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2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio review: Stelvio SUV rides high on Italian style

Alfa Romeo's comfortable little SUV brings Italian design to the US, but doesn't distinguish itself for performance or technology.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
6 min read

You sport a Bottega Veneta coat, a Moschino bag and shoes from Ferragamo. Shouldn't your car show off similar Italian flair, maybe with a badge featuring Milanese heritage? Alfa Romeo's growing presence in the US market makes that more of an option every day, and nothing in its lineup is more practical than the 2018 Stelvio.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

The Good

The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio rides comfortably, with a soft ride and easy response to steering and throttle inputs. Alfa Romeo design stands out, especially at the Stelvio's front. All-wheel-drive comes standard.

The Bad

The Stelvio's in-dash electronics lack connected features, such as online destination search, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is listed as "Late availability". Its idle-stop feature doesn't work as seamlessly as competitors'.

The Bottom Line

The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio looks good and drives well, but often feels like it's getting by on style more than substance, as its sport performance is only middling and cabin technology only covers the basics.

As a small SUV, the Stelvio carries five passengers and their luggage, from Bric's I assume. Surprisingly, it competes well on price with other premium SUVs , but comes up a little short on driving dynamics and electronics.

We first saw the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio at last year's Los Angeles auto show , where it joined the existing lineup of the Giulia sedan and 4C sports car. The body of the Stelvio presents a very clean design, with smooth metal around the headlight and taillight casings and an inset hood. The triangular grille highlights Alfa Romeo style.

However, the requirements of an SUV body necessitate some lumpiness in the Stelvio's design.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Alfa Romeo gives its premium small SUV Stelvio model its classic grille design, and smooth flowing metal around the light casings.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

I was really taken with the interior, mostly because I'm a sucker for matte-finished wood trim. Stitched leather and comfortable seats made for a nice cabin experience as well, although the Stelvio doesn't exactly leap above other premium SUVs in its cabin appointments. Of course, listening to music over the optional 14-speaker, 900 watt Harman Kardon audio system added enjoyment while I drove.

An 8.8-inch LCD in the center dash shows the Stelvio's infotainment system which, while imbued with nice-looking graphics, handles little beyond the basics of navigation, hands-free phone calls and stereo controls. For example, I was disappointed to find no online destination search in the navigation system, nor any sort of audio app integration.

Alfa Romeo brings Italian style to its Stelvio SUV

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Alfa Romeo says it will make up for the lack of connectivity in the Stelvio by supporting Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which mirror certain apps from the phone onto the car's dashboard LCD. An asterisk on the option sheet notes "Late availability" for these features, so it might be best to put the Stelvio on your shopping list for next year. When it does become available, it will make the convenient phone slots in the console and cupholder area all the more useful for your Gucci-encased phone.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Enlarge Image
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Alfa Romeo could take a hint from sister-brand Jeep for its infotainment offerings, as the latter includes connected features.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Manually entering an address in the infotainment system proved slow, partially because I had to wait for the system to react to each letter I input from the console-mounted dial. Alfa Romeo also missed one crucial feature from the infotainment controls: a back button, commonly found in competitor cars. As it is, you will wrinkle the cuff of your Canali shirt trying to dig your way out of submenu screens.

Prominently positioned on the console near the infotainment controls sits a dial labeled "dna", which, rather than letting you know you are 5 percent neanderthal, sets the Stelvio's different drive modes: "d" for dynamic, "n" for natural, "a" for all-weather.

Those drive modes have a lot to work with, as the Stelvio comes with a surprisingly powerful turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, good for 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque. That output goes to all four wheels, standard, through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Opting for the Stelvio au naturale, I find the driving easy and comfortable on city and highway. This little SUV feels very liveable, and despite hefty output from a small engine, I don't feel much in the way of turbo lag. It's easy to modulate power off the line, or crawl along in stop-and-go traffic.

But the Stelvio exhibits its own unique ride feel compared to other premium SUVs, something I can only describe as squishy. And that's not just in how the suspension rebounds when encountering bumps in the road, but also in steering and braking. Every element of the drive has a soft, rubbery edge. I find this particularly surprising as so many other automakers have adopted a firmer ride.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

The Stelvio is Alfa Romeo's most practical vehicle, with an easy driving characteristic and good interior space.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

The Stelvio delivers 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, the former figure helped by its idle-stop feature, which shuts the engine down during traffic stops. I've grown used to these systems in many cars, and appreciate how well they work, but the Stelvio's system left me flat-footed a couple of times when I wanted to go. Ultimately, I only managed 20.9 mpg through freeway and city driving.

Dynamic mode holds the Stelvio's gears lower, makes the throttle more sensitive, and tightens up the steering response. Other than higher engine revs, the Stelvio still feels like a comfortable cruiser rather than a canyon-carving sport SUV.

Mashing through turns at speed, the Stelvio handles reasonably well, but doesn't convince me it would terrorize its namesake Passo Stelvio, that insanely twisting road in the Italian alps. The suspension in particular feels more SUV than sports car, leaning over and making the outside wheels in the turns bear much of the burden.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

The requirements of SUV design undercut the Stelvio's overall style.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Although I'm sure the all-wheel-drive helps the grip some, I can't really feel it. The Stelvio biases its torque to the rear wheels, but can transfer up to 60 percent to the front wheels as needed. A top performance model, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, comes with a torque vectoring differential, so would likely handle the turns better. That version comes out early next year.

The model I'm driving doesn't have paddles, but I can still manually select gears from the eight-speed torque converter automatic using the shifter.

To ease my highway driving, this Stelvio came with a set of driver assist features, all in two option packages for $2,150. The blind-spot monitor shows a warning icon if another car is in the lane next to me, and flashes if I hit the turn signal.

Adaptive cruise control, which matches speeds with slower traffic ahead, works well, bringing the Stelvio all the way down to a stop when cars ahead stop. To get going again, I have to tap the throttle, like in many cars today. The lane departure warning system surprised me, as it made a loud, farty sound to let me know when I drifted over a lane line. Most cars just give you a beep or a warning graphic.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

The Stelvio's competitive price helps it in a red hot market that includes cars with better handling and electronics.

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio primarily distinguishes itself on style, flaunting its Milanese heritage in parking lots and highways. It meets the standards of other small, premium SUVs when it comes to power and general driving quality. However, when it comes to sport performance, the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace show much better handling.

In the electronics department, the Stelvio's driver assist features prove useful, but the infotainment system's lack of connected features is a disappointment. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay will ameliorate that somewhat when they become available. The Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 are the ones to beat in this regard, but the Stelvio comes in far behind.

If the Stelvio's price was as premium as that of a Zegna suit, it would be troubling, but Alfa Romeo showed plenty of sense here, making the base price $41,995 for the Stelvio. That's very competitive with other small, premium SUVs.

In coming up with the perfect Stelvio build, I need that matte wood trim to accent the interior, so right away I'm looking at the Stelvio Ti, basing at $43,995. I'm not going to bother with the Sport trim, as this small SUV serves much better as a comfortable cruiser. The 280 horsepower turbocharged engine, eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel-drive are common across the base, Ti and Sport Stelvio trim lines, so nothing to worry about there.

I'll take the base Rosso paint job for traditional Alfa Romeo style at no cost, but throw in $500 for the 19-inch five hole aluminum wheels. For electronics, I'll add the $900 Harman Kardon audio system, and drop $2,150 for its driver assist features. The 8.8-inch infotainment system comes standard on the Stelvio Ti, but I'll leave off the navigation software, which runs an extra $950, and wait for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration. That puts me at a total of $48,540, with a destination of $995, for this comfortable and stylish Italian SUV.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Features 7Design 8.5Media 7