For over 100 years, Alfa Romeo has built some of the most beautiful, well-proportioned, and best-driving cars in the world. Its classic models are prized by both high-end collectors and weekend drivers around the world, and its current models are lusted after by American gearheads who can’t buy them — yet. But Alfa is looking to break big in the U.S., and as revered as the brand is, it just can’t do that with the support a bunch of oily-handed car nuts with a soft spot for Italian cars (we count ourselves among them).
Alfa needs to win over middle class buyers — the ones who buy BMWs, Audis, Cadillacs, and Mercedes for their prestige and park them at country clubs, Whole Foods, and office parks across the country. Those people are buying SUVs in droves, so it makes sense to go that route. But it also needs to field a “true Alfa,” or it risks crippling its brand just as it reenters the American market. So with the stakes this high, Alfa Romeo pulled the wraps off of its first modern SUV at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It’s called the Stelvio, and it looks good.
It’s nice to see an unapologetically Italian nameplate back in the American marketplace. Not to be confused with the artificial sweetener, the Stelvio is named after a hair-raising mountain pass that runs through Northern Italy — a good sign that Alfa’s tall compact is a handler too. And it better be: It’s about to dive into a cutthroat segment with the Mercedes GLC (Motor Trend’s 2017 SUV of the Year), Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Macan, and BMW X3, among others.
The Stelvio will be available in three trims: A base, the Ti, and the high-performance. In the latter’s guise (seen here), power comes from a 505 horsepower 2.9 liter turbocharged V6, the same engine in the Giulia Quadrifoglio. Base and Ti will be powered by a 280 horse 2.0 turbo four. Both power plants will be mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and move all four wheels. Alfa promises that the engines “… will, of course, deliver that distinctive Alfa Romeo engine note to complement the performance.”
Outside, the Stelvio looks throughly like an Alfa Romeo, and likely will even if you opt for the 12 colors other than red. At the very least, you won’t be confusing it with an X3 anytime soon. The SUV’s sculpted lines and architecture is heavily aluminum to keep things light and to help with weight distribution and handling. Inside, Alfa has kept with its traditional white on black analog gauges up front, but they’re augmented by a seven inch TFT screen, and 8.8 inch touchscreen in Ti and Quadrifoglio (a 6.5 inch screen is standard on the base model). A flat-bottom steering wheel, leather seats, and big red push button start are in all trims, and reinforce Alfa’s performance roots.
After years of waiting, Alfa Romeo is finally ready to jump back into the American market. We’ve had the pure driving joy of the 4C since late 2014, and we’ve been waiting for the Giulia for over a year, but the Stelvio could be the one to finally take the company from the darling of the enthusiast set to everybody’s favorite Italian automaker.