Alfa Romeo Stelvio Su­per

We test the very first SUV from the Ital­ian au­tomaker

Car (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

ALFA Ro-may-yo. The name rolls eas­ily off the tongue and, to many read­ers of this ti­tle, its mere men­tion con­jures up images of 1960s top­less sportscars, 1980s coupés with V6 en­gines and panel-bash­ing tour­ing cars from the 1990s. In the last two decades, how­ever, the dar­ling brand of petrol­heads the world over has had to rely heav­ily on nos­tal­gia as it ne­go­ti­ated a rocky patch.

Re­build­ing ef­forts – start­ing with the lim­ited-edi­tion 8C supercar and then the 4C sportscar – gained mo­men­tum with a more tra­di­tional of­fer­ing in the shape of the rear-wheel-drive Gi­u­lia sedan. It’s no sur­prise, then, that the flavour of the cur­rent sales charts, the SUV, was the next model in its prod­uct line-up. The Stelvio thus be­comes the 108-year-old firm’s first foray into this seg­ment, al­low­ing Alfa to join the ranks of Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar and nu­mer­ous oth­ers by of­fer­ing its very own take on the lux­ury SUV theme.

The Stelvio is pure Alfa in ap­pear­ance. Be­ing Ital­ian, style is a key con­sid­er­a­tion and ku­dos to its de­sign­ers who, in this age of cookie-cut­ter, safety-leg­is­la­tion-driven de­sign, have im­bued the Stelvio with a suit­ably dis­tinc­tive aes­thetic. The snout, not dis­sim­i­lar to that of its Gi­u­lia sib­ling, fea­tures the brand’s plung­ing shield grille and slim head­lamp treat­ment, while cur­va­ceous lines set it apart from more an­gu­lar ri­vals. Dur­ing our test pe­riod, one on­looker asked whether it was a Maserati and another en­quired if it was a Porsche. As lack­ing in cur­rent au­to­mo­tive brand knowl­edge as that may be, it’s still high praise in­deed.

In pic­tures, it is hard to dis­cern the Stelvio’s size, but at nearly

2,0 me­tres wide and 4,7 me­tres long, in the flesh it is larger than you may ex­pect. Un­like many of its com­peti­tors, to its credit, the en­try-level Su­per on test here rides on 18-inch al­loys en­veloped in high-pro­file tyres (we’ll ex­pand on their ben­e­fits a bit fur­ther on). For now, there is only one other vari­ant in the range, the First Edi­tion, and it comes with 20-inch al­loys, full-grain leather up­hol­stery, a 10-speaker au­dio sys­tem, ac­tive cruise con­trol, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing and an elec­tric sun­roof, all for the princely sum of R946 000.

The Stelvio’s cabin is a near­replica of that found in the Gi­u­lia. All the switchgear, even the steer­ing wheel with its starter but­ton and ba­sic lay­out, are iden­ti­cal. Save for the in­fo­tain­ment screen, which is frac­tion­ally slim­mer, there is lit­tle to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the two ve­hi­cles from the front seats.

The height ad­justable cap­tain’s chair made it easy for all testers to find a suit­able driv­ing po­si­tion, al­though once there it quickly be­came clear rear­ward vi­sion is re­stricted by a steeply raked rear screen and large C-pil­lars. Rear legroom is ad­e­quate, if not plen­ti­ful, but the boot space is among the best in class, helped here by a space-saver spare sited un­der the boot board. While the per­ceived qual­ity of the trim isn’t quite up to the high stan­dards set by the Ger­mans, this Stelvio felt well as­sem­bled and dis­played no creaks or squeaks as some test units from other premium man­u­fac­tur­ers are prone to do­ing.

For now, there is only one pow­er­train op­tion: a 2,0-litre tur­bopetrol. Later this year, buy­ers can also opt for a high­per­for­mance QV ver­sion with a 375 kw/600 N.m 2,9-litre V6

In the flesh, the Stelvio is larger than you may ex­pect

twin-turbo pow­er­house un­der the hood (if you haven’t seen it al­ready, there is a driv­ing im­pres­sion of this QV on page 42). The smaller en­gine de­liv­ers an im­pres­sive 206 kw and 400 N.m of torque, fig­ures that eas­ily trump those of its nat­u­ral ri­vals. Lo­cal Stelvios are of­fered only with all­wheel drive; in some in­ter­na­tional mar­kets, there are rear-wheeldrive al­ter­na­tives. Power is fed to the wheels via a Zf-sourced eight-speed torque-con­verter au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and all ver­sions fea­ture a car­bon-fi­bre prop­shaft. Other mass-sav­ing measures in­clude alu­minium fend­ers, bon­net and tail­gate as well as sus­pen­sion com­po­nents; this al­lowed the Stelvio to tip our scales at 1 778 kg, some­what lighter than its com­pe­ti­tion.

That lower kerb weight, along with its power ad­van­tage, en­dows the Stelvio with spir­ited per­for­mance. On our test strip, it recorded a 0-to-100 km/h sprint time of 6,91 sec­onds. That may be far re­moved from Alfa’s claim of 5,7 sec­onds, but con­sid­er­ing the scorch­ing tem­per­a­tures ex­pe­ri­enced on the day it was tested, it’s an im­pres­sive achieve­ment.

Al­though it wore high-per­for- mance Goodyear Ea­gle F1 tyres along with large discs, and the fronts are clamped by Brembo four-pis­ton cal­lipers, the Stelvio Su­per av­er­aged 3,08 sec­onds in our 10-stop brak­ing rou­tine. That’s not as sharp as ex­pected, but again, as men­tioned, it was par­tic­u­larly hot on the day of test­ing. It’s worth point­ing out, too, that the overly sharp char­ac­ter­is­tics ex­hib­ited by this sys­tem when we first drove the Gi­u­lia were not ev­i­dent in the Stelvio. Clearly, some wel­come elec­tronic remap­ping has oc­curred (the Gi­u­lia has since also been sub­jected to this tweak).

As the SUV shares its Gior­gio plat­form with the sedan, the Stelvio is in­her­ently rear-wheel bi­ased. The all-wheel-drive sys­tem sends power to the rear axle al­most all of the time and, only when the ECU de­tects slip does it ap­por­tion a max­i­mum of 50% torque to the front wheels. On the road, this trans­lates into a par­tic­u­larly sporty driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing light­ningquick steer­ing, that’s in line with the brand’s credo. Alfa clearly un­der­stands that no one will re­ally buy a Stelvio to ven­ture off the beaten path and, while it isn’t

quite as dy­namic as the more ex­pen­sive Porsche Ma­can, the Stelvio does pos­sess an in­her­ent sporti­ness that’s high­lighted by fast-act­ing, ac­cu­rate steer­ing.

To those high-pro­file tyres men­tioned ear­lier: yes, they tem­per the Stelvio’s sport­ing edge some­what, but the up­side is a sup­ple ride that bet­ters all but the Audi Q5, and es­pe­cially those ri­vals shod with run-flat tyres.

TEST SUMMARY

The Stelvio is a great ad­di­tion to the mod­ern SUV pal­ette, par­tic­u­larly when you ac­knowl­edge that it is the brand’s first at­tempt. The pric­ing seems high at first glance, but it does un­der­cut its main com­pe­ti­tion and the Su­per model has just about every mod­ern con­ve­nience that buy­ers may need, in­clud­ing satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion.

To many peo­ple, there will be the un­der­ly­ing con­cerns of re­li­a­bil­ity that plagued the brand through the lat­ter part of the 1990s, and the list price is likely to de­value quite a bit in the first few years of own­er­ship un­til the mar­ket be­comes ac­cus­tomed to pay­ing premium pric­ing for an Alfa. That said, the Stelvio is a great prod­uct that left a favourable im­pres­sion on al­most all of our test team. Should you want an SUV that has the mea­sure of the Ger­mans, but pre­fer not to blend into the back­ground, this car is for you. Iron­i­cally, how­ever, you might not nec­es­sar­ily be in a niche au­di­ence; ac­cord­ing to Alfa SA, more than 100 buy­ers have al­ready con­firmed or­ders, all with­out tak­ing the ve­hi­cle for a test drive. And that shows great con­fi­dence in a newly re­ju­ve­nated Alfa brand.

from top Fa­cia is a direct car­ry­over from the Gi­u­lia sedan; even the steer­ing wheel is the same item; over­sized chrome tail-pipe fin­ish­ers look sporty, one on each side of the rear bumper; Stelvio does that famed logo jus­tice; even from be­hind, the Stelvio’s curvi­ness is ap­par­ent.

from top the 2,0-litre tur­bopetrol is good for 206 kw, more than most of its ri­vals that of­fer nearer to 180 kw; Driver’s chair is man­u­ally height ad­justable.

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