The notion of semi-affordable Italian cars hasn't exactly gained the traction of, say, a Sotheby's noodle-craft auction. Fiat 500 sales have been bending toward free-fall since that motorized espresso shot first appeared in 2011. And Alfa Romeo's mid-engined 4C sells in exotic volumes befitting its exotic looks, but it's hardly competitive with similarly priced toys. The Giulia will eventually boost Alfa's sales here by giving the brand a mainstream-ish product, but repeated delays mean deliveries won't start until about the time you read this.
The things that aren't tough to sell right now are crossovers. They account for a third of the market, and everybody's getting on board, including Maserati. Hoping to add a comma to its U.S. sales volume (and bolster it elsewhere in the world as well), Alfa Romeo is rolling out its first-ever crossover, the Stelvio.
Named for the famous Italian mountain pass that is the best driving road we've ever clogged with a tractor, the Stelvio shares its platform with the Giulia. It uses aluminum for the brake calipers, doors, fenders, front shock towers, and front and rear subframes. The control-arm front and multilink rear suspension assemblies also use the stuff. For further weight savings, parts of the rear crossmember are molded from composites. Using similar construction, the Giulia undercuts many of its competitors at the scales; we expect the Stelvio to do the same.
There will be three trim levels: the basic Stelvio, the Ti, and the Quadrifoglio. Idio*matic Italian for "four-leaf clover," the Quadrifoglio has denoted the top performers in Alfa model lines since the '60s. Adaptive dampers are optional on the Ti and standard on the Quadrifoglio, which also receives a torque-vectoring rear differential as standard equipment.
This is where the Stelvio gets really interesting. The base model and the Ti share a direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder with an aluminum block and head. A twin-scroll turbocharger and an intercooler help it generate 280 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 306 pound-feet of torque from 2250 to 4500. Fiat's fuel-saving MultiAir system gets employed here, ditching the throttle plate in favor of variable intake-valve timing and lift, which cuts pumping losses.
In the Quadrifoglio, however, you'll find the same twin-turbocharged aluminum 2.9-liter V-6 that packs the fenders of the Giulia Q-fog, making the same 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque. For the Stelvio, Alfa claims a zero-to-60-mph time of just 3.9 seconds and a top speed of 177 mph. That's faster than a Chevrolet Camaro SS or a Ford Mustang GT, but a distressing 14 mph slower than the Giulia Quadrifoglio.
But it's hard to be stung by such comparisons when the engine that powers both vehicles has such provenance. This six is essentially a scaled-down version of the twin-turbo V-8 that powers the Ferrari California T, GTC4Lusso T, and the 488, right down to the 90-degree bank angle. In fact, the Alfa packs no balance shafts to quell the vibration inherent in a perpen*dicular six. But in our experience with the Giulia, the imperfect layout grants the engine a hard-edged sound without imparting undue vibration to the structure.
An eight-speed automatic transmission backs up both engines and sends power to all four wheels. Alfa's Q4 all-wheel-drive system can route up to 50 percent of the engine's torque forward, or 100 percent to the rear wheels.
For a crossover based on a sedan architecture, the Stelvio looks ... pretty obviously like exactly what it is. The daylight opening, the body-side crease passing through the door handles, and the haunches leave no doubt as to the family tie. The grille and hood appear to be the same parts that are used on the Giulia, just with different concentrations of frog DNA. But the additional cuts, bulges, and busyness along the Stelvio's rocker panels effectively mask its greater height. The quad exhaust and faux diffuser seen on these pages will be exclusive to the Quadrifoglio.
From the inside, there's no missing the Stelvio's perform*ance intent. Drivers sit behind a flat-bottomed steering wheel with a bright-red starter button grafted beneath the left spoke. Those looking for more flair can opt for aluminum shift paddles, while the Quadrifoglio adds swollen handgrips at 10 and 2, as well as carbon-fiber trim and red accent stitching to match the top-level Giulia's dash and door finishes. Quadrifoglio buyers who want to go all out can order carbon-fiber-shell Sparco sport seats. Those interested in tech will be more interested in the seven-*inch color TFT screen tucked between the tach and speedometer, complemented by a 6.5-inch infotainment screen in the middle of the dash.
Uplevel Stelvios feature an 8.8-inch central unit. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are stand*ard, and handwriting recognition will be available sometime after the crossover's introduction. Alfa isn't talking about launch dates or pricing yet, but we figure it will take around $50,000 for a base Stelvio and into the high $70Ks for a Quadrifoglio, with sales to start this fall.