ti and Ti Sport now boast a dual-pane sunroof as well.
In previous years we criticized Alfa for only offering advanced safety features as pricey optional extras. The situation has been remedied somewhat, thanks to Alfa repackaging these features to bring down the complexity of the build phase, resulting in a significant saving. The new Active Assist 1, which is only available on the Sprint model, includes the most important advanced safety kit, over and above the usual airbags, crumple zones, and electronic nannies. These include blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control, front and rear park assist, and lane departure warning, to name just a few. The Active Assist 2 package is only available on the Ti and Ti Sport, including everything you get in Active Assist 1, but adding even more features. The Active Assist 2 Package for the Ti comes in two flavors, as the package is slightly different when coupled with the Lusso Package. The basics include driver attention assist, highway assist, intelligent speed assist, and traffic jam assist, to name just a few.
The Stelvio is equipped with an 8.8-inch center console touchscreen interface that has Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto capabilities. When not using the latter features, the driver can customize the home page by adding quick-access widgets to features like the radio, smartphone, and climate control. The Ti and Ti Sport trim levels add a 3D navigation system, though it's not strictly necessary given Apple CarPlay and Android Auto's navigation features.
In addition to this screen, there's another seven-inch TFT screen in the instrument cluster. It provides a host of information, which means the driver can just take a glance down instead of a long gaze at the center console. The Stelvio is also equipped with three full-function USB ports in the front, and two charge-only ports for rear-seat passengers.
An eight-speaker sound system is standard on the Sprint and Ti models. The Sprint can be upgraded to a 10-speaker premium system with a subwoofer, while the Ti and Ti Sport models' sound system can be upgraded to a Harman Kardon system with 14 speakers, including two surround sound speakers, one subwoofer, and a 900-watt amplifier by speccing the $2,300 Premium Package.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV was last rated by the J.D. Power survey in 2019, where it scored an overall 73 out of 100. It scored great in the quality and reliability, driving experience, and resale categories, but the dealer experience was rated as average. Overall, it couldn't match the scores of SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz GLC and BMW X3.
The NHTSA website reveals that there were no recalls during 2020. The Stelvio had a tough year in 2018, facing a total of eight recalls. These include a fuel gauge that may read higher than the actual level, adaptive cruise control that may fail to deactivate, a coolant hose that may leak causing the car to stall, an engine misfire that may cause heat damage, a water leak at the front of the vehicle causing an electrical malfunction in the windshield wipers, a rear liftgate that may open unexpectedly, windshield wipers limited to the low-speed function, and contaminated brake fluid.
Luckily, the Stelvio had a better year in 2019, with only three recalls to report. These included the same issues from 2018 relating to the fuel gauge, adaptive cruise control, and coolant hose leak. The standard warranty on the Stelvio is valid for four years or 50,000 miles and includes powertrain coverage.
The NHTSA has no safety rating for the Stelvio in the US or the Giulia for that matter. The IIHS also has no rating for the Stelvio, but it does give the Giulia a Good rating based on its crash tests. The Stelvio shares the same platform, but the body styles are a bit different, so the crash results may differ. We reckon the Stelvio should do well, but we'd feel a lot better if we knew for sure.
All models in the Stelvio lineup get dual-front and side airbags for the front passengers, as well as curtain airbags for the front and rear. The front passengers also get knee airbags. Also included are traction control, brake assist, stability control, hill-descent control, hill start assist, a rearview camera, and rear parking sensors. A full-speed forward-collision warning system is also standard across the range.
There are now two safety packages which add additional advanced safety features to the specs. The first is Active Assistance 1, which adds $595 to the price of the Sprint model. It adds active blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic-dimming exterior mirrors, automatic high-beam headlamp control, park assist front and rear, an infrared windscreen, lane departure warning, and a perforated leather shift knob. On the Ti and Ti Sport models, you can add the Ti Active Driver Assistance 2 Package or the Lusso Active Assist Package 2, which retail for $1,100 more. It adds everything included in Active Assistance 1 plus driver attention alert, a highway assist system, intelligent speed assist, a sport leather-wrapped steering wheel, traffic jam assist, and traffic sign recognition.
If we look at the previous line-up of models, we see that the range started at $41,400 and went up to $52,300. Some of these safety features could only be added from the Ti spec upward, and it costs a hefty $3,400. The previous base Ti spec cost $45,800, plus the additional $3,400, which brings you to a total of $49,200. That's without any other options.
With the new lineup, the Ti trim starts at $47,100, plus the additional $1,695 brings you to a total of $48,795. Not only is that cheaper, but the base Ti trim now comes with a more comprehensive list of standard features, which you had to pay extra for previously, or upgrade to the now-defunct Ti Lusso, or Ti Sport Carbon.
It's so easy to find a flaw in the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. It's just not as polished as its German rivals, but, to be fair, most of them are on their second, or even third-generation SUVs at the moment. They already have years of experience, and the opportunity to fix the flaws their previous models might have had. This is Alfa's first SUV, and while it can't tow more than 3,000 lbs, it does have a massive weight to carry on its shoulders. After the introduction of the 4C and Giulia, the Stelvio was meant to be the volume model. So far it has been responsible for Alfa increasing its sales figures year on year, so it must be a good car.
The reason is simply that it's an easy car to forgive. Yes, the seats are hard, the interior trim is a bit iffy in places, and the cargo space is average, but it's easy to forget and forgive all of these things. The Stelvio is just such a good car to drive. Drive any of its main rivals, and you'll soon realize that they're all much of a muchness. They are comfortable, efficient, brisk, and dependable, and probably all a better, more logical proposition than the Alfa. What they can't do, however, is create a bond between man and machine. Only gearheads will know what I'm on about here. The Alfa is extremely good in all the places that count the most to those of us who love to drive. It's quick and it sounds good. The steering sets the standard in the segment and makes everything else feel as responsive as a drunken sloth. It also doesn't look like anything else in the segment.
If you like driving and you're in the market for a bigger car, you wouldn't feel cheated upgrading to a Stelvio. All of the things you love about your hot hatch will still be present, just in a more practical, elevated package. So, is it a good car? No, it's a superb car, but only to a select few who understand, and will enjoy all of the above.
So you want to get your hands on a new Alfa Romeo Stelvio? The base model Sprint retails for a base price of $41,450, and it's the only model in the line-up that comes with rear-wheel drive as standard. Equipping this model with an all-wheel-drive system will cost an additional $2,000. The Ti and Ti Sport are only available in AWD format. The Ti retails for $47,100, while the Ti Sport costs $50,300. These prices do not include the $1,495 destination charge.
The new trimmed-down Alfa Stelvio line-up consists of three models, excluding the high-performance Quadrifoglio, which we review separately. The new base model is named Sprint, which is a nomenclature Alfa used throughout the '70s and '80s. It's followed by the Ti and the Ti Sport. All versions use a 2.0-liter turbo-four with 280 hp, but only the Sprint gets rear-wheel drive by default.
The Sprint is equipped with standard leather trim, SiriusXM radio, keyless entry with remote start, bi-xenon headlamps with LED daytime running lights, Alfa's DNA drive mode selector, backup camera with parking sensors at the rear, and full-speed forward collision warning. On the infotainment side, it has an 8.8-inch color touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capabilities. It also has a nice additional seven-inch display in the instrument cluster that provides the most vital information, so you don't have to take your eyes off the road for too long.
The Ti trim adds a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, 3D navigation, 19-inch alloy wheels, a body-color appearance kit, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, Satin aluminum door sills, and genuine dark gray oak interior trim.
The Ti Sport adds a mechanical limited-slip rear differential, dark exhaust tips, gloss black window surrounds, and a rear sports diffuser. It also comes with sport leather-trimmed front seats with 14-way power-adjustment. It's not just sporty in name, either. The front suspension is tuned to be more aggressive than the other models in the line-up, which means that the initial turn-in is even sweeter. All of the aluminum trim on this particular model is also the real deal, including the steering column-mounted shift paddles behind the beautiful sport steering wheel.
By cutting down the available models and including a lot of the popular optional extras as standard, Alfa also cut down on the number of additional packages. Some of them have been combined into one package, with a hefty price cut.
The Sprint model is available with four packages, which consist of many of the features that are standard on the Ti and Ti Sport. The Cold Weather package ($800) includes heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated washer nozzles. The Sun and Sound package ($1,595) adds a 10-speaker premium sound system with a subwoofer, dual-pane sunroof, and a gloss-black shark fin antenna. The Active Assistance 1 package ($595) includes a host of advanced safety features like active blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise control, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, auto high-beam headlamp control, front and rear park assist, infrared windshield, lane departure warning, and a perforated leather shift knob. The Nero Edizione Sport ($1,500) is a style package and includes Dark Miron badging, exterior mirror caps, a V-shape grille, rear valance panel and gloss black roof rails, and window surround moldings. The center wheel caps are changed from color to monochromatic.
The Ti model can also be equipped with the Nero Edizione Sport ($1,700) package, as put out above. This trim's advanced safety systems are available in two configurations, namely Ti Active Driver Assistance, and Ti Lusso Active Assistant. The difference between them is simply the design of the steering wheel, which can either be sporty, or luxurious. Both packages for the Alfa Romeo Stelvio cost $1,695 and include everything you get with Active Assistance 1, and add driver attention alert, highway assist system, intelligent speed assist, lane keep assist, traffic jam assist, and traffic sign recognition.
The Performance Package includes aluminum steering-column mounted paddle shifters and a mechanical limited-slip differential on the rear axle. The Lusso Package, in combination with the Premium Package, adds several luxurious touches and features. You get 19-inch wheels, beige headliner, bright aluminum pedals, 8-way power-adjustable front seats, leather trim on the dash and upper doors, and a technoleather luxury steering wheel.
The Premium package ($2,300) adds a 115-volt auxiliary power outlet, an adjustable rail system for the cargo area, cargo net, Harman Kardon premium sound system, headlamp washers, heated second-row seats, Thatcham security equipment, and a wireless charging pad.
The Ti Sport model is available with the same Active Driver Assist package, but only with a sports steering wheel. The Nero Edizione style package for this model is slightly cheaper, as it already comes with a few things as standard. On the Ti Sport, it retails for $1,500.
The Premium package on this model retails for the same as on the Ti model and includes the same features.
Finally, there's the Carbon package ($2,500), which adds carbon-fiber exterior mirrors, a V-shape grille, Dark Miron badging, dark taillights, door projector lights, genuine carbon-fiber trim for the interior, monochromatic center wheel caps, and sport leather seats.
The entry-level Sprint in rear-wheel-drive format offers the best value for money, and it has quite a lot of toys to play with. If you add the Active Assistance package and Sun and Sound package, it still only has an MSRP of $45,135 including destination, which is still less than the next model in the line-up, the Ti.
If you can afford it, go for the Ti, for one very good reason. The Stelvio is an SUV aimed at drivers, and the driver package with the mechanical limited-slip differential, and the stunning aluminum paddles behind the wheels is not an option on the Sprint, but it is on the Ti. The problem is, once you start adding the Premium package and the Driver Assistance package to the Ti, it's easy to end up with a car that costs more than the Ti Sport. The performance goodies are standard on the Ti Sport, but then you still have to add the Premium package and Active Assist Package. The result is a Stelvio that costs $54,385, which is a giant leap up from the $41,450 Sprint. There is a work-around, however. If you equip the Sprint model with all-wheel drive, you can add the Performance Pack. You can then add the Active Assistance 1 package, which gives you all of the important advanced safety features, and the Sun and Sound, as well as the Cold Weather package, which adds the additional comfort goodies you find on the Ti and Ti Sport. You do lose out on navigation, but with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard across the range, it doesn't matter. With a price tag of $48,930, which is a bit more than the standard Ti with no extras, it offers the best value for money. Keep in mind that you do miss out on those stunning 19-inch alloy wheels.
Judge it by as many reviews as you want, these two SUVs are so similar in the way they do things. Instead of building an elevated sensory deprivation tank, these manufacturers followed a recipe that would result in an engaging drive, making for an interesting comparison. The Jag has the same all-wheel-drive setup as the Alfa. It's rear-wheel drive by default and only sends power to the front wheels when things start to go sideways. The F-Pace also has an engaging front end, based around the same architecture as the F-Type sports car. The Jag is also bigger, and more comfortable, but the Alfa has a better infotainment system.
The Jag's biggest problem is its underwhelming four-pot engine. It's also a turbocharged unit, but it only packs a 246 hp and 269 lb-ft punch. Not to mention the fact that it costs nearly $10,000 more than the equivalent Alfa. To get near the charm the Alfa provides, you'd have to go the supercharged V6 route, and then you're looking at over $60,000. For that reason, we'd have the Alfa.
The current X3 is a magnificent car. It does everything you could want from an SUV. Every single model in the line-up is superb, and it scores top marks in every category that matters. You can certainly see and feel that BMW has been at this for a while now. The X3 also has a sporty side to it, though it's trapped underneath a veneer of electronics, sound dampening, and luxury. There's no doubt that the X3 could keep up with the Alfa. Heck, it may even be faster, but it's the way it does it that matters. The X3, though brisk, falls more on the comfort side of the spectrum. It rides with more composure and aims to remove as much noise and harshness as possible. In many ways, it's the perfect blend between sportiness and luxury. If that's what your after, look no further than the X3.
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