First Drive: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Red 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Neither a new sugarless sweetener nor one of Tony Soprano’s henchmen, “Stelvio” adds to the evidence that maybe all the good car names are taken. This despite the fact that the Alfa Romeo Stelvio is named for the Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps, a switchback-filled road popular with daredevil drivers, akin to our own Tail of the Dragon, that straddles the Tennessee–North Carolina border.

Alfa insists the Stelvio is a “new breed of high-performance SUV with the heart and soul of a hero.” Which does indeed sound better than: “A station wagon based on the Alfa Romeo Giulia.”

None of this should be perceived as negative, as the Stelvio has a lot going for it, as does the Giulia sedan. It’s commendable that even with rampant global automotive homogenization, a vehicle can still look and feel so Italian. Which is a compliment. Mostly. We’ll get to the uncomplimentary part in a moment.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio wheel
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio downtown Nashville
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio from above
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio seat detail

The Stelvio competes well with other premium compact sport-utes that emphasize “sport” over “ute,” such as the Porsche Macan and BMW X3. It’s powered by an eager 2.0-liter four-cylinder, with a turbocharged 280 hp delivered through an eight-speed automatic.

That might not sound like much fun in an all-wheel-drive, two-ton SUV, but it is. Handling is crisp, steering is spot-on, and the ride is firm but always tolerable, even in the sportiest setting, called Dynamic. The Brembo brakes are quite good.

Inside, the success story continues with supportive front seats and a rear seat that can accommodate a couple of six-footers. The instruments are fine, but the secondary controls are a generation behind the better available climate and infotainment systems.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio profile
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio badge detail
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio interior

If 280 horses don’t stir you, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio might, complete with a Ferrari-sourced 505-hp, 2.9-liter twin-turbo V-6. It transforms the Giulia from a very good car to a great one, and we expect the same when the Stelvio Quad arrives in dealerships within the next few months.

Finally, that bad news: We drove several Stelvios, and all suffered from at least one electrical glitch—a warning light, for instance—that disappeared when we cycled the ignition. Minor, but hardly confidence-inspiring, since we’ve had similar experiences with Giulias.

One suggestion, then: Lease.