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Can Turin’s facelifted family SUV close the gap on its premium rivals?

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History doesn’t need another reminder of the dashed revival hopes of Alfa Romeo – and yet, in the recently revised Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV, perhaps we should cherish this one while we still can.

In the middle of the last decade, when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was plotting the return of its premium automotive brand to a long-estranged North American market, billions of euros were spent on this car’s Giorgio platform, and bold plans drawn up for a line-up of models that were to be worth 150,000 sales annually in the US alone.

Bi-xenon headlights look sharp, which perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise given that they take the shape of a boning knife

The Stelvio mid-sized SUV, launched as it was at the Los Angeles motor show in 2016, was supposed to be right at the heart of that plan – until it wasn’t. The firm’s ambitious growth strategy was scaled back, and while the car subsequently found plenty of homes among European buyers, it failed to take off across the pond. 

Now, under the auspices of Stellantis, the death warrant for the car’s expensive model architecture has been signed, as development work continues into a replacement better suited to electrification. And so, as its new smaller Tonale sibling takes up the sales reins for Turin, six years young and with plenty still to give, the Stelvio could yet become another one-generation-only Alfa. 

With its longer-term future unclear, however, it’s to the mid-life facelifted version we now turn. Will a new look, some fresh interior features, a ‘rationalised’ range of engines and trims, and a beefed-up standard equipment level ensure the continued commercial success needed for there to be a Stelvio Mk2?

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Range at a glance

There are three engines and four trim levels, the Stelvio’s less powerful four-cylinder motors having been dropped.

The Lusso Ti, Super and Speciale trims have been deleted too, for a simplified showroom line-up that starts with Sprint (19in alloys, powered tailgate, adaptive cruise), moves up through Veloce (20in wheels, limited-slip diff, wireless device charging) and Competizione (21in wheels, premium audio, SDC adaptive dampers), and tops out with the Quadrifoglio model

MODELSPOWERFROM
2.2D 210 Sprint AWD207bhp£47,335
2.0T 280 Sprint AWD276bhp£49,740
2.9T V6 Quadrifoglio AWD503bhp£79,859

TRANSMISSIONS

8-speed automatic

DESIGN & STYLING

alfa romeo stelvio veloce review 2023 06 wheel

Along with the related Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon, the Stelvio made quite the design statement when it appeared six years ago.

While other premium brands chased more aggressive, fussy or technical designs, the Stelvio showed that Alfa Romeo cared more for classic good looks and demonstrated that they could be executed on a higher-rising SUV canvas. Even after a few exterior revisions aimed at drawing parallels with the Alfa Romeo Tonale, it still does.

The by-wire braking system compensates for fade, which seems a bit misguided. You may never push the brakes that hard but, if you do, you’d be glad to know how they’re bearing up

The firm has trodden lightly with its redesign, tweaking the outline and finish of the car’s Trilobe frontal air intakes, while also fitting new matrix LED headlights. The wheel designs are carried over, ranging from 19in to 21in in diameter and offering both painted and regular alloy finishes. They now come fitted with run-flat tyres as standard in all cases but that of the range-topping Quadrifoglio version.

The car’s Giorgio platform may not allow the kind of electrification that other premium brands have adopted for their mid-sized SUVs, but that does at least keep the Stelvio’s weight down. Turin quotes a lightest possible weight for the car, depending on trim level, of 1660kg. Our 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol Veloce test car weighed 1784kg in running order and with a half-tank of fuel. In an era when SUVs of this size routinely run beyond two tonnes as plug-in hybrids or EVs, it’s at least a little encouraging for what might be to come.

Where once there were as many as three petrol plus two more diesel engine options to consider for the Stelvio, there are now only three in total: a 207bhp 2.1-litre turbo diesel, the range-topping Quadrifoglio’s turbocharged V6 and the 276bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol we opted to test.

All come with eight-speed automatic gearboxes and Q4-branded, clutch-based four-wheel drive systems. The latter apportions torque to the rear axle primarily, and then to the front partly at up to a 50:50 split when slip is detected, or according to the selected DNA drive mode (Dynamic, Natural or Advanced Efficiency). A Veloce like our test car gets a limited-slip differential on the rear axle, too.

The all-independent suspension is made up of double wishbones at the front axle and a patented Alfalink four-and-a-half-link axle design at the rear. Steel coil springs suspend the car’s bulk in all cases, with conventional front-axle steering and passive anti-roll bars fitted. Special series Competizione cars add adaptive dampers, which can’t be optioned up any other way – so our test car missed out on them.

INTERIOR

alfa romeo stelvio veloce review 2023 16 front seats

The double-cowled instrument binnacle, smallish steering wheel and intuitively placed transmission controls characterise a driving environment of a certain likeable simplicity, and where there is little to distract you from what you are primarily there to do.

Versatility is what should continue to sell the car to Alfa regulars. The three-seater rear bench needs a little less climbing up into than in some mid-sized SUVs, but once inside you will find adult-appropriate accommodation that bears comparison to cars like the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, and plenty more than any equivalent mid-sized saloon affords. 

Shortage of telescopic steering column adjustment seems a bigger problem than on the Giulia. Most testers cited it as a bugbear here

Rear boot space is up to a metre in length with the seats up and just over 500mm deep under the tonneau cover (figures to beat a like-for-like X3, according to our tape).

Up front, a new digital instrument pack is the biggest departure. At 12.3in in size, it is only about as large as rivals offer, and its display modes, though typically stylised as you would expect from Alfa, aren’t particularly innovative. More user configurability would have been welcome.

Little effort has been made to lift the Stelvio’s material quality, which remains underwhelming by premium segment standards. While more expensive versions of the car get a leather-upholstered fascia, they would need it to level with the likes of Audi and BMW for richness of feel. In our test car, although there were some more expensive-feeling highlights, coarser plastics and cheaper finishes weren’t hard to find around the steering column and door consoles, while the leathers of the car’s sports seats were a little hard and plain. 

From a functional point of view, however, there’s much to like about the Stelvio’s controls and layout. The cabin is roomy, and from the lowish-couched driving position to the oversized aluminium shift paddles, easy-to-use physical temperature controls and clever angled wireless charging drawer for your smartphone, there’s plenty of good sense about it.

Alfa romeo stelvio veloce review 2023 20 infotainment 0

Multimedia system

The facelifted Stelvio comes with connected digital services, among which is a remote vehicle status app downloadable to your smartphone. The car’s TomTom navigation system can also now be sent destinations and pre-programmed journeys from your smartphone.

The infotainment system has a user-configurable home screen for easy top-level access to the menus you use most often. It is decently intuitive and responsive, getting more complex as you delve into the menus. 

The screen itself remains a little dim on brighter days. The navigation system works well enough. It is  easy to program and follow, with good, dependable live traffic information. There are, however, some slightly strange routing preferences and mapping that lacks the detail and easy configurability of other premium-brand factory systems.

 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

alfa romeo stelvio veloce review 2023 12 engine

The 2.0-litre turbo four hasn’t had any significant enhancements – nor, we note, does it feature the same performance-boosting mild-hybrid tech that Maserati has adopted for the related Grecale.

The 276bhp it makes is unlikely to pique the interest of too many SUV regulars with established sporting appetites. Even so, the performance it churns out is pretty strong, and the various distant whistles, whooshes and growls it produces will be moderately appealing to Alfa customers who like a bit of esoteric combustive character about their mid-sized SUV.

The Stelvio’s lateral grip isn’t huge and patience is key to make the apices of tighter corners

Only a couple of months ago, we tested an interesting foil for the car, the Lexus RX 500h. While slightly larger and heavier than the Stelvio, and more expensive, the performance hybrid SUV advertises 366bhp for its powertrain – and yet the Alfa, operating at a 90bhp deficit, was almost half a second quicker from rest to 60mph, and nearly a second quicker to 100mph.

On a dry day at the test track, the four-wheel drive system found all the traction it needed during standing starts. There’s a slightly slushy, elastic feel about the eight-speed ZF gearbox as it works its way a little hesitantly through the first two ratios, but a more positive feel to the way it locks into train from third gear onwards, when automatic upshifts come quickly and smoothly – and paddle-shift-selected manual ones smartly when you ask for them.

The engine’s healthy swell of mid-range torque allows it to pull higher gears easily, and to respond to bigger part-throttle demands without the gearbox jumping around between ratios. Let it shift up on a long cruise and, while refinement is decent, you’re not exactly treated to great fuel efficiency (see ‘Buying and Owning’), but even so, fairly relaxed touring is easy to achieve.

When you are in the mood for something less relaxed, the engine has a reasonable appetite for revs, has good responsiveness and makes the Stelvio keen enough to put on speed, although none of our testers considered it as appealing subjectively as one of Alfa’s famous V6s, which is what traditionalists might miss.

The brake pedal, delivered by Alfa’s electromechanically assisted integrated brake booster, is mostly intuitive, although the software does seem to learn and pre-empt the pedal pressure you typically use, and adapt to it. When you change your input style, whatever the reason, it can feel a little abrupt. The pedal is lightly weighted, but had plenty of outright stopping power during our track tests.

RIDE & HANDLING

The Stelvio takes a pretty direct route to achieving its dynamic aims. It’s a firmer-riding prospect than most mid-sized SUVs, and there’s an energy, tautness and responsiveness about its handling that makes it that shade more zesty and engaging to drive than you expect a car like this to be.

The chassis relies on some quite uncompromising rear-axle tuning to generate that dose of keenness, and to give those fast-steered front wheels something meaningful to push against. That tuning imposes a few costs where ride comfort is concerned, to which we will come.

Stelvio’s stability control in Dynamic mode and the 4WD system let the car slide around the quicker bends

But, while it also ensures good lateral body control when cornering and consistent cornering stability, the car’s limit handling does fade into benign understeer at the edge of adhesion – and perhaps doesn’t feel as playfully balanced and rear-driven under power as the promotional literature would have you believe. 

The Stelvio’s steady-state handling balance is good while its moderate grip level lasts, but an always-on electronic stability control system, and a chassis that always tends to let go first up front, puts a cap on how flamboyant the fun can be. For an SUV, there is a moderate amount of handling entertainment here, but in our experience a rear-driven Giulia delivers a good dose more again.

The Stelvio’s steering has that fast, light, assistance-heavy feel that Alfa Romeo has embraced in recent years, which is a bit of an acquired taste. In Dynamic driving mode, it weights up a little. But even though the configurability of rival premium SUVs with their air springs, adaptive dampers and active four-wheel steering systems isn’t really approached here, you wouldn’t say that makes the Stelvio any less enjoyable to drive at a full head of steam.

Alfa romeo stelvio veloce review 2023 02 panning side 0

Comfort & Isolation

The Stelvio’s firm rear axle brings with it a slightly fussy back-road ride of the sort that many might buy a comfort-oriented SUV expressly to avoid, as well as some suspension noise on coarser surfaces. 

This is clearly not a family car that is out to set class benchmarks for refinement and comfort, though it’s a long way from being conspicuously rough-riding or unrefined. But what it lacks is that dynamic versatility that some premium car buyers may expect. 

Part of the problem is the decision to hold back those adaptive dampers for the top-level Competizione version of the car. There isn’t an excess of head toss or excitability about the primary ride, and there’s no shortness of composure about it either. But the ability to soften the edge of the suspension over the worst roads would do a lot to make it feel more comfortable.

The driving seat has decent lateral bolstering and an extendable cushion but no base angle inclination adjustment, which one or two testers missed. It is easy to slide in and out of, if a little short of perfectly enveloping.

For cabin isolation, in addition to the road noise we have already mentioned, the car’s big door mirrors create some noticeable wind noise on the motorway, which we measured at 68dBA at 70mph. Comparable premium SUVs have proven to be up to 3dBA quieter.

 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

alfa romeo stelvio veloce review 2023 01 tracking front

Cars like the Stelvio typically get cheaper as they progress through middle age – and, if you correct for inflation, that is just what’s happening. When Alfa introduced the Veloce model in 2020, it came with a price of just below £49,000, which, by the Bank of England’s inflation-adjusting online calculator, ought to have made it £58,000 today.

So the £54,240 asking price of our test car may actually be considered better value, in 2023, than the Stelvio was previously – and better still when you consider its boosted equipment level (the headlight upgrade, digital instrument pack, limited-slip diff as standard, and the enhanced active safety systems). An entry-level Sprint can be had for just under £50,000. It gets only part-leather upholstery and 19in alloy wheels, and does without some of the Veloce’s sportier exterior styling touches, but the infotainment specification is the same.

Expect the Stelvio to take a bit of a hit in terms of depreciation compared with its German rivals

Alfa will hope to boost residual values by recording the service history of every Stelvio as part of a digital ‘non-fungible token’ certificate, which can be checked by would-be used buyers but altered only by franchised dealers (an initiative it started with the Tonale). The car certainly has ground to make up on its German rivals on RVs, as CAP’s forecasts make clear.

Our car recorded an average test economy of just 28.9mpg, hitting 32.2mpg at a moderate motorway cruise. Neither result is terrible – but it’s unlikely to be a preferred choice of anyone looking to cut their fuel bills.

VERDICT

alfa romeo stelvio veloce review 2023 29 static front

When Alfa Romeo launched both the Giulia and Stelvio in the middle of the last decade, the firm admitted that it had plenty of headway to make on the finer detail of the modern luxury car-making business, gambling on the willingness of its customers to come along for the ride.

Six years into the Stelvio’s life, it’s still gambling. This facelifted SUV has no more of the consistent material quality of a BMW X3 now than it had in 2017, and still little of the digital sophistication, refinement or efficiency of that car, or of others. 

Spry-handling SUV is likeable, if short of the class’s usual refinements

It matches its opponents for cabin and carrying space, however; it beats them for outright performance and handling dynamism; and it offers up its talents in a package that looks good, and at a showroom price that follows suit.

There’s a directness and simplicity about that positioning that is easy to like, and it’s mirrored in the character of a car that may not be quite as polished, versatile, comfortable or expensively finished as opponents, but that does lift itself above them out on the road, when you are in the mood to tease out a little of its Latin temperament.

 

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio First drives