Cars | Perspective
August 4, 2017 at 12:10 PM
It is a head-turner, one of the most distinctively designed SUVs entering the 2018 automotive market, largely because of its prominent triangular grille.
But the competition is better in ways that count, and the competitors are many and constantly improving.
In addition to the crowded market, prices are high for high-class SUVs, running $40,000 and much more. That means the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Lusso, driven for this week's column, might find it difficult to compete.
That is too bad, because there are many likable things about the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. But there also are many self-inflicted wounds, eerily reminiscent of a former communications director of a certain presidential administration.
The Stelvio's problems:
●It has good exterior looks but traffics in cheap parts — plastic roof handles with sharp edges that can cut unwary hands; center console pieces with beautiful exteriors on one side and unfinished, sharp plastic edges on the other; poorly fitting sun visors that let in as many solar rays as they keep out.
Like cheap language, cheap parts have a way of ruining things. In fairness to Alfa Romeo, a division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, I suspect the parts problem was because the company rushed the Stelvio model sent to me — a preproduction happenstance. Here's hoping these silly errors will be absent from full-production models, a few of which are on sale in the Washington area.
●Stelvio pricing is a tad off the mark for high-end SUVs. Equipped with advanced electronic safety features, a premium sound system and a panoramic glass roof, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio (with Ti Lusso trim) had a final price of $54,490. It will have a rough time going against models such as the well-equipped BMW X3 ($42,050), Jaguar F-Pace ($44,775), Audi Q5 ($41,500) and an array of other competitors from the United States, Japan and South Korea.
Options, of course, can lessen the price competitiveness of the other high-end models — but so what?
The South Koreans, especially, are using technological advances to increase their equipment offerings and reduce the prices of their vehicles. They are rendering the notion of "prestige" irrelevant, which is not a good thing for any of the purveyors of high-end models.
Still, if you enjoy being the center of attention, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio is the way to go. Currently, two Stelvio trim levels are for sale — the base Stelvio and the very well-equipped Ti Lusso. The vehicle is named after the twisty Stelvio mountain pass in northern Italy. Outfitted in Ti Lusso trim, which includes all-wheel drive and Brembo brakes, I have no doubt it easily and safely could make that trip.
The engine is enough — a turbocharged 2.0-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder model (280 horsepower, 306 pound-feet of torque). Handling is excellent. But Alfa Romeo might have entered the market a bit too late and unfinished with this one. We'll see.
Nuts & Bolts
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Bottom line: The Stelvio is a new high-end SUV entry surrounded by worthy competitors. Comparison shop.
Ride, acceleration and handling: It gets good marks in all areas — but not best in class. You must drive the BMW X3 or the Audi Q5.
Head-turning quotient: It is stunning to many and awful to others. You will be noticed.
Engine/transmission: It comes with a turbocharged (forced air) 2.0-liter, direct-injection 16-valve gasoline engine with variable-valve timing. The engine is linked to an eight-speed automatic transmission that also can be operated manually.
Mileage: Not impressive. I averaged 23 miles per gallon on the highway. Premium grade gasoline is required.
Safety: Standard equipment includes Brembo ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes; four-wheel antilock braking; emergency braking assistance; stability and traction control; xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps; side and head air bags.
Pricing: The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio, now on sale, starts at $46,495. Price as tested, with Ti Lusso trim, it is $54,490. That includes a $995 factory-to-dealer shipment fee. With all of the close competition, you can bargain.