Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 23, 2020
When we first drove the Stelvio back in 2018, we came out with lukewarm feelings. Alfa’s vanguard into the realm of profitable SUVs was beautiful in design, but the diminutive four-cylinder engine lacked character, the interior wasn’t bedazzling, and we cast it into the shadow of more luxurious and upscale SUVs like the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC. That is, until we drove the Quadrifoglio. That four-leaf clover did wonders, as did the uprated chassis and exhilarating 2.9-litre V6 sourced from Ferrari’s building blocks, instilling much-needed emotion into the pride and joy that comes with owning an Alfa Romeo. It was then that we fell in love.
Now that we’re back in a four-cylinder Stelvio Ti, our viewpoint has somewhat changed. We’re familiar with its underpinnings, and are now aware of its true potential in Quadrifoglio trim. We’re just curious if we can find the same kind of emotional appeal at a lower and more cost-effective level. It’s a good thing then that Alfa has upgraded the Stelvio for 2020, with the majority of revisions pertaining to interior ergonomics and connectivity, remedying many of our previous concerns.
A 8.8-inch touchscreen is now standard fare across the board with updated graphics and a new UI system. The outgoing unit was fussy, utilizing a convoluted menu system that required deep diving just to get to high-traffic features. It’s still a little slow to respond to inputs and rough around the edges scrolling around too quickly, but it’s more intuitive this time around, streamlining button prompts and lowering the overall learning curve.
The 7-inch instrument cluster gets new graphics, and the steering wheel comes with a thicker bottom spoke design. The wheel’s leather wrap feels noticeably thicker and better finished, and the aluminum paddle shifters are always an upscale showpiece. We can never fault a wheel with a Ferrari-esque start button neatly embedded into it either. Ditto with the analog gauges, where other automakers are eagerly transitioning to digital interfaces. The center console has also been revamped, with a repositioned electronic handbrake pull, and a new leather-wrapped gear shifter that no longer wiggles about like it’s been held on by a toothpick. Though, it looks to be a carbon copy of Infiniti’s gear shifter in the Q60.
We picked on the Stelvio’s plasticky and dull material choice before, but some of the new model’s surfaces and materials feel much more substantial and durable, elevating its premium vibe. We highly recommend the optional leather dashboard and upper door panel ($1,300). There are still some cheaply-finished switchgear lying around that don’t feel solidly glued down to place, like the volume and drive mode dials, but it’s not a deal breaker. The new wireless phone charging pad is a welcome addition. The headrest is also softer and plusher than before - we complained of prior models feeling like you’re resting your head on a pile of rocks. Alfa further expanded their suite of driver assistance features such as the highway assist, traffic jam assist, lane keep assist, active blind spot assist, and forward collision warning, all providing further standards of safety. Overall, it’s a somewhat meaningful update that gives the Stelvio a fighting chance against its more established rivals.
There are still some minor annoyances though, like the overly loud HVAC fans on any setting over medium, and the new door lock acoustic beeps are way too loud and sonically piercing. Locking the Stelvio has it blaringly beep twice for some reason, and there’s no way to adjust this in the menu screen. It bugs me every time I get in and out of the car. We also discovered some oddities with the infotainment system, like how adjusting the volume freezes and disables all other infotainment controls for a full three seconds - there’s no way of avoiding this.
At least the Stelvio looks the part of a sporty SUV. Alfa have introduced a new appearance package called Nero Edizione ($850), as shown in the photographs of our test vehicle. It’s available on every Stelvio model, including the Quadrifoglio. Think of it like a ‘Black Package’, with a black front grill surround, mirror caps, brake calipers, exhaust tips, rear fascia, roof rails, window surrounds, black 20-inch wheels, and monochromatic wheel center caps instead of the traditional red and green logo. Looks great when combined with the Vulcano Black paint.
While we clearly prefer the creatine-snorting V6 from the Quadrifoglio, not all of us have $100,000 to splurge on a compact SUV. Those looking for any other Stelvio are stuck with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 280 hp and 306 lb-ft through an 8-speed transmission and Q4 all-wheel drive. There’s enough low-end thrust to get this sizable five-seater going in a hurry, and it will sprint from 0-100 km/h in just under six seconds, but the powerband lacks the depth and breadth to really make this an exciting drive. The X3’s 30i engine feels more substantial in the bottom end, grunting with character and a steamroll of constant torque. At least the Stelvio’s exhaust sounds decent - grainy, coarse, and somewhat more distinctive than all the other anodyne four-cylinder mills on the market, but from the outside the noise can come across as unrefined, grinding like a diesel.
Even with its high center of gravity, I found a great deal of agility and willingness to turn, definitely more so than the rivaling Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 and Volvo XC60. Body roll is kept to a bare minimum and the Stelvio rides quite well, remaining composed over pockmarked roads even while wearing its 20-inch Continental CrossContact LX shoes. While not very prevalent at low speeds, we did notice that the steering became very sensitive at higher speeds, where any micro-correction suddenly flings the nose in the corresponding direction. There seems to be absolutely no slack or dead zones. On the highway, you tend to want slightly lazier steering, something muted and less reactive with more dead zone so that any minor rotation doesn’t trigger a front-heavy dash into the neighbouring lane. While the Stelvio’s eager nature pays dividends in its tight handling, it made it incredibly difficult to keep the front wheels from zig zagging left and right on a long, straight highway commute. Furthermore, while brake pedal feedback has drastically improved and feels less artificial than the outgoing model, we found the pedal travel to be too long, and lacking bite in the initial push. That made it difficult to build up confidence for decisive braking maneuvers.
Named after the 19-kilometre mountain pass that bends over 48 times through the highest reaches of the Italian Alps, the Stelvio impresses us with agility and attitude, but the four-cylinder powertrain still lacks that X-factor fizz. Style, charm, and emotion still run strong with Alfa’s only SUV, and interior ergonomics and material choice are much improved this time around, but shoppers would be smart to consider the BMW X3 xDrive30i and Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 as first-rate alternatives. But if you insist on owning something different, one that won’t blend into the concrete jungle, then the Stelvio does the job better than the rest. Just try your best to get the one with the four-leaf clover.
Model: 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Nero Edizione
Paint Type: Vulcano Black
Base Price: $56,545
Price as Tested: $68,540
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,688 / 1,903 / 1,677
Curb weight (kg): 1,834
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 280 hp @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 306 lb-ft @ 2,000 - 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.2
Tires: Continental CrossContact LX Sport; 20-inch