We drove the Alfa Romeo 2.2D Stelvio: reaching (for) the top…

Alfa is indeed entering absolute heights with her new SUV. In this wildly popular segment, it makes its unique mark with this Stelvio. Because exclusive and unique Alfa’s always were and still are: being just that bit more curvy and better proportioned, just coming with that little added touch of drama and panache under the bonnet and in the interior, offering just that bit more agility in throttle response and handling… and all that’s now available in a SUV, which actually wants to translate all the good Giulia qualities into this SUV segment. They seem to have succeeded. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Walking around the Stelvio, what strikes you first is its imposing dimensions, which is not immediately typical for an Alfa. Yet the bold stance of the grille is altogether quite pleasing, and has an aura of elegance. Good proportions are the hallmark of truly timeless design, and here this Stelvio really stands out, as all Alfas do. From any angle, this Stelvio is eye-capturing, and we liked it both front and aft, it conveys competence, solidity, sportiness, and that’s just what this car stands for.

Sliding behind the wheel one is delighted to see a splendid array of well designed round instruments, a pleasing centre console and stylish steering wheel, and of course large gear change paddles on the steering wheel columns. This is a drivers’ car, and the long paddles amply show this, one cannot look beside it. Not that the excellent 8 speed ZF gearbox – also found in BMW’s for instance – actually needs your help to do its excellent job, but it is oh so tempting to lend a helping hand, isn’t it?.

Our test car came in metallic dark green offset with a beige interior, and the standard of finish attained is something hitherto unseen in Alfa’s, and subjectively we found the build quality a touch better than what the Giulia has to offer.

A sweet and contemporary Diesel engine with superb qualities

Alfa offers in the Stelvio a  150, 180 and 210 HP version of the state of the art 2143 cc four cylinder engine. We tested here the “middle of the road” 180 HP version, reaching this maximum power at merely 3750 rpm. Pulling power is of course abundant, with 450 Nm of torque available at 1750 rpm. This translates in splendid performance, and indeed what to think of an acceleration from 0 to 100 in a short 7,6 seconds, with a top speed of 210 km/h. Remember, a Jaguar E-type was barely a second faster in the 0-100 sprint, and it needed a very experienced driver to do this…

The engine is heard clearly when cold, but typically this Diesel throb eases out when then unit warms up. The engine is usually working in urban driving conditions at anything between 1500 and 2200 rpm, and on the open road, settles mostly in a range below 2000 rpm or thereabouts, as the 8th speed gearing is definitely made for high speed cruising. The unit is barely audible once at speed.

This Alfa has of course also the DNA selector knob, and when it is put in the “eco” position, the smooth gearbox freewheels in top gear when you lift your foot of the throttle, and this makes not only for very economical, but also very relaxed cruising indeed. Needless to say that this Stelvio earns the very highest marks when it comes to Gran Turismo Cruising, high speed stability, noise suppression and an inaudible engine at higher speeds make a very fine picture here.

Modern Diesels have reached uncanny levels of frugality, certainly so when you drive with some anticipation. It was no trouble at all to stay within the 6-7 liter/100 km range during our test, and the manufacturer quotes 4,7 liters in combined consumption, with CO2 emissions being 124 g/km.

Handling is superb, thanks to the state of the art Giorgio platform, which also serves in the Giulia and which we will see in many future Alfas and Maseratis. Indeed, it handles Giulia-like, except that the centre of gravity is higher, as is the drivers’ position.

But it can be steered along winding roads with much verve, and high cornering speeds are indeed its cup of tea. Body roll is negligible, and the tout suspension enhances the sporting driving experience. Of course, this has its drawbacks when pottering along on our Belgian pothole ridden urban pavés, the suspension is a bit firmish here, without being uncomfortable however.

The suspension is identical to the Giulia, with double wishbones at the front, a multi-link rear aluminium suspension at the rear. The springs are longer and stiffer than the Giulias, to cope with the extra weight. Every effort has been made to reduce it, with for instance aluminum skins for bonnet, tailgate, doors and front fenders. The electric power steering gives sufficient feedback and make the Stelvio a lively and entertaining car to drive.

In everyday use…

The seats give excellent support, are generously dimensioned and fit for long GT tours. Handles and knobs are quite logical, as is infotainment. We enjoyed the excellent sound and reception qualities of the Harman/Kardon sound system and the DAB radio, and this Alfa offers of course all the usual driving aids and connectivity we have come to expect from cars in this segment.

The elegant analogue round dials steal our hearts, and we wouldn’t like to see an Alfa without them…

The large centre console houses discreetly a lot of goodies, and the boot space is adequate with a minimum volume of 525 liters. Our test car sported the auto lift tailgate and we were also happy to see that the loading floor is pleasantly flat, so you don’t have to heave your grocery bags or toddlers carts over a sill.

Conclusion

The latest generation Alfas are better than ever, and this Stelvio truly makes its mark in the SUV/Crossover segment. It succeeds in maintaining fully its unique character, and even with the 180 hp Diesel engine it has more than enough panache to make every trip an experience. What’s more, you are surrounded and cosseted by quality materials and finish, which bodes well for a trouble free, very long service life.

So indeed, you can enjoy this Alfa for decades if need be, and thanks to the entertaining handling and performance, you will not even get tired of it when it reaches the age to become a classic…

Hans Knol ten Bensel