Now that the SUV segment has reached virtual saturation—even traditionally form-over-function marques Maserati and Jaguar both offer utility models as of 2016—it’s natural that as Alfa Romeo reenters the U.S. market, it too checks that box. Enter the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio, an SUV from the Italian brand best known for spirited motoring in eccentric, affordable little packages.
I wrote about the new Alfa Romeo Giulia sedan in April, and was recently invited back to Maserati-Alfa Romeo of St. Petersburg to drive the Stelvio. It will be even more important than its sedan sibling to the brand’s eventual success domestically and across the globe.
Elsewhere in the world, Alfa has been consistently present since the 1950s, even through various partnerships, ownerships, popular models, and duds. It narrowly escaped Saab’s fate, and has benefitted lately from the careful stewardship of Fiat Chrysler Group (FCA).
In the U.S., Alfa reemerged after ~20 years of absence with a new model, the 4C. It’s a hardcore sports coupe not unlike the Lotus Elise, another lightweight mid-engined roadster designed for connoisseurs unconcerned with comfort.
Not exactly mainstream.
Then earlier this year came the Giulia, already on sale in Europe since last year (I saw a few with my own eyes in Milan), and now, the Stelvio. Alfa is financially prudent to share dealership costs with Maserati, also owned by FCA, and smart because it gleans some legitimacy for drivers already familiar with Maserati, which had its own reentry to the U.S. market back in the early 2000s and is now considered a key luxury-performance player.
The two newest, most marketable Alfa Romeo models are dynamically very similar. They share engines, similar interior and exterior design elements, and driving feel. They are also closely priced—the Giulia starts around $38,000 while the Stelvio begins just over $42,000. A well-equipped Stelvio (or Giulia) come in around $50,000.
The key difference between them is an airier cabin in the Stelvio, thanks to its vertical height, and a higher (although still very balanced) center of gravity. You also get a more useful rear cargo hold, and an overall more hunkered-down, commanding view of the road.
I truly enjoyed handling both, as they put driver feel and precision at the forefront of their experience. I mentioned before with the Giulia that the steering is razor-sharp, and the Stelvio enjoys the same advantage over its rivals, which are often highly damped and numb.
What struck me suddenly, while on the interstate behind the wheel of the Stelvio, is that Alfa Romeos are the anti-Tesla. They’re not technologically lacking, but rather than take steps to remove the driver from the equation, they aim to keep the driver’s enjoyment central while adding features that also make commuting easier.
I told Nick Gruse that my dad is interested in the Tesla Model 3, and while I acknowledge that it solves so many problems with modern transportation, it also lacks the sort of soul that makes drivers smile.
So many brands are racing toward greater autonomy through technological improvement and hushed, wifi-connected comfort, which is certainly welcome in thick congestion. But, it’s nice to know there are some brands not so keen to remove the driver’s nerve endings and neural pathways from the definition of success in creating a modern car.
I think there is a place in the market for both kinds of vehicles.
This is one reason why I keep looking to the past for the car of my choice, rather than something new. Every time I get into a new Mercedes, I recall how much of a sensory delight old Mercedes were, and how I pine for (mostly) analog motoring: those oversized steering wheels, firm, springy seats, rock-solid bodies and doors, real chrome trim, and unflappable mechanics.
The main competitors to the Stelvio include the SUVs from the Mercedes (GLC, GLC Coupe), BMW (X3, X4), and Audi lineups (Q5), as well as the Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Macan, and Range Rover Velar.
While some may be quicker or more gloat-worthy, few come close to the driving enjoyment of the Stelvio, or with as much style and uniqueness. It’s the choice for the driving enthusiast, and won’t come with an exorbitant MSRP.
If you’re new to the Alfa Romeo brand or curious about your options for a midsize SUV, be sure to visit Nick and his colleagues at Maserati-Alfa Romeo of St. Petersburg, just off I-275 on Gandy Boulevard.