2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport Review - Flawed but Fun, the Italian Way

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
Fast Facts

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (280 horsepower @ 5,200 rpm; 306 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm)
Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
22 city / 28 highway / 24 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
10.8 city, 8.3 highway, 9.6 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$43,995 (U.S) / $57,995 (Canada)
As Tested
$53,640 (U.S.) / $63,240 (Canada)
Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States and $1,895 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared.
2018 alfa romeo stelvio ti sport review flawed but fun the italian way

A long-running stereotype of Italian cars is that they’re fun to drive and sexy in style, but also flawed and expensive. Not to mention unreliable – and expensive to repair.

Allow me to extend that stereotype to an SUV of Italian descent, the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

At first glance, this compact luxury crossover is one of the best-looking out there, one of the few that’s actually attractive to my eye. After a week with it, my opinion of its looks remained the same – it’s a head turner.

I’m not the only one who thinks so. I was picking up lunch at a chain fast-food joint in a local strip mall and a gaggle of teenaged dudes went gaga over the Stelvio. I guess today’s youth have different cars postered on their bedroom wall than I did.

Beauty often comes at a cost, however. Alfa’s reliability woes are well known, so I had understandable concern that the Stelvio might give me guff during my time with it.

Those fears were unfounded – the Stelvio started and ran like a champ during its stay. That said, reliability is not accurately measured by such a small sample size.

Besides, there were other quirks that irked me. The first was an overly loud, unusually insistent warning chime that sounded while the tailgate was open. Sure, these warning tones are standard across the board, but this one was particularly obnoxious, with no easy way to turn it down or off.

Yeah, that’s an oddly specific complaint. But it speaks to the overall Stelvio experience. There’s a lot of good here, but you have to be willing to overlook oddities.

Perhaps a better example is the infotainment system. Alfa Romeo, as part of Fiat Chrysler, has access to that company’s excellent UConnect infotainment system, which is arguably the industry’s best. Yet the brand persists on saddling the Stelvio with a system that’s reminiscent of BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI. Not the current versions, either, but the much-maligned ones from a generation or two ago. To use the Stelvio’s infotainment system is to fight a battle with controllers and menus that one can’t really win.

At this point, Alfa purists and Italian car fans of all stripes are no doubt screaming “who gives a shift about such petty matters? What counts is how it looks and how it drives.” Fair enough, and save that quote in your mind for when I write up the Giulia.

This is where the Stelvio makes a case for itself. I already mentioned that I liked its exterior looks, and the interior is well-designed, too, notwithstanding infotainment knobs and a silly shifter.

What I haven’t yet gotten to is on-road performance. The 280 horsepower and 306 lb-ft of torque from the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder provide a nice amount of punch, and unlike with many crossovers, the steering and suspension provide an engaging experience that’s at least on par with the last Audi SQ5 I drove. This thing is never boring to drive.

The ride is a tad on the stiff side but still compliant enough for commuting duty. Most of my driving was of the gentle cross-town sort and the Stelvio felt plenty at home. Of course, there are three drive modes from which to choose, depending on how aggressive you feel. Like many new vehicles, the Stelvio has an auto stop/start feature, and in terms of seamlessness, it’s about mid-pack.

Space is a little tight, as the Stelvio is a compact at the end of the day – the rear seat is a bit pinched for adults. Up front, there’s more room, enough for comfort. Rear visibility suffers a bit, though, thanks to the relatively narrow rear windscreen.

One can’t say the Stelvio isn’t well-equipped. Standard or available features included heated front seats, heated steering wheel, dual-pane sunroof, leather seats, custom-painted brake calipers, 20-inch wheels, blind-spot detection, rear cross-path detection, Harmon Kardon audio, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, Bluetooth, satellite radio, front and rear park assist, push-button start, remote start, auto stop/start, dual USB ports, hill-descent control, rear-view camera, power liftgate, and 7.0-inch infotainment screen.

That list of features is about par for the class, and my test vehicle checked in at around $53K all decked out. That’s not unreasonable for a luxury compact crossover, at least not when compared to the competition, though some folks will never understand paying that much for a compact crossover no matter what the brand/performance/equipment level.

Part of the question on whether to Stelvio or not is to determine where you fall on the “fun versus practicality” equation. If you want a luxury crossover with an engaging (if at times annoying) personality, the Stelvio fits the bill, and does so without costing as much as the Porsche Macan and while offering more power than the turbo-four version of the Jaguar F-Pace. It struck me as being on par with the SQ5, with more visual flair.

On the other hand, the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 might serve as better daily drivers with fewer quirks. This is where personal preference comes into play. My preference would be for more crossovers that drive like the Stelvio, offer dashing looks, but cut the quirks.

Alfa Romeo reliability is going to remain a story for the foreseeable future, but if the brand improves in that area, the Stelvio will be a worth a look.

[Images © 2017 Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]

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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Dec 21, 2017

    I test drove one of these about 2 months ago. My local dealer had a lot of activity around the Stelvio, and had sold one during my visit. A few impressions: 1. The reported 5.4 second 0-60 didn't feel like it. There is some turbo lag, followed by fairly linear power. The 8-speed transmission shifts a lot, but it's smooth. 2. Rear seating is tight. 3. The turn signals' mechanical function is odd. Other reviewers have noted this, too. 4. Brakes - strong, but very non-linear. I rolled through a stop sign because the car wouldn't stop, and then the brakes did a "whump-whump" all by themselves in the middle of the intersection. It was not an ABS thing. Prior stops had been uneventful. 5. Exterior size - This is a larger, wider car than I expected. 6. Looks - I really like the looks. But I found the interior to be a bit cold and hard. 7. Value - My sample was ~$45k. Being an Alfa, it's probably better to lease. Of the three cars I drove that day, my sons and I agreed on the following order of preference: (1) Kia Niro, (2) Chevy Bolt, (3) Alfa Stelvio. The Niro was a much calmer, better fit for the "CUV" name than the Stelvio.

  • Jaffa68 Jaffa68 on Dec 19, 2018

    I have had the 280 hp rear-wheel-drive Giulia (sedan version of this car) for a year and it's a lot of fun, particularly in the wet.

  • Jerry Hightower I'd like to see a true hardtop.
  • Jerry Hightower I'd like to see a true hardtop
  • 28-Cars-Later "Six-thousand dollars get you in the door."You just cost me six thousand dollars! And one Cadillac.
  • 28-Cars-Later Kudos to the Mazda team on the attractive front end, though the lack of front bumper is still detention after class. Rest of it is also visually appealing, its shocking me how good this looks and how bad Honda (and to an extent Toyota's) styling is in comparison.
  • Slyons My guess is they keep the 2.0 liter they have now with minor tweaks, and shoehorn in the 48V mild hybrid system that just debuted in the CX-90. Should allow for all the regular fun of wringing out the 4 cyl and bump the fuel mileage up at least a couple points. I don't think we'll see a major evolution of the drivetrain until the next next model (NF?).
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