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Video review: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio TI Lusso AWD

by Drew Johnson

Alfa\'s first SUV is far from perfect.

After first introducing its Giulia sedan to the U.S. market, Alfa Romeo is now rolling out its second model - the Stelvio crossover. And Alfa's timing couldn't be better.

Utility vehicles are hot right not, with most outselling their sedan counterparts. However, that hasn't quite been the case for the Stelvio, with the Giulia still posting better monthly sales figures than its SUV sibling. So what gives? What's holding the Stelvio back? Come with us as we take a closer look.

What is it?
The Stelvio is essentially a high-riding version of the Giulia sedan with all-wheel drive and a hatchback. All the Stelvio's vital components are virtually identical to the Giulia's, from its 280 horsepower 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine to its interior layout. Even the exterior styling is very similar between the two, with both sharing the same general headlight design, curvy body panels and thin rear taillights.

The Stelvio can be had in a few different trim levels, from base to TI through the top-spec Quadrifoglio. You can also pick between Sport and luxury-oriented Lusso trim lines, the latter being the model you see here.

What's it up against?
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio joins a crowded segment the already includes heavy-weights like the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Porsche Macan. Vehicles like the Land Rover Range Rover Velar, Jaguar F-Pace and Volvo XC60 could also tempt buyers shopping the Stelvio's segment.

How does it look?
Very pretty, actually. The Stelvio's design cues are well balanced, with aggressive-looking headlights giving way to soft, flowing curves. As with the Giulia, Alfa designers did a nice job of incorporating the company's signature grille on the Stelvio, which is no easy task given its triangular shape.

In profile the Stelvio is more high-riding wagon than full-on SUV, which gives it a more sporting look. The Stelvio's greenhouse is taller than the one you'll find on the Giulia, with that high roof line eventually giving way to a sharply raked rear hatch. The biggest giveaway that the Stelvio is an SUV and not a wagon is the massive gaps (compared to the Giulia) between its wheels and body.

The rear of the Stelvio is nicely finished with LED taillights, a subtle ducktail and chrome finishers for the dual exhaust outlets.

And on the inside?
As mentioned earlier, the Stelvio's interior is a near carbon copy of the Giulia sedan's. That means modern styling with nice details like matte wood accents and supple leather seats. But the Stelvio's interior doesn't hold up as well under closer scrutiny. Controls in the center console are cheap feeling and out of character for a vehicle approaching $60,000. But those down-market materials aren't the Stelvio's biggest problem.

That distinction belongs to the Stelvio's infotainment system, which is nothing short of infuriating. Menus are illogically arranged, making simple tasks like tuning to your favorite radio station a multi-step process. Even inputting an address into the Stelvio's navigation is a chore because you have to peck out your destination one character at a time with the central wheel control. And the voice control function isn't much help — it struggled to understand anything we asked of it. And, as was the case with the Giulia Quadrofoglio we drove a few weeks ago, the Stelvio's rearview camera feed is only displayed on a tiny portion of the widescreen in the dash.

Unfortunately there's no workaround to the Stelvio's awful infotainment because the SUV doesn't support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. We hope that compatibility is coming soon.

On a positive note, the Stelvio's seats are comfortable and the rear bench offered more space that we were expecting. The Stelvio also has a generous cargo area, offering as much space as some of its larger rivals.

But does it go?
We were hoping the Stelvio's driving experience would be its saving grace, but it just wasn't. Alfa really needs to go back to the drawing board with its brake-by-wire system. The Stelvio's brake pedal feel is beyond vague and its braking action isn't linear — there's a good inch or so of pedal travel where nothing happens and then the brakes suddenly bite. It's just impossible to brake the Stelvio smoothly.

The Stelvio's gas pedal is also wonky to use, which is not something we come across often. It has a spring-loaded feeling, like it's always pushing back against your foot. As a result, it can be difficult to judge just how hard you should be pushing the gas pedal to merge into traffic. As a result of those factors, the Stelvio isn't very nice to drive in stop-and-go traffic.

The Stelvio's turbocharged engine offers good punch in the mid to upper rev range, but lacks grunt down low. If you're accelerating from a stop you get nothing, then a rush of power. Most automakers have figured out to manage turbo lag by now, but apparently Alfa Romeo has not.

Steering in the Stelvio is extremely quick and responsive like you'd expect from an Alfa, but it's just too twitchy for a mid-size luxury SUV. Every little input results in the front end darting in that direction. The Stelvio just feels nervous all the time. The Stelvio is supposed to be a luxury vehicle, but it's anything but relaxing to drive, even in its most sedate settings.

But Alfa did get one thing right with the Stelvio. It's suspension is well tuned, delivering a smooth and comfortable ride while still feeling sporty. The Stelvio is just as happy absorbing potholes as it is taking corners at speed.

On a side note, it's a little head scratching that Alfa doesn't offer some mid-level engine in the Stelvio. Almost all of the Stelvio's main rivals offer a six-cylinder engine with at least 355 horsepower. In the Stelvio, you're stuck with the four-cylinder unless you make the leap to the $80,000 Quadrifoglio model. And that's a pretty big ask considering the base Stelvio starts at $42,000.

Leftlane's bottom line
The Stelvio is Alfa Romeo's first attempt at an SUV, and it shows. Simply put, it's too much Alfa and not enough SUV.

The Selvio's drive controls are far too sports car like, making it anything but relaxing to drive. The Stelvio's quick steering makes sense in the Quadrifoglio model, sure, but not in the Lusso luxury model.

And then there's that inept infotainment system, which would be enough on its own to have us looking elsewhere in the segment. FCA, Alfa Romeo's parent company, has an excellent infotainment system in Uconnect and even offers several vehicle with Apple CarPlay. It's just baffling that they didn't put either in the Stelvio. Hopefully they address this glaring Stelvio shortcoming, and soon.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio TI Lusso AWD base price, $43,995. As tested, $56,090.
Trofeo White Tri-Coat Exterior Paint, $2,200; TI Lusso AWD package, $2,500; Convenience package, $200; Driver assistance package, $$650; Driver assistance dynamic plus package, $1,500; Dual-pane sunroof, $1,350; 8.8-inch radio with navigation, $950; Harman Kardon premium audio, $900; 19-inch wheels, $500; Painted calipers, $350; Destination, $995.

Photos by Drew Johnson.