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.
After a substantial makeover in 2020, the model lineup was cut to three models in 2021 and the most popular features either added as standard or combined in streamlined packages. This year, the three models remain, but the Ti Sport trim is renamed to Veloce. On the outside, the Stelvio gains a dark grille, exhaust tips, and roof rails, and the Ti model gets a Vesuvio Gray body kit. On the inside, the Ti gets aluminum sports pedals and the Sprint and Veloce get aluminum shift paddles. New standard equipment is added across the lineup; these are standard navigation, heated front and rear seats, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and a wireless charging pad. More driver-assistance features also become standard, with automatic high beams, front and rear parking sensors, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and active blind-spot assist being added. There have also been changes to the available exterior and interior colors.
See trim levels and configurations:
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 the 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.
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 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.
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 around $5,000 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 $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 you're after, look no further than the X3.
The most popular competitors of 2022 Alfa Romeo Stelvio: