2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport Review - Flawed but Fun, the Italian Way
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport
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]
Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.
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