by Frank A. Aukofer

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reinforces its incursion into the luxury/performance class with the all-new 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

It is part of a determined push to rebuild the storied Italian brand. It started with the 4C coupe and roadster, continued with the Giulia compact sedan and now takes on high-end crossover SUVs: Porsche Macan, BMW X3, Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace, Lexus NX, and Mercedes-Benz GLC.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Sport

The Stelvio, named for the highest mountain pass in the Italian Alps where 12 highway miles encompass 48 hairpin turns, is a crossover version of the Giulia. They share the same wheelbase—the distance between the front and rear axles—though the Stelvio is two inches longer at 15 feet 5 inches.

Like its sibling, the Stelvio is a stellar performer with quick throttle response, rapid acceleration, precise steering and accurate handling. For now, it comes in two versions, both with a 280-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that delivers 306 lb-ft of torque, enough to accelerate to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds with a top speed of 144 mph, according to Alfa Romeo’s specifications.

The company markets the Stelvio as a midsize crossover but its size belies that. It fits into the EPA’s “small” classification, which includes small and medium-sized SUVs like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Kia Sportage

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport

Moreover, its 89 cubic feet of passenger volume actually is less than the Giulia’s 94 cubic feet, though the Stelvio has a larger cargo area of 39 cubic feet compared to the Giulia’s trunk of 13 cubic feet.

There’s plenty of space up front and, on the tested Ti Sport model, beautifully bolstered leather sport seats. But the back seat passengers do not fare as well. In the outboard seats, head and knee room are tight and the seatbacks do not recline. The center-rear position is cramped and nearly unusable.

But the Stelvio is biased toward sport. It has a 50/50 front and rear weight distribution, and the standard all-wheel-drive system can automatically shift 100% of the power to the rear wheels for optimum performance. In nasty weather conditions, the system can send 60% of the power to the front wheels.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport

Road clearance is 8.1 inches, which provides some confidence in the unlikely event an owner ventures off-road. But the Stelvio has no other boondocks assists. It is first and foremost a roadie, competing in what currently is the hottest segment of the market from popular-priced to big-bucks luxury.

It offers three driving modes, controlled by a knob on the center console: Dynamic; natural; and advanced efficiency. The last enhances fuel economy by, among other things, shifting the 8-speed automatic transmission at lower engine revolutions.

The natural setting is slightly more aggressive. But the dynamic setting is the choice for maximum performance, including shifts at higher revs, quicker response to throttle inputs, tighter steering, enhanced braking and driver-oriented stability control.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport

Both the base Stelvio and the upscale Ti can be ordered as Sport versions, the main difference being large aluminum paddles mounted on the steering column to manually shift the automatic transmission. Though every Stelvio can be manually shifted, only the Sport versions get the paddles.

None of this, as might be expected, comes cheap. The base Stelvio has a starting price of $42,990, which includes leather upholstery, power seats for the driver and front passenger, automatic climate control, remote locking and a power lift gate. Add $1,800 for the Sport version and you get the paddle shifters. There’s also a luxury-oriented Ti Lusso.

The tested Ti Sport model started at $47,490. With options that included adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, autonomous emergency braking with forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, blind-spot detection, automatic-high headlight beams, auto-dimming mirrors and an infrared-heated windshield, the tester’s bottom line came to $55,240.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport

Other than the usual question mark about Italian build quality and whether the Stelvio will deliver a confident owner experience, there are a few quibbles with the opening act: The tight back seat with no reclining seatbacks, a cheesecloth-like sunroof shade and a fussy navigation system whose traveling instructions underway block the trip odometer.

Enthusiasts with plenty of bucks await next year’s debut of the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, analogous to the sedan of the same name, which sports a V6 engine with 505 hp and 443 lb-ft of torque. That Stelvio should hit the showrooms with a price above $80,000.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport

Specifications

  • Model: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 280 hp, 306 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 5 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume:
  • Weight: 4,004 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 22/28/24 mpg. Premium fuel required.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $47,490.
  • Price as tested: $55,240.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Lusso

Photos (c) Alfa Romeo.