Italians have a knack for designing sensual and elegant cars. It's all the more unfortunate that they don't… do it more often. Alfa Romeo is out of new things. The last one dates back to 2017. It was precisely this Stelvio, aesthetically unchanged to this day. We have been waiting for a smaller SUV for fifteen years. But this one will not arrive in the concessions, at best, before the beginning of 2022. In short, Alfa Romeo is in escheat. All plans to relaunch the famous brand with the Visconti crest have failed. Salvation could now come from a marriage of FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) with PSA.
Aesthetics of rare distinction, very chic interior
Either way, this Stelvio didn't need a restyling. We applaud this purity of the design. What curves! Incomparable. German SUVs look choppy and bling-bling on the side. Not to mention the Japanese. The Stelvio SUV is actually unlike any rival, except the… Maserati Levante. The typical front end, sporting the offset number plate, is crazy class. In short, aesthetics alone can justify such a purchase. The only criticism: the loose mesh of the grille mesh leaves too much to guess the radiator behind …
We find an old-fashioned interior, designed around a dashboard in soft curves, with two large dials in front of the eyes. The nod to the Alfa of yesteryear is moving. Finally an interior where everything is not designed according to the central screen! On our test model, the sumptuous leather and wood veneers contributed to a refined and warm atmosphere. Something to fall in love with.
More careful ergonomics, but details irritate
The screen becomes tactile and less slow and above all more practical to use. The interface has been significantly improved. The menus are easily detectable. GPS, which is easier to use, still lacks speed. The driving position is satisfactory. And the settings allow the seats to conform to the shapes of each person. But hiccups remain. The interior mirror still lacks amplitude in its settings. And the right exterior mirror appears hidden on its upper part by the amount of the windshield. The interior temperature settings are also a bit obscure. The price of the magnificent design, livability finally conceals rear seats still as little spacious. And the big transmission tunnel is jamming. It is not a large wagon.
And the finish? We are not at the level of an Audi. Although … The savings made by the Germans lately make their materials less sturdy. Despite a few not very flattering plastics here and there, the progress is obvious here. The overall achievement does not lend itself to the usual acrimonies against transalpine negligence. The presentation and the care taken in manufacturing are satisfactory, without any small noise. Soundproofing has been the subject of salutary improvements. Well done.
Enhanced technological content
The Stelvio updates its technological content. It is particularly enriched with a level 2 semi-autonomous driving system, on the motorway or in dense traffic conditions. The driver can let the car control the accelerator, braking and trajectory all by itself, under certain specific conditions, via electronic systems offering continuous monitoring. This system is available as standard from the "Ti" trim level. It works? Yes, when the ground marking is perfect… Extremely rare. In all other cases, it seems random and therefore dangerous. Even for assistantship enthusiasts. May the manufacturers, whoever they are, sell us these systems when they are ready! Our observation does not concern Alfa Romeo only, but also its rivals.
On the other hand, let us praise the brand of Milanese origin for its respect for the freedom of drivers, which is increasingly rare. The car scrupulously respects the choices of the motorist. The settings remain. What was put "off" does not automatically come back on restart. Thank you, thank you, for opposing tyranny! When you leave a German, a Swedish and some Asians, it's relaxing. We are very moved. Except for irritation: the emergency braking warning, even when set to a minimum, is very intrusive. We triggered it several times, in heavy traffic, when there was no sign of the slightest danger. This noisy and anxiety-provoking alert must be immediately reviewed.
Mechanics at the height of ambitions
Starting is always done via a button on a branch of the steering wheel. Unique. The generously-displacement 2.2 d is mated as standard to an original German ZF eight-speed automatic transmission. This diesel mechanic – uh, the bad word! – only 190 horsepower doesn't impress on paper. But, in the end, it is responsive and exudes the expected pleasure of a brand vehicle, without ever giving the impression of struggling. It changes the micro-motors that politics impose more and more. As a bonus, the power is delivered smoothly, with a nice flexibility. At mid-speed, the engine becomes really alive, with frank acceleration. The 190 horses seem generously present. The mechanics do not detract from the label's sporty image.
That said, we feel a certain heaviness. The automatic transmission is successful. But, even in "dynamic" mode, it takes a long time to downshift if the brakes are not applied strongly. In sporty driving, we will therefore resort to the effective manual mode as soon as the slightest turn is approached. Either through the paddles on the steering wheel – but the car returns too quickly to automatic mode – or via the central lever. And there, it is a treat. Annoying detail: in automatic mode, the box displays a "D" without mentioning the gear you are driving. Result: when you regain control in manual, you do not know which gear you are in, which affects accuracy. Another complaint: the noise unfortunately remains very typical diesel. It is mainly heard from the outside, or windows open. Because the car is soundproofed inside.
Consumptions? While driving without (too much) depriving ourselves, we swallowed 7.5 liters of diesel at the cents. This is completely normal, given the performance. Diesel is relevant on this kind of long haul road. We find figures close to those of a Honda CR-V hybrid, much less powerful (in reality) and significantly more boring – although the Japanese have other rational qualities. And consumption is lower than that of the Jeep Compass 1.3 tested the previous week, smaller and much more lymphatic. In addition, diesel remains less overtaxed in France than unleaded, thanks to the revolt of the yellow vests. Suddenly, we will save money at the pump.
Pleasant behavior (except on snow), dry comfort
With an almost ideal weight distribution, the engineers had concocted a formidable chassis, called Giorgio, for the Giulia sedan. With a higher center of gravity and overweight, the behavior here is less playful. In return for this moderation, the car remains more reassuring than a Giulia. She's just less mobile. But the behavior remains satisfactory and sufficiently agile. The steering is still as sharp and direct, while being less sensitive than before to the involuntary movement of the hands around the midpoint. The pleasure is at the rendezvous.
With the four-wheel drive, the car plays with the weather conditions. But, we inherited a single propulsion version. Be careful in the rain. Given the very good weather conditions of our test, no complaints. But, we recommend on such a vehicle all-wheel drive, even if it weighs the whole (85 kilos). We are more reserved on braking. The pedal still lacks bite. You have to press hard. The manufacturer should have looked into this defect noted at launch.
Uncomfortable? No. To allow such a leggy vehicle to remain seated on the road, the hardening of the running gear, combined here with the fitting of large rims (55R19), generates sometimes dry trepidation. On speed bumps, for which public credits seem inexhaustible given their multiplication, it hits. But the adjustment of the shock absorbers allows the request to make the whole thing more flexible. The recalibration carried out by the engineers improves the reactions. Without degrading handling. Note that this SUV is a purely road vehicle. Its pneumatic mounting and low ground clearance do not allow you to take roads that are too deep. Especially with this transmission to the rear wheels.
Prices not that cheap
The prices are a little lower than those of the competition, with equivalent equipment. But, as the models are not directly comparable – BMW or Audi necessarily receive four-wheel drive – it is not so obvious. The Stelvio range starts at 41,500 euros. Our diesel 190 version is available in Super (49,100 euros), the most recommendable, even if it means adding a few options such as leather. The Ti in our test reached 57,000 euros, which becomes very, very expensive. Even though leather, semi-autonomous driving, power seats are standard. But we must add, even at this price, 980 euros for the metallic paint (in this case a green … Visconti of the prettiest effect), 700 for a high quality Harman Kardon audio. Even 3,000 for the four-wheel drive, essential for winter traffic. Another option is unfortunately compulsory, namely the surcharge (malus) of 1,074 euros.
Despite a limited interior space and some ergonomic defects, partly corrected, this Alfa seduces with its Top Model curves and its bewitching atmosphere, unlike any other. We took great pleasure in living and driving it. Lots of small discrete improvements make the model more homogeneous. A real crush… irrational. If we come down to earth with less emotional arguments, enthusiasm drops a few degrees. Because several unknowns remain. First of all, what will be the future of this firm, which sold barely 86,000 vehicles last year and may not exceed 40,000 this year? Hopefully the marriage between PSA and Fiat Chrysler (FCA) will give it visibility. But at what horizon? Moreover, what about the quality of the after-sales network? This one does not enjoy a very solid reputation, to say the least. Finally, if the mechanical parts seem a priori spared, customers seem to encounter annoying little glitches, according to network feedback, while reliability is the historical Achilles heel of the firm. In any case, at a time when we are only talking about connected cars, constrained, devoid of the slightest charm, let's salute this transalpine of the past, turned provocatively towards sensuality, refinement and driving. Politically incorrect values at will. So much the better for what remains of amateurs.
Trial model price: Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2 diesel 190 AT8 Ti: 57,000 euros (+1,074 euros penalty)
Engine power: 190 horsepower (diesel)
Dimensions: 4.69 meters (long) x 1.90 (wide) x 1.67 (high)
Qualities: Sensual and elegant lines, warm and chic interior atmosphere, original proposal, beautiful finish, joking box, pleasant and lively engine, incisor direction, respect for the driver's choices
Defects: Future of the brand in suspense, after-sales network deemed poor, limited roominess, casual ergonomic details, firm comfort, braking lacking bite, intrusive emergency braking
Competitors: Volvo XC60 B4 197 R Design: 55,880 euros; BMW X3 2.0d X Drive Luxury: 62,150 euros; Audi Q5 40 TDi 204 Quattro S Tronic Avus: 64,000 euros
Grade: 15.5 out of 20