Pedro Arrais review: Alfa Romeo Stelvio overflows with Italian flair

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The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio has turned heads and nervous glances from competitors as it enters the hot luxury SUV market.

Alfa Romeo is a brand steeped in luxury, performance and Italian style. With the introduction of the Stelvio, it brings its tradition of infusing passion into vehicles to the SUV segment for the first time in the company’s history.

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While most consumers are used to having a choice of a few different trim levels, the Stelvio goes one step further, with six distinct versions. They go from a base price of $51,845 all the way up to a Quadrifoglio model at $95,000.

I had an opportunity to drive a TI Sport, about the middle of the pack, with a list price of $56,345.

With a long history of making attractive luxury performance cars, roadsters and coupes, much was riding on the Stelvio before it was ever introduced to the public.

You can imagine the sigh of relief as the covers were pulled back to reveal a shape that is instantly recognizable, with lines that set it apart from the competition.

Line up the Stelvio with its major competitors, the Porsche Macan and the Jaguar F-Pace, and you can clearly see how the Italian has turned the S in SUV from Sport to Sexy.

Under the flowing sheetmetal, the Stelvio shares a common, aluminum-intensive platform with its four-door-sedan brethren, the Giulia. Being light on its feet also means being light on the wallet as well, with fuel-consumption figures lower than both its British and German rivals.

While it is a beauty, most buyers are looking for the beast within, and the Stelvio does not disappoint.

Two engines are available — a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque, or a twin-turbo V-6 with a mouthwatering 505 horses and 443 lb.-ft. of torque (this engine is sourced from Ferrari) — Mamma mia!

My tester was equipped with the former. Alfa Romeo boasts the Stelvio is capable of a 0-to-96.5 km/h (60 mph) dash in 5.4 seconds, with a top speed of 232 km/h. I tested neither of these claims, but I can assure you that the seat-of-the-pants feel is that it is definitely possible.

When driven with gusto (is there any other way with an Alfa?), the engine emits a gentle growl that will warm the cockles of your enthusiast heart.

The only transmission available is an eight-speed automatic that produces smooth, quick shifts when left to its own devices. Put it in manual mode for more control and the satisfying sound of downshifts paired with engine speed.

The Stelvio has a driving mode selector, but instead of Eco/Normal/Sport (as found in the majority of vehicles), Alfa gives you DNA — Dynamic/Normal/All-Wheel-Drive.

The Dynamic is the mode of choice for when you want to have a little fun and probe the limits of the vehicle, but the Normal setting is more than adequate for everyday driving.

The Stelvio is impressive on back country roads, thanks to 255/45 R 20-inch rubber, a well-balanced, sport-tuned suspension with double wishbones in the front and a multi-link rear. It also boasts a near 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution.

When you encounter an obstacle on the road, you will appreciate the Brembo brakes — four-piston calipers in the front and a single on the rear.

The Stelvio has engine deactivation to save on fuel when stopped. The system works as advertised, but some competitors have made the start-up process less jarring, so there is room for improvement. You can also switch it off entirely.

All-wheel drive is standard across the line.

The cabin is very similar to the Guilia sedan, with comfort for four and adequate for five. The seat backs fold 40/20/40 and there are 525 litres of storage with the second-row seats up, and 1,600 litres of cargo capacity when down.

The front occupants are nestled in 10-way power leather sport seats with ample and adjustable side bolsters. However, the seats might be snug for people of ample girth. The front of the seat can be extended for the comfort of those with long femurs.

The starter button on the left quadrant of the steering wheel is unconventional, but the rest of the instrument panel is well laid out. The instrument cluster in front of the driver still features twin binnacles, a design nod to Alfas of old.

My Stelvio had a 8.8-inch-wide screen display for the obligatory infotainment system.

The Stelvio comes well-equipped, with adaptive bi-xenon headlights, remote start, a carbon-fibre driveshaft, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The 2018 Stelvio is less expensive, faster, more fuel-efficient and holds more cargo than the Porsche Macan, the benchmark vehicle in this segment. The Stelvio may be the last to come to the party, but it is certainly making an unforgettable entrance.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Luxury mid-sized SUV, front engine, all-wheel-drive

Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 280 hp at 5,200 r.p.m., 306 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,000 to 4,800 r.p.m.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Dimensions (mm): Length, 4,688; width, 1,903; height, 1,677; wheelbase, 2,818

Curb weight (kg): 1,834

Price (base/as tested): $56,345/ $62,085 (includes $1,895 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: Headlamp washer $250, sunroof $1,595, Harman/Kardon audio $1,200, metallic paint $700

Tires: 255/45 R20 on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Premium

Fuel economy (L/100km): 10.8 city/ 8.3 highway

Warranty: Four years/80,000 km new car

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