Alfa Romeo Stelvio – the SUV to save the Italians

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Alfa Romeo has launched the Stelvio in South Africa.  It’s officially the second new model under the brand’s resurgence, but it’s notably also their first SUV.  Whereas the Giulia sedan was typically Alfa – a rear drive executive sedan oozing style and driver involvement – the Stelvio is a necessary evil in a world that has eschewed family vans for high riding crossovers.  In much the same way the Cayenne enabled Porsche to flourish in the 21st century, the Stelvio aims to do the same for Alfa – particularly in brand-biased South Africa.


Where does the Stelvio sit in the market?


Based on the modular Giorgio platform, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio boasts the same basic architecture and underpinnings as the Giulia sedan.  As such, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio slots firmly into the segment occupied by the new BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, and the Audi Q5.


Naturally, the BMW is the key target – everybody wants to dethrone the king – but there are a couple of outlying competitors Alfa will wish to incapacitate with the Stelvio too.  The Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan have established themselves as bona fide sports SUVs – and this is the territory Alfa needs to claim as its own.


Of course taking on Porsche is no small task, and to that end, Alfa Romeo is offering the Stelvio in a limited range locally – albeit one highly equipped so as to provide value for money in a market where brand cachet is often all a large price tag gets you.


South African Specification & Pricing


The Alfa Romeo Stelvio, at launch anyway, is available in just one standard specification – the Stelvio Super Q4.  The standard exterior specification includes 18-inch alloys (optional 19s and 20s), front and rear park sensors, a rear view camera, powered tailgate, dual exhausts, and brake callipers available in red, yellow, or black, with 11 exterior paint colours available.


Inside the Stelvio, buyers have a choice of two leather types in three colour specifications, along with matching dash, door, and centre console inserts.  Standard specification includes an 8.4 inch Uconnect touch screen infotainment system – with navigation and 8 speakers – a 7-inch colour TFT instrument display, auto-dimming rearview mirror, steering wheel controls, and a USB charging port.


The Alfa Romeo Stelvio also features an array of safety features that include rain sensing wipers, automatic headlights, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and hill descent control.


At launch, a First Edition Stelvio features 20-inch alloys as standard, chrome exterior trim, bi-xenon headlights, privacy tinted glass, and an electric sunroof.  The front seats are 8-way power adjustable and are heated, along with the steering wheel, and full-grain luxury leather is standard upholstery.  A sport steering wheel, sport pedals, and column mounted gearshift paddles are standard, with Nobel Wood trim inserts on the dash and interior panels.  The First Edition also features a 10-speaker audio system, blind spot monitoring, active cruise control, and automatic headlight levelling.


But with such extensive levels of standard specification, and only one model available, it should come as no surprise that the Stelvio bears a rather steep asking price.  R810 000 bags you the standard Stelvio Super Q4, with the First Edition adding an extra R136 000 to that.  A similarly specced Jaguar F-Pace will set you back a similar amount, though, with a Porsche Macan setting you back significantly more.



Powertrain Options


Whilst overseas Alfa Romeo offers multiple variants, at launch in South Africa there is just one powertrain option available.  A 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder does duty under the bonnet – at its heart essentially the same as the unit found in the Giulia.  But in Super guise, it boasts outputs of 206kW at 5 250 r/min and 400Nm at 2 250 r/min.  The aluminium engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic gearbox, sourced from ZF, and makes use of a carbon fibre driveshaft – as per the Giulia.


The Q4 denomination on the Stelvio speaks to the choice of driven wheels.  A rear-biased all-wheel drive system does duty – one that remains rear driven until slippage is detected, after which drive is distributed to the front axle.  In addition to aiding the Stelvio in achieving claimed combined consumption figures of 7l/100km, the rear-biased Q4 system also enables the Alfa Romeo Stelvio to retain its rear-driven handling characteristics.


At a relatively lightweight 1660kg, and with high levels of grip, the Stelvio Super Q4 achieves the 0-100km/h accelerative sprint in a claimed 5.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 230km/h.


A range-topping Quadrifoglio (QV) version has been confirmed for introduction to the South African market late in 2018.  It boasts a 375kW, 600Nm twin-turbo V6 – the same 2.9-litre unit from the M3-rivalling Giulia QV – and utilises a Q4 all-wheel drive system to achieve a 0-100km/h time of 3.8 seconds.  The Stelvio Quadrifoglio has also become the fastest SUV to lap the Nurburgring Nordschleife with a lap record of 7 minutes 51.7 seconds.



Not All Heroes Wear Capes – An SUV to Save the Day


When Alfa Romeo announced its resurgence, though SUVs were a confirmed part of the plan, purists and Alfisti alike were more concerned with the Giulia, the 4C, and the forthcoming sports car likely to be badged as a 6C to target the Jaguar F-Type.  The Stelvio is the first of several SUVs to come, and whilst purists may not be entirely supportive of an Alfa SUV, it’s the hero we need rather than the hero we want.


Whereas the Giulia may offer superior driving dynamics to a BMW 3 Series, the brand doesn’t have the same level of loyalty in South Africa to lure away buyers en masse.  But in a brave new world where SUVs are the drug of automotive choice for the mass buying public, the Stelvio can rely on genuine brilliance rather than brand cachet to lure buyers away from the established ruling class.


In much the same way the Jaguar F-Pace has become a leading source of sales for the British brand, so too shall the Stelvio for Alfa Romeo.  In SUVs, buyers are far more likely to purchase something offering style and substance than to pursue brand bias.  That’s what Alfa needs; and with the Stelvio, the Italian marque may be able to generate the cash flow it requires to develop and produce the Giulia QVs, the 4Cs, and ultimately the 6Cs that loyalists to the brand’s heritage yearn for.


For us traditionalists, the Stelvio is the key to so much more for a once prodigious performance brand.


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