2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio expands the definition of an ‘Italian sports car’ [video review]

If your idea of an Italian car is something small, sexy, fast, and with two seats, then with the first-ever 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelivio, two out of four ain’t bad. Named for the Stelvio Pass, the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps, Alfa Romeo’s suave new crossover looks ready to conquer its namesake–or America’s grand interstates. It literally expands the definition of “Italian sports car.”

Stelvio’s front bears Alfa Romeo’s trademark “plunging neckline” grille with angry narrow headlamps on either side. The side profile, graced with 19” five-hole alloy wheels and red brake calipers, is as much Jeep Cherokee as Italian supercar. But slight restraint and simple lines convey a sense of upscale performance. Around back, sculpted curves, wide lamps, and huge twin chrome exhaust outlets leave a pleasing finish. In the city or blitzing highways, people will snap their heads to get a better look.

There is a certain Italian design ethos that continues inside where sculpted panels, black glass, and light wood could have been lifted from a Milan studio. Our Ti Lusso edition is swathed with sweet-smelling leather seats and blonde timber on the doors, dash, and center console. The infotainment screen, controlled with a joywheel, turns into curved black glass when off–beautifully integrated, but still able to control navigation, Bluetooth, and Harman Kardon audio. Even the steering wheel is canted forward as in proper Italian sports cars.

Five passengers and their luggage ride comfortably–even more so thanks to heated front seats, heated steering wheel, dual zone automatic climate control, and dual pane sunroof. Cargo enters through a power hatch and is cinched to an adjustable rail system. Safety is amped by adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, blind spot detection, back-up camera, and parking sensors. There’s some quirkiness like the push-button starter on the steering wheel and bone-chattering sound of the lane departure system, but it all mostly works. Close your eyes, take a whiff, caress the surfaces, and transport your soul straight to Firenze.

In concept, the powertrain is not nearly as sexy as the soft leather, but it comports itself well. The 2.0-liter direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder engine winds up 280 horsepower and 306 lb.-ft. of torque, routed to the standard all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic transmission. You only have to go back a couple of decades to find first-rate sports cars that couldn’t match the Stelvio’s 0-60 mph run of 5.4 seconds and 144 mph top speed. Stomp it at any sane speed and it scamps off as if scolded by its master’s boot. Fuel economy of 22/28-MPG city/hwy is quite reasonable for a larger mid-size crossover–and almost identical to the much smaller Fiat 500X’ consumption.

Performance is defined by more than an engine and transmission. Stelvio is based on the Giulia sedan, which means lightweight rear-drive architecture that allows the crossover to behave more like a smaller car. The suspension does a very good job of soaking up rough pavement without transmitting harshness to the cabin. A knob on the console adjusts Alfa’s DNA system, which changes the throttle sensitivity, shift points, steering feel, and brake action from Dynamic to Normal, and Advanced fuel economy. Trashing the Stelvio Pass would be a blast.

If Alfa Romeo took the 4C coupe and upsized it with four doors, the Stelvio would be it. More importantly, it’s exactly the vehicle Alfa Romeo needs to be successful in the United States. If the company can maintain a focus on quality, this Alfa could be a big hit–especially since it stands out like a red dress against a backdrop of comparably boring competitors like the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Lexus RX, Lincoln MKX, and Cadillac XT5.

Prices start at $41,995, but came to $52,840 as-tested.

Storm Forward!

Watch Casey’s video of the Stelvio above or on YouTube; contact him at [email protected].

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Lusso
Five-passenger, AWD Crossover
Powertrain: 280hp 2.0-liter Turbo-4, 8-speed auto trans
Suspension f/r: Ind/Ind
Wheels f/r: 19”/19” alloy
Brakes f/r: disc/disc
Must-have features: Style, Performance
Fuel economy: 22/28 mpg city/hwy
Assembly: Cassino, Italy
Base/as-tested price: $41,995/52,840