The Italian F1 brands always promised they’d never do an SUV, but customer demand trumps all tradition. In the 1950s, when F1 was in its infancy, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Ferrari were the most characterful teams.
Nearly seven decades later, they’ve all conceded that an SUV is required for sales volume survival. Ferrari’s SUV is currently being developed but Maserati’s Levante has been on the market for about ten months (a very successful venture) and now it is joined by the Alfa Stelvio. Yes, finally, Alfa has made good on brought an Italian design icon SUV to market at six, as opposed to seven, figures.
Typical of all Alfas, Stelvio is a dramatically pretty car. Proportions are perfect. Details distinguishing. In a market crowded with luxury SUVs, it draws attention. And considering how low Alfa sales are – you benefit from the exclusivity of limited supply. For the South African market there are two derivatives: a first edition car absolutely laden with kit at R946 000 and the R810 000 Super. Easiest way to tell the different is looking at those alloys: 18s denote Super, 20s the First Edition.
Mechanically it’s a Giulia platform with greater ride height and power sources from a 2-litre turbomotor good for 206kW and 400Nm. The ZF 8-speed auto moves torques about to all four traction corners and a DNA sector gives you three driving modes to choose from.
On the road Stelvio is notably impressive. The driving position is excellent – traditionally not an Alfa strongpoint – and steering terrifically direct. Best of all is the agility. It feels light and responsive, more so than any of its rivals, because Stelvio is only 1660kg – whereas something such as a GLC 43 is 1845kg. That absence of mass makes 0-100kpg in 5.7 easily achievable and adds a touch of crispness to the way it corners.
Best of all is the ride quality. Even without the benefit of air-suspension, Alfa’s suspension engineers have done a remarkable job of ensuring responsive handling and cushioning ride quality. There’s none of the nervousness or business at the helm – which often afflicts other performance SUVs on South Africa’s less than perfect roads. A caveat is the rim size: those 18s on the Super are what you want, instead of the prettier 20s on the First Edition.
Debits? The brakes have an odd long-travel feel and the absence of a touchscreen is ridiculous. That said, the cabin design has pleasing sensible ergonomics – for an Alfa – and quality appears to be good.
All told, Stelvio could be the best driver’s car SUV in its class. It’s a deeply impressive first effort SUV from a brand which is oft forgotten in the South African motoring consciousness. The pending QV high-performance version could have the measure of its rivals from Porsche, AMG and BMW.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio is available immediately from dealerships countrywide. Pricing starts from R810,000.00 for the Super and the First Edition is priced at R946,000.00