There’s no crossover/SUV on the market—with the possible exception of the outrageously over-the-top Lamborghini Urus—that’s quite as distinctively designed as the Alfa-Romeo Stelvio. But where the Lambo works to upend every convention with razor-sharp angles and dramatic creases and cuts, the Stelvio is the opposite. It’s all smooth curves and elegant lines. There’s no drama in the Stelvio—just beauty.
That’s important, because there are, sadly, few cars like in the crossover category. Most echo the Germanic way of semi-brutal, almost military precision. Though the Mazda CX-9 comes close to matching the Stelvio’s design quality, it doesn’t have the same sense of flair that the Alfa possesses, that composed energy. Buyers who line up for the Stelvio clearly want something that German, American, and Japanese crossovers don’t supply, and they’re handsomely rewarded for it. The delta-shaped front grille is a surprise, and rare for modern vehicles since it dispenses with the conventional, overly familiar, gaping maw of the forward inlet in favor of something a bit more elegant.
Elsewhere, the vivid qualities stack up: the sly dips in the hood, the smooth, barely detectable stairstep increase in altitude of the character line that stretches from front to rear. The optional black aluminum wheels and black trim, included on the $44,545 Stelvio Sport model I sampled, that underscores the car’s simultaneous boldness and subtlety. Alfa Romeo has had a tough time cracking the U.S. market, even though its modest raft of offerings—the Stelvio, the Giulia sedan, and the 4C Spider sports coupe, are dynamic and sophisticated. It’s possible that buyers are wary of the unfamiliar brand, or harbor lingering assumptions of quality, but it’s also possible that those same buyers are overly committed to the borderline cliché European choices of BMW, Mercedes, and Audi.
But those who decide to go down this less-traveled road will score not just a gorgeous ride, but a performer as well. Maybe not to the extent of its mightily upgraded sibling, the $80,000 Stelvio Quadrifoglio with its 505-hp twin-turbo V6 and its dynamic suspension, but a thriller nonetheless. Credit goes to the tight engineering and still-agile suspension that Alfa bakes into all its cars. The Stelvio Sport includes a 280 hp, 306 lb-ft of torque 2-liter inline-4, and it performs brilliantly. The 8-speed transmission is responsive, the engine quick to hustle you down the road, achieving a 0-60 time of 5.4 seconds. In the turns, it’s nimble and flat, thanks to the suspension and it’s relatively low center-of-gravity, as well as the 50/50 balance between the front and rear wheels. Steering is tight but not too light.
Behind the wheel in aggressive driving, it just feels right—cocoon-like and possessing that finely tuned sports-car posture that commendably screams performance over utility. Yes, you can haul your family and your stuff, but you can also haul the mail if you want, too—with a nice, gnarly growl coming from the rear, to boot.
There are some drawbacks with the car. It’s relatively expensive for what it delivers, and though the utility is there, it doesn’t feel like a car you’d want to let your kids get truly comfy in. Not that it’s overly precious or fussy, but it’s definitely for someone who isn’t particularly interested in getting it dirty. Also, its standard wheel option looks terribly dated—opt for the 18-, 19-, or 20-inch aluminum rims instead, preferably in black. The Sport comes with 19-inch wheels and colored brake calipers, as well as a nice and beefy leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, with column-mounted paddle shifters.
Finally, its technology packages is good but not great. It has adaptive cruise that can restart from a complete stop, and lane-departure warning, but there’s no lane-keeping option or emergency brake assist—none of the things that the other premium luxury brands are all about these days. So while you’re getting a solid performer and a gorgeous design, you won’t get bragging rights at the club.
On the other hand, there’s a good bet nobody else at the club will have seen it or experienced it, and that itself goes an awfully long way.