Alfa Romeo is struggling to make an impact in the Australian market, but its limited line-up has appeal for those who want something a little different.
The Stelvio SUV is one of the more attractive looking softroaders on the market.
This is a change of direction for Alfa
The Stelvio is the crossover cousin to Alfa Romeo’s Giulia sports sedan.
It was the first high-riding Alfa Romeo, but it’s not the only one – a smaller model called the Tonale recently joined the family as a more affordable option.
Keen drivers should give the front-drive Tonale a miss in favour of the all-wheel-drive Stelvio, which is a much more convincing machine.
You can even have it with a twin-turbocharged V6 engine that has close ties to Ferrari supercars.
Alfa reckons it’s “the only SUV you choose with your heart”. They might be right.
There have been some tweaks to the original formula
New LED headlights are the easiest way to spot the updated Stelvio, which benefits from a raft of changes that make it a better bet than the 2018 original.
Alfa replaced the remote-controlled 7-inch infotainment screen for a touch-operated 12.3-inch unit with wireless phone charging, added better driver aids and increased warranty coverage from three to five years.
Diesel engines are no longer available and the petrol models have more power as standard.
Those are excellent changes for the most part, though they did push prices up.
The updated model isn’t cheap
Alfa dropped basic models from the Stelvio range, which now starts from about $84,000 drive-away for the entry-level Ti – about $10,000 more than before.
We tested the mid-range Stelvio Veloce, which adds 20-inch wheels, red brakes, a rear limited-slip differential and 14-speaker stereo for $91,000 drive-away.
Both models are powered by turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engines that send 206kW and 400Nm to all four wheels through eight-speed automatic transmissions.
Customers who want more can get hold of the Ferrari-powered Quadrifoglio and its 3.0-litre, 375kW/600Nm engine for $176,000 drive-away.
It’s costly, but has one of the most thrilling engines available at any price.
The Stelvio is sweet to drive
Lighter than its German rivals, the Stelvio steers and corners with a sweetness that is hard to find in high-riding cars.
It feels more like a rear-drive sports sedan than most, helped by the tight limited slip differential that makes the most of its engine.
A firm ride appeals to drivers who appreciate sporty reflexes, though it must be said that the lack of adaptive suspension with a comfort mode is a glaring omission.
Huge metal shift paddles fixed to the steering column – not the wheel – add to the sense of purposeful theatre, helped by a digital dashboard with retro-inspired displays and beautifully finished seats embossed with the Alfa Romeo logo.
But isn’t the most modern car in its class
The Alfa’s cabin lacks the hi-tech wow factor of a modern Mercedes and the materials used aren’t a match for the likes of Lexus.
Using its letterbox-like touchscreen is like watching a film on your phone compared to the cinematic experience offered by high-priced alternatives, and the lack of a hybrid option won’t win support from the green brigade.
All of that is unlikely to matter to those drawn to the Stelvio’s crisp driving dynamics, elegant style and relative rarity on the road.