NASHVILLE, TN – Alfa Romeo sold just 516 vehicles in the U.S. last year, but deliveries are trending upward thanks to a gargantuan marketing push and the introduction of the Giulia sports sedan.
Now the boutique brand gets a huge boost with the introduction of the ’18 Stelvio, a premium midsize CUV spiced with Italian attitude, engineering and manufacturing pedigree that should give Alfa Romeo the potential to break through in an increasingly cluttered segment.
On a media drive here on winding mountain blacktop interspersed with brief freeway runs, the Stelvio proves an able CUV counterpart to the low-slung Giulia sedan, seemingly giving up little in the handling department despite a 400-lb. (181-kg) increase in curb weight and a 2.5-in. (64-mm) higher ground clearance and 8.9-in. (226-mm) overall gain in height.
The Stelvio shares Giulia’s 111-in. (2,819-mm) wheelbase, lightweight, carbon-fiber driveshaft and 50:50 front/rear weight distribution.
Our drive features the Stelvio Sport and Stelvio Ti, both powered by the same twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0L 280 hp and 306 lb.-ft. (415 Nm) I-4 found in the Giulia. The standard gearbox is a ZF 8-speed automatic, managed by large aluminum, column-mounted paddle shifters. All Stelvio models are all-wheel drive, but with a rear bias and capability to shift 100% of the power to the rear wheels unless slippage is detected.
A center console-mounted knob control allows choice of Dynamic, Natural or Advanced Efficiency driving modes, altering the response of the engine, transmission, steering, braking and stability control. The vehicle remains in the last mode chosen even if the car is turned off. Models equipped with an optional Performance package add adaptive suspension and an extra control.
Not available until first-quarter 2018 is the Stelvio Quadrifoglio featuring a Ferrari-derived 2.9L twin-turbo V6 making 505 hp and 443 lb.-ft. (601 Nm) of torque.
In our spirited driving, the Stelvio shows off the strengths of its underlying Giorgio chassis, handling dips and sharp corners with confidence and rarely requiring mid-corner steering correction. Steering is nimble and braking is immediate and assured.
Although enthusiasts will gravitate to the flagship Quadrifoglio, the 2.0L turbo offers plenty of power for the 4,044-lb. (1,834-kg) vehicle, pushing it to 60 mph (97 km/h) in just 5.4 seconds, topping competitors including the Audi Q5, Porsche Macan, Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes-Benz GLC300 and BMW X3 28i, Alfa Romeo says.
Stelvio’s punchy engine response is aided by an overboost control (in Dynamic mode) that prevents the turbo’s electric waste gate from opening, thereby maintaining higher boost over a longer period.
As a result, the engine offers strong power across the range, with only minor turbo-lag hiccups at low speed. The engine and exhaust make gorgeous music together, with the exception of some poorly attenuated low booming in the 1,100-1,500-rpm range in Natural or Advanced Efficiency modes when the transmission dips down to eighth gear too early, chasing fuel economy.
The simple black interior in the base Stelvio won’t wow anyone, but trim options including real wood, aluminum or carbon fiber allow buyers to spruce up the space. Standard leather seats are supportive with a commanding ride height. Simple knobs for the audio, climate, navigation and vehicle controls are close at hand.
Going from sedan to CUV gains substantial cargo room, increasing from Giulia’s 13-cu.-ft. (368-liters) trunk to 18.5 cu.-ft. (524 liters) behind the Stelvio's second row and 56.5 cu.-ft. (1,600 liters) with the seats folded. FCA says Stelvio’s maximum cargo volume is comparable to its competitors.
The athletic exterior styling bears some resemblance to Infiniti’s FX CUVs as well as the Porsche Macan, with a tight greenhouse and sharply angled windshield and backlight. Standard content includes dual exhaust, bi-xenon headlights, LED taillights and a power liftgate.
Building a Global Brand
If the arrival of Stelvio in the Alfa Romeo lineup amps up the pressure to produce sales, global chief Reid Bigland and his U.S. market counterpart, Pieter Hogeveen, don’t show it. Neither will specify a volume target they’d like to meet to consider the brand a success, but instead point to sales trends and social-media interest as the key measurables in building brand awareness from the ground up.
“The default when it comes to measuring success with a lot of people is ‘How many are you selling?’” Bigland says. “But I think with Alfa Romeo we’re really looking to establish this legendary brand around world, so it needs to be a little bit more than that.
“We’re not out to establish any sales records. We’re out to establish a brand worldwide.”
Sales are trending upward. In the Europe/Middle East/Africa region, Alfa Romeo sales are up 50%, posting 8,000 deliveries in May alone, mostly in Germany, France and Italy, driven by Giulia and Stelvio which went on sale in March.
But as recently as three years ago, FCA planned to grow the brand from then-74,000 units worldwide to 400,000 globally by 2018. Considering Alfa delivered just 90,000 vehicles worldwide last year, there’s a long way to go.
WardsAuto/AFS forecasts Stelvio production at about 53,000 in 2017, increasing to 65,000-70,000 units in 2018. In the U.S., Alfa has delivered 2,500 Giulias this year, including about 1,000 in June, so sales are trending upward. Stelvio obviously will add needed volume by giving Alfa a player in the premium CUV segment. Both models are built at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ plant in Cassino, Italy.
Other numbers look positive as well, Bigland notes, as Alfa Romeo marketing generated 3.5 million website visits and 38.5 million YouTube hits in the first quarter. Giulia’s 42% lease rate is low for the segment (68%), its average transaction price of $47,000 is highest in the segment so far this year and its 50% estimated residual value three years hence tops its competitors, he says.
“I like to think we’re on the right path in establishing Alfa Romeo as the true premium brand that it is,” Bigland says. “We’re playing the long game on this. We’re going to re-establish this brand, we’re not going to get our crazy on and we’re going to do the right thing to protect the residual values and build this brand for the long term.”
The brand looks to add as many as four more models by 2020, most based on the rear-drive-based Giorgio architecture underpinning the Giulia and Stelvio.
[email protected] @bobgritzinger
'18 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Specifications
|Vehicle type||5-passenger, 5-door CUV|
|Engine||2.0L turbocharged direct-injected inline 4-cyl.|
|Power (SAE net)||280 hp @ 5,200 rpm|
|Torque||306 lb.-ft. (415 Nm) @ 2,000-4,800 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||86.5 x 82.0|
|Wheelbase||111 ins. (2,819 mm)|
|Overall length||184.6 ins. (4,688 mm)|
|Overall width||74.9 ins. (1,903 mm)|
|Overall height||66 ins. (1,677 mm)|
|Curb weight||4,044 lbs. (1,834 kg)|
|Base price||$41,995 (not including $995 destination and handling charge)|
|Fuel economy||22/28/24 mpg (10.7/8.4/9.8 L/100 km) city/highway/combined|
|Competition||Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC|
|Alfa gets a CUV||Is Italian flair enough?|
|Powerful turbo engine||Slight low-boost hesitation|
|Well-appointed interior||Avoid the all-black option|