SUVs have come to dominate American roadways – and they’re gaining traction pretty much everywhere else in the automotive world. That’s a problem for brands like Alfa Romeo that have traditionally focused on exotic sedans, coupes and sports cars.
So, it’s no surprise that a year after unveiling the Giulia sedan at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the Italian marque is back in Tinseltown, this time pulling the covers off its first-ever utility vehicle. And confirming months of rumors, the new model will be called the Alfa Romeo Stelvio.
For those in the know, that’s the name of a legendary pass through the Italian Alps, a route that can test the mettle of even the most well-tuned sports car. It suggests that the Alfa Stelvio isn’t meant to just plod along the highway but deliver the sort of thrill-ride you’d expect from one of its more conventional models.
“Stelvio is uniquely engineered to challenge two-door sports cars on the track, without sacrificing any of the characteristics you would expect from a premium SUV, resulting in the perfect mix of high performance, capability and Italian design,” said Reid Bigland, the head of Alfa Romeo.
That should also be no surprise since the Stelvio starts out with the same, basic underpinnings as the Alfa Romeo Giulia just now beginning to roll off the transport ships from Italy. In fact, Bigland told reporters at the L.A. debut that “We expect the St Livonia Quadrifoglio will be the fastest SUV in the world.” Also not surprising given it boasts a Ferrari-derived powerplant under the hood.
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Slightly rounder than some early prototypes, Stelvio’s nose borrows from its sedan sibling, the Giulia, with two oval-shaped inlets on the side as well as Alfa’s well-known rounded-triangle grille. The headlights also borrow from the Giulia: they’re essentially slits. The influence of the Giulia can also be seen in back. While there’s a large hatchback, the sedan’s twin tailpipes emerge from under the back bumper.
There will be several different versions of the Alfa SUV, starting with a base Stelvio, an upgraded Stelvio Ti, and the range-topping Stevlio Quadrifoglio.
Moving up that ladder, the base and mid-range models share a turbocharged 2.0-liter direct-injection four making a strong 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque. They’re capable of topping out at 144 mph.
With its four-leaf clover – or quadrifoglio – badge, the halo car in the line-up gets a major power upgrade. Its all-aluminum 2.9-liter bi-turbo V-6 will punch out a neck-snapping 505 hp, a figure Alfa points to as best-in-class. Torque comes in at 443 lb-ft. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio will get you to 60 in 3.9 seconds, according to the factory, and nip 177 mph at the top end.
All Alfa Romeo Stelvio models, including the Quadrifoglio, come with standard all-wheel-drive, the Q4 system starting out with a strong rearward bias. But, when needed, up to 60% of the engine’s torque can be shifted to the front axle.
Meanwhile, the maker explains, the Q4 system “is linked to the Stelvio’s Chassis Domain Controller (CDC) and driver-adjustable Alfa DNA or DNA Pro (Quadrifoglio exclusive) drive mode system – enabling the driveline’s next-generation integrated actuator to adapt to changing ground conditions or driver need in milliseconds, and instantly optimize the required torque to each wheel.”
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Alfa engineers put a premium on lightweighting, with a heavy emphasis on the use of aluminum. Stelvio boasts what is generally hailed as the optimum 50:50 weight distribution.
Other performance enhancing features include a mechanical limited-slip differential for the rear axle, as well as a segment-first integrated braking system which, the Italian automaker claims, improves immediate braking responsiveness.
While the focus is meant to put the sport in sport-utility, Alfa has also engineered in some very modern safety features, including Lane Departure Warnings, an Adaptive Cruise Control that can bring the ute to a full stop in traffic, and a full-speed Forward Collision Warning system that also can stop the Stelvio automatically if a collision seems imminent and the driver fails to respond.
The new Italian ute features extensive custom options, including 13 different exterior colors, seven wheel choices, and an array of interior color and trim alternatives.
Along with an 8.8-inch touchscreen display, the top-line Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio adds a carbon-ceramic Brembo braking system and, inside, ultra-light carbon fiber shell racing seats from Sparco to maximize support during hard driving – and comfort on long road trips, the maker promises.
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The Stelvio is part of an $8 billion product development program launched by Alfa parent Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Considering where the market has shifted, it could prove the most important product in the brand’s history. Eventually, Alfa plans to expand its SUV line-up but, in the near-term, company officials tell TheDetroitBureau.com that the Stelvio should quickly generate at least of the marque’s worldwide sales.