Some cars are made to embody romance and emotion. They have to convey something beyond simple engagement. They have to have an overt personality that can be seen through even a suit bought from a mainline clothing store.
But, where are those cars? Who's making them these days? And, for whom?
What I may have described is perhaps is an Alfa Romeo.
The brand's return sparked some interest. Yet, it has not captured the heart of the market it is competing in. The dominance of Teutonic machinery has gone beyond just sales numbers at this point. It appears that their customers have forgotten what emotional driving used to be.
Just like the rest of the automotive industry, this customer base has since abandoned their sedans and coupes for SUVs and crossovers. As one who drives a specific German SUV on occasion, the engagement has become lesser than their sedan and coupe counterparts. I wonder what customers are buying into when they get the SUV version of their favorite Germanic sedan or coupe.
The message has been sent to everyone playing in the automotive industry: You must make some sort of SUV or crossover to survive. It because that these vehicles are now the heart of the market.
Therefore, Alfa Romeo made one. The Stelvio is a byproduct of the reality of the marketplace. By acquiescing to customer needs and wants, have they lost what Alfa Romeo is all about?
A brief drive in a 2018 Stelvio Ti with the Q4 all-wheel-drive system spawned a lot of thoughts towards answering this question.
One thing must be made clear: Driving the Stelvio will not evoke those moments of decades past. You are not driving a Giulietta Spider from the late 1950s. Nor are you driving any of the great GTAs from the late 1960s and early 1970s. You are driving a modern Alfa built off of a modern platform – shared with the Giulia sedan – but designed as an SUV with high style and those lovely brand touches.
With that said, you will find its personality. The Alfa signature is seen up front with its vertical shield grille and the instrument binnacle with the two dial shapes. Everything else is 21st Century – the knob and pad controlling the 8.8-inch infotainment widescreen on top of the center stack to the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder power underneath its hood.
As a modern premium SUV, it is wonderful. There is room for four adults my size – or just five people – and a high level of comfort both front and back. The front seats are extremely comfortable and supportive, thanks to well-sized bolsters. Adjustments are fine for an SUV driving position. I love the instrumentation and information screen, mixing Alfa heritage and modern technology. The cargo space is expansive and sizeable, as well.
The base Stelvio and Ti models get the aforementioned 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. With 280 horsepower, it provides perfect motivation with superb response. An eight-speed automatic transmission feeds power to the Q4 all-wheel-drive system. Though powerful, it does not offer high dramatics or an exhaust note that Alfa is known for. Perhaps that is fine for this modern universe. In all, the driveline is something to enjoy – not just to drive.
In driving the Stelvio, I found its behavior to be better than a lot of its competitors. I credit the chassis for giving us a balanced ride/handling package that induces some spirited driving. The DNA system adds a license to get the most out of your Stelvio. My tester was set in Dynamic, which made things quite exciting on our short loop. This also translated into a sharper steering and brake response – providing great feedback from the road to the wheel and superb stopping power.
One cannot ignore its unique exterior, which following the idea of meshing heritage with modern highlights. Aside from the shield grille, the lines sweep to a fastback rear end adding a bit of flair to the overall look. Instead of being like everything else – it stands out. I would prefer to have a vehicle that stands out in a parking lot than one where I would have to sift through a dozen of them to find the one I drove.
Pricing for the Stelvio starts at $41,995. My Ti tester came to $47,190. The price is right for its class but is also seen as great value considering what you get with a Stelvio. A fully-equipped Ti model can get up towards $54,000.
While you can get the base and Ti model right now, there will be a Stelvio Quadrifoglio model coming in a few months time. If you are not familiar with the Giulia Quadrifoglio, it has a Ferrari developed 2.9 liter V6 with twin turbochargers good for 505 horsepower. If you want that one, it should be worth the wait. Consider the fact that you can get a Ferrari-developed engine in a SUV…if that does not evoke an emotion or a bit of passion, then what's wrong with you? I think it's absolutely romantic…erotic, even.
This is what I was trying to get at. We have an Alfa Romeo SUV that has the gumption to evoke a lot of emotions. It should evoke passion, romance, and many primal inhibitions.
If you see a Stelvio driving into a school, supermarket or at some event or another, you better think they're happier than you. That is how you can tell an Alfa Romeo driver.
After all, Jeremy Clarkson did state that a “true petrol head” should drive an Alfa once in their life. If it's the Stelvio, then you simply will fulfill this once-in-a-lifetime goal.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Luther Fiat-Alfa Romeo of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, MN
All photos by Randy Stern