After his screed against MT's pick of the Giulia as COTY, I would have guessed pigs would fly before I'd see this. You've got to give him credit for having an open mind and judging the car (Giulia or Stelvio) by its merits. I think his first follow up to the initial post (under his On The Table section) is an excellent write-up (though I guess I'm just not as scandalized by the quality of the shifter as journalists seem to be).
My favorite line: "The steering is ultra-quick, and it's notably light on its feet, a clear departure from the typical German SUV/crossovers, which are heavy and sluggish feeling, even in the hot rod versions."
By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Needless to say, the reactions to me leasing a 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio TI AWD ran the gamut from "good luck," to "I hope it goes well," to "you've frickin' lost it," to "what a waste of money." Which was pretty much what I expected. As I said, it's part of the auto writer routine to get cars to drive (well, not routine for us, for most auto journos anyway -WG), write about them, then give them back after a week. You give your impressions and then move on, with no payments or insurance premiums to deal with. It's really good, and on top of that sometimes you get to drive really cool stuff. But then again it just gives you a snapshot, while committing to drive something on your own dime is another thing completely.
I obviously have been super critical of FCA's CEO in the past, because I found the boasting and braggadocio to be tedious and counter to what the company was trying to accomplish. Lest anyone forgets, Alfa Romeo was never a mainstream brand in this country, it was always the interesting alternative that marched to a different drummer. So the notion that a switch would be flipped and it would be going toe-to-toe with Audi in this market by 2018 was the height of absurdity.
You get all that, right? But now, what about the car?
Make no mistake, I have no illusions about what the Stelvio represents. It's a branding exercise designed to take advantage of the hottest segment in the market. It has about as much to do with the historical legacy of Alfa Romeo as the Cayenne/Macan has to do with the essence of Porsche. Be that as it may, the Stelvio does bring some "marching to a different drummer" aspects to the typical SUV/crossover equation. Its design is distinctive, at least as much as it's possible to squeeze desirability out of the SUV shape. (The new Jaguar I-PACE is the new standard for the genre, but the Stelvio is pleasing to the eye at least.)
The fact that the Stelvio is based on the Giulia architecture is a very good thing. I've driven it enough now to say that it truly is a sports sedan with a little more ground clearance. The steering is ultra-quick, and it's notably light on its feet, a clear departure from the typical German SUV/crossovers, which are heavy and sluggish feeling, even in the hot rod versions. The Stelvio is responsive to inputs and truly a pleasure to drive in that respect, which is what it should be all about, right? Enthusiasts know in the first mile when a car just feels right. The Stelvio is one of those cars.
As for the comments from other sources on the sluggish-to-react "by wire" braking system, I have experienced hints of that but only in a few instances. It's almost as if you have to adapt to the Stelvio's demeanor, not the other way around, which is fine with me because, after all, I learned how to adapt to early 911s in order to drive them fast and well. The brakes work fine when you use them with authority, and any sluggishness I've experienced has only come in stop-and-go traffic and very infrequently.
As for the power delivery of the 2.0-liter, turbocharged, 280HP 4-cylinder, the Stelvio is still very new, and I always refrain from hammering my cars until I have at least 1,000 miles on them. (I know, that's very Old School of me but that's the way I prefer to do it.) I can tell it has real juice, however (306 lb.-ft. of torque), so I'm anxious to get to the point where I can put my foot in it. Although I have experienced some hesitation under acceleration a few times, I don't fault the Stelvio. Again, I feel it's just a matter of getting a feel for what the engine responds to in order to exploit the performance. For now, the Stelvio's engine response at mid-range speeds is really good.
The most unexpected part of the Stelvio? I think the interior is quite good. Some reviewers have suggested that it's plain and uninviting, but I find it to be clean, uncluttered, contemporary and a pleasant surprise. I won't get into the complaints about the center stack that I've read about, because I am still getting to know it. We'll see how that develops. But as pleasing as the interior is to me, it also features the most glaring fault in the entire car: the shift knob. It functions properly, that's not the issue at all. It's the way it feels that is so off-putting. It has an abrasive plastic ridge component to it that wouldn't even pass muster on a PEZ dispenser, and the whole thing feels like cheap plastic because, well... it is cheap plastic. And it is simply inexcusable, shocking, actually. The True Believers who worked on this machine got it right in so many areas, I am stunned that they let this aspect go. If it was simply a cost decision, that makes it even worse.
All that being said, my initial impressions of the Stelvio are quite promising. To be continued...
(And by the way, thanks to longtime reader Mark Weaver for our Stelvio graphic!!)
Jim: '17 Giulia Q4 Ti Sport/Performance; '92 Spider Veloce; '12 Honda Odyssey family hauler; '18 Mustang GT (because Alfa doesn't sell manuals anymore)