Alfa Romeo Stelvio preview: Alfa’s first SUV
At the LA Motor Show – or AutomobilityLA as it’s now known – it felt as though every brand brought a new SUV. From Honda and Mazda, through to Chevrolet, Jaguar and – most surprisingly of all – Alfa Romeo.
Alfa has never made an SUV before, but the demand for these vehicles simply isn’t slowing down, so enter the Stelvio (which is named after a famous Alpine mountain pass).
It’s a Porsche Macan-sized SUV with design language that riffs on the Giulia, the latter Alfa’s new saloon – that feels like it’s been around for some time, but which we’re still waiting to drive in the UK.
Shown in LA in its range-topping Quadrifoglio Verde form (that’s Cloverleaf in British), the Stelvio is Alfa pushing hard the sports part of Sports Utility Vehicle. The QV model gets the Giulia QV’s 2.9-litre V6, making 510-horsepower and driving through an 8-speed auto box. It’s going to be Porsche Macan Turbo fast, too, this Alfa.
It’s also Macan Turbo-sized, despite perhaps appearances to the contrary. The main response to the Stelvio at the Los Angeles show was how small it was, particularly in height. It bears more of a resemblance to a hatchback on steroids, than a genuine SUV. But it’s not a crossover.
Part of the reason for this is the gargantuan 22-inch wheels the Stelvio QV wears. Bigger wheels have an impact of making you feel that the actual car is smaller than it might seem. But at just 1650mm tall, the Stelvio is low for an SUV. And with the ground clearance on offer, you’ll be better off on the Nurburgring than you will the muddy field of your country fair.
It’s perhaps no surprise the Stelvio bears a strong resemblance to the Giulia, given they shares the same platform and many components. With rear-wheel drive biased chassis, and a purported focus on driving dynamics, the Stelvio should be great to drive then. That low height and corresponding centre of gravity will probably help out too.
However, despite wearing the Alfa shield, and being painted in an evocative red (which tends to trip critics into automatically stating that a car is beautiful) in the metal we found the Stelvio a little underwhelming. It looks derivative and brings very little new to the SUV party (indeed, flick through the gallery in our LA show round-up, and many of the cars there almost begin to merge into being one and the same).
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In design terms, the Stelvio manages to appear both overly soft, and yet too flat – like the design hasn’t been properly worked through in 3D. Italian car brands traditionally don’t use clay to develop their new models, whereas other brands do – which is seen as the best way to refine surfaces. For Alfa, we think that approach shows. Around the rear three quarters, in particular, the Stelvio looks stodgy and the body ill-connected to the rear wheel.
Inside, however, the Stelvio’s cabin is sporting, featuring a similar architecture to the Giulia. That means a rotary control, not touchscreen centre display (should be easier to use on the move), alongside heavily cowled Alfa dials for speed and revs, which flank a digital display.
The start button is on the steering wheel, and the seats grip you tight and feel snug and low. It’s a sporty driving position inside, for sure. We didn’t manage to get into the back seats, but the boot space looks class competitive, which is good news for families.
There’s clear demand for an Alfa-branded SUV, so Alfa Romeo is sure to do well with the Stelvio.
Of course the Alfisti will hate this type of vehicle wearing one its badges, just as Porsche drivers did when the first Cayenne emerged. But it’s SUVs like these that generate the profits for the brands, which enable them to stay alive, and then build the low-volume sports cars that everyone wants to see.
We just wish the Stelvio’s design looked a little more resolved, though we will caveat that by saying, as with the Giulia, we actually think the regular models look better than the QV – and that could be the case here.
So we’ll await full judgement until we’ve seen the Stelvio on smaller wheels, without the body kit and in either the 2.0 petrol or 2.2 diesel versions that people will actually buy.