Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Some Italian flair

There is something about Italian cars that gets the hearts of most young men racing. For Anton Willemse Jnr it’s no different and he was understandably excited over the opportunity to experience the magic first-hand behind the wheel of Alfa Romeo’s SUV offering, the Stelvio.

There is something special about Alfa Romeo. The Italian brand has always been the dark horse of the automotive world, doing everything differently, with more flair and more quirkiness. The Stelvio is no different, delivering on the brand’s promise of putting the ‘S’ in SUV.

The luxury compact crossover segment is quite popular the local market, with some outstanding players enjoying a strong following. The likes of BMW pioneered the segment, and Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Jaguar, Porsche et al have galvanised it with their offerings. Alfa Romeo arrived to the party a tad late and, as a result, struggled to gain momentum in the South African market. Still, the Stelvio recently received an update, and we had a chance to sample it.

Pretty as a picture

As I mentioned, Alfa Romeo is known for many things – some good, some less good – but one thing you can always be sure of is that it builds and designs beautiful cars. The Stelvio is a case in point.

The front is undeniably good looking, with a prominent grille that is guaranteed to earn envious stares from other road users. The Alfa Romeo Scudetto grille is a historic part of the brand’s design language and acts as proud centrepiece. Shifting the vehicle’s lines to the aggressive-looking headlights while also drawing a triangular line across the bonnet, it underlines the sporty design. The front is perfectly rounded off with the air vents underneath the headlights.

The side profile adds to the sporty appeal, primarily thanks to the new and revised wheels, which are similar to those used on the sporty variant, the Quadrifoglio. These wheels are without a doubt my favourite feature of this car, drawing your attention to the centre of the wheel to that iconic snake and cross that make up the Alfa Romeo badge. The side profile also gives a hatchback rather than an SUV feel, with a long bonnet and lower roofline.

Tech & Comfort

The interior is what you’d expect from a vehicle in this class – luxurious and well appointed, with a blend of hard plastics, leather and chrome detailing throughout. The cabin is well put together, compares well to its competitors, and is certainly on par in terms of quality and styling. In fact, there’s nothing that really sets it apart from the rest of the pack. I would have preferred a bit more Italian flair to better complement its beautiful and extravagant exterior.

In addition to having a nice, albeit slightly demure interior, the Stelvio is very well specced. Starting with the infotainment system, this Italian stallion is available with an 8-inch screen, allowing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (surprisingly, not wireless). However, the infotainment itself is so user-friendly that you’ll find that screen mirroring isn’t needed. Also, drivers have a screen within the instrument cluster that provides relevant info while you’re cruising to your next adventure. The Stelvio is available with an updated Driver Assistance pack which gives it some additional safety features such as automatic high-beam assist, active blind spot assist, forward collision warning, lane keep assist and driver attention alert. These, alongside some other nifty goodies, make the Alfa Romeo Stelvio an excellent value-for-money option.

With the Stelvio, what you see is what you get – and what you get is a lot of bang for your buck. It also boasts a wireless charging pad, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, active cruise control, a sunroof and many more creature comforts, all standard across the range, to give it a real feel of luxury.

But, how was the drive?

The Alfa Romeo Stelvio is named after a famous mountain pass in the north of Italy that features 48 hairpin bends and its easy handling certainly makes it a perfect mountain cruiser. It is the lightest in its class, thanks to a clever lightweight body structure and a carbon fibre driveshaft. These work in tandem with the double-wishbone front suspension, multilink rear suspension, and a clever all-wheel drive system to ensure a comfortable ride.

The all-wheel drive system is a full-time system with rear bias, meaning that under normal driving conditions, power is only distributed to the rear wheels. Still, it will give the front wheels some power when additional traction is called for. As a result, the Stelvio provides good handling despite its higher ground clearance and large stature. The Stelvio gives absolute confidence when you take it to bendy bits. At times, it didn’t feel like a mid-sized SUV but more like a bulky hatchback. It felt smaller and more focused, which I really enjoyed.

The Stelvio is available with two engine options. The Q4 Super, which we sampled, is offered with a four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that is good for 206kW and 400Nm. Then there’s the performance variant, the Quadrifoglio, boasting a 2.9-litre V6 which produces a potent 375kW and 600Nm.

The Q4 Super is obviously a bit underpowered when you compare it to its fire-breathing V6 sibling. However, there is still a lot to enjoy about this engine. First of all, it has a respectable 0 to 100km/h figure of around 5.7 seconds, and it will top out at 230km/h, which gives it plenty of pace. The automatic eight-speed gearbox also works well with this engine, and it flies through the gears smoothly and at a satisfying pace. However, at times it did feel a bit confused, although this was quickly remedied when I took manual control with the paddle shifters.

The Stelvio is available with three driver modes: Dynamic, Natural and All-weather. Dynamic is performance oriented, with All-weather being the eco-friendlier “calm” mode. The fuel consumption wasn’t the best and I couldn’t get it below double digits, remaining steady at around 10.5 litres/100km for the entire test period (which involved some urban and open-road driving).

In Closing

I loved driving the Stelvio, enjoyed looking at it and found the cabin well equipped and comfortable. It certainly turned heads – this brand just has a certain charm and personality that you don’t get with any other brand. It isn’t perfect, though – the gearbox, for example, isn’t without fault and with the ever-rising fuel price that thirst is something to consider in your purchase decision. The low-profile tyres could also be an issue if you encounter a bit of rough gravel.

However, these issues are minor in comparison to the one glaring problem with the Stelvio – its surprising lack of popularity. Since its introduction some six years ago, sales figures have been uninspiring, which can only be ascribed to a small dealer network, the historical and outdated notion that Alfa Romeo’s are unreliable, or the perceived depreciation (or maybe all these factors combined). With the Alfa Romeo brand now forming part of the Stellantis stable, many of these issues are being addressed and I, for one, look forward to seeing more Italian flair on South African roads.

*The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Super is priced at R1 159 900 and comes with a 5-year/100 000km warranty and maintenance plan.

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