Autolust | The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Arrives

The reintroduction of Alfa Romeo into the United States market was gradual, calculated and effective. FCA decided to reacquaint U.S. drivers with the iconic Italian brand first as a high performance nameplate with its first model before adding a strong luxury vibe for the American motorist with the second. Now, the third and latest import in this very welcome invasion is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

This new Stelvio SUV joins the hardcore 4C coupe and the well-received Giulia sedan as Alfa Romeo’s current lineup. That 4C is true driver’s car — a stripped down, finely tuned performance machine with a manual transmission and no time for power steering. The Giulia is a stylish and romantic looker built to dance gracefully between comfort and performance. The Stelvio’s job is to push Alfa Romeo into the hotly competitive SUV market with a touch of Italian spirit.

After putting tires on U.S. soil for the first time in 1961, Alfa Romeo continued selling its cars from sea to shining sea until 1995 when the automaker stopped importing machines across the Atlantic. After a couple decades of gearhead longing, Alfa Romeo was poised to return to Once part of the Fiat Chrysler family in 2014.

With its supercar lines and performance defined by passion, the 4C was intended to kick in the door for American business with maximum bravado. Impractical but endlessly fun, the coupe was perfect to remind Americans that Alfa Romeo is an automaker for car lovers.

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However, the Giulia was charged with refining that message and making it clear that Alfas are for grownup car lovers. Highly practical and refined human transport, the Giulia wants to draw the eye of the would-be BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi or Cadillac buyer who might like a little Italian flavor.

With the Stelvio, Alfa Romeo is not wasting any time stepping into the fierce crossover/small SUV wars. With only its third U.S. model out of the gate, the Stelvio is the latest choice in the fastest growing automotive segment in the world. A crossover or SUV is the top seller for multiple automakers from Mazda to Buick to Lexus, and the minds behind Alfa Romeo are hoping they can carve out some of that SUV love for themselves.

The Stelvio is designed and engineered well enough to do precisely that. Intended as an SUV that chews up S-curves,  Alfa Romeo’s latest is named for Italy’s Stelvio Pass, the highest road in the Eastern Italian Alps and sometimes referred to as the best driving road in the world. The messaging is clear: This is not intended merely as another station wagon replacement for getting the kids back and forth to school. The Stelvio is a tight, sporty ride that just happens to offer enough room for your groceries and golf clubs.

During a recent preview drive event, all three trim levels of the new Stelvio were on hand for testing. The base Stelvio and Stelvio Ti feature a new 2.0 liter, 
direct-injection turbo inline four cylinder engine. While performance lovers might think that would leave an SUV under-juiced, the power plant does offer 280 horsepower and 306 lb.-ft. of torque. Both numbers are tops for the class, and they combine for a 0-60 mph time of about 5.4 seconds and a top speed of 144 mph.

The standard and Ti versions also include all-wheel-drive, leather seats, xenon headlamps, full infotainment and sat-nav systems and endless devoted Alfa Romeo styling cues — especially the most iconic grille of any car make. Engineered entirely by Alfa Romeo and not based on any Fiat or Chrysler models, all Stelvio models promise close to 50/50 weight distribution, an eight-speed automatic transmission and available sport paddle shifters.

The special, sport-tuned Stelvio Quadrifoglio trim nods to pure performance devotees with a 2.9 liter, twin-turbo V6 that ups the available horsepower to 505 with 443 lb.-ft. of torque and a top speed of 177 mph.

The driving experience is comfortable, grounded and exceedingly tight in various conditions, with or without using the sport shifters. However, when passing another vehicle (or when merely misbehaving), the Stelvio offers that little extra kick of Italian enthusiasm when the turbo boost kicks in and pushes you past the opposition faster than you can say “Sonny Corleone.” That moment reminds you that this is indeed a fully effective SUV, but it’s still an Alfa Romeo that wants to be a little crazy sometimes.

All versions of the Stelvio will arrive in showrooms by the end of this year, and Alfa Romeo hopes it will prove as successful as the Giulia was over the last year. With an MSRP starting around $43,000 and climbing north of $50K fully kitted out, the Stelvio will appeal to the mid-range luxury SUV buyer who wants to roll out with a little extra personal expression and style.