Alfa Romeo Stelvio is an SUV actually fun to drive
BEING first pays off
A $6000 First Edition pack pushes the price to $77,700 drive-away. The upgrade helps lift Alfa's mid-size SUV to premium style, from the panoramic sunroof to tinted rear glass, suspension and wheel (19-inchers) upgrades, ambient lighting, alloy pedals and inlays and leather upholstery, the front sports seats with heating. Showing where costs have been trimmed, there are bi-xenon headlamps when rivals pack LEDs. The five-year/150,000km warranty includes roadside assist, service intervals are 12 months/15,000km and the first three are free.
Buy the diesel
If you do plenty of kilometres, the 2.1-litre turbo diesel will justify the $1800 premium. It is faster, more fuel efficient and a lot more fun to drive on secondary roads where you can use its 470Nm to punch out of corners. It even sounds better than the petrol engine once under way. The claimed 0-100km/h sprint time is 6.6 seconds - also laudable is the mid-range surge, the all-wheel drive set-sending power to the rear wheels by default and then engaging the front axle when it detects slip.
The basics are covered
The power tailgate opens to a reasonable 525L boot. The standard sunroof on First Edition Stelvios doesn't intrude on rear headroom and leg space is comfortable for a couple of tall adults. The outboard seats are shaped and supportive, unlike the "I don't want to sit there" centre spot. Rear vents send through enough hot or cold air and a pair of USB ports should cover the entertainment. The view from up front is impressive, with a low, car-like dash in place of the chunky plastics typically seen in SUVs. The 8.8-inch infotainment screen does the job but the digital driver's display nestled between the analog displays looks last-generation.
Steering is scalpel-sharp
By segment standards, the Stelvio steers on the reactive side of responsive. There's an inherent sense of sportscar-sharp motion over smaller potholes but the Alfa also turns in and tracks as you'd expect, despite the absence of a high-revving accompaniment. As engaging as this makes the Alfa in short bursts, on longer trips the concentration needed to keep it between the lines gets tedious. Traditional Alfa types should also look to the Ti's 2.0-litre turbo with 205kW/400Nm from $83,900 on the road.
Sporty still means safe
All Stelvios are fitted with autonomous emergency braking, blind spot assist, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert. The car is rated a five-star proposition by ANCAP. Tested last year, it scored 97 per cent for adult occupant safety and 84 per cent for child safety. Pedestrian safety was also better than average. the Web was rated good at all three tested speeds and Alfa says it operates between 7km/h and 200km/h.