2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio first drive review: the SUV we've been waiting for Page 2


Where the engine is good, the Stelvio's transmission is excellent. Like the Giulia, the Stelvio uses Alfa Romeo's drive mode system—dubbed DNA Drive Mode Selector—to manage the engine, transmission, steering, braking, and stability control systems. Twist the knob near the shift lever to uncover the work focused on the 8-speed autobox alone.

Dynamic is the first stop, where shifts are fastest. Under hard throttle, the shifts feel like a kick in the back. It's delightfully engaging and muscular, particularly around the 4,000 to 5,000-rpm range. On downshifts, the transmission is just as quick, but far smoother, keeping the Stelvio's 4,000-plus pounds settled.

Natural mode—Alfa Romeo's version of normal—settles the transmission and takes on the smooth, fast, and largely invisible performance in the wheelhouse of the ZF's 8-speed box. Quick to engage off the line and perfectly relaxed on upshifts, the transmission is also willing and able to drop a cog without notice. On inclines and based on the driver's behavior, the transmission will also hold a gear without protest, as I found out in the hilly suburban area outside Nashville, Tennessee, where I was testing the newest Alfa.

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Any other automaker would name the Stelvio's Advanced Efficiency mode “Eco,” but logic isn't Alfa Romeo's bag. (DNE doesn't have the same ring.)  In "Advanced Efficiency," the transmission switches into a more efficient mode to promote improved fuel economy—shifts are just as quick as in Natural, but they happen earlier, in a bid to keep the 2.0-liter from revving too high. Use this mode liberally, and it'll help you hit the Stelvio's EPA-estimated 22 mpg city, 28 highway, 24 combined rating.

It's very easy to elevate the Stelvio's transmission, provided you select the optional Sport Package. Make that smart investment—$1,800 on the base Stelvio and $2,500 on the Ti—and you'll get some of the best paddle shifters on the market.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Enlarge Photo
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Enlarge Photo
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Enlarge Photo

Column-mounted metal paddles stiffer than a neat scotch, the huge paddles are a delight to operate with just the right amount of travel and a solid action. They're so nice, Alfa used them twice: they're found on the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio. Combined with the sharp, fast transmission behavior, I shifted the Stelvio just for the hell of it.

The rest of the driver interfaces are nearly as good. The sport seats are only available on the Ti Sport and account for the $700 upcharge between it and the standard Stelvio Sport. These chairs are supportive, with large side bolsters that hug the driver through even the most aggressive turns. But while the seats have an extendable bottom cushion, the six-way adjustability isn't quite enough to get into the ideal seating position. That said, if you're a fan of dropping the steering wheel in your lap (Eds note: I am) the Stelvio's thin-rimmed, flat-bottomed steering wheel telescopes out well, and has excellent grips.

That gorgeous leather-wrapped steering wheel works for a steering system I have a love-and-mostly-like relationship with. Alfa Romeo attached the same super-fast steering ratio from the Giulia Quadrifoglio—11.8 to 1—to a 4,044-pound crossover SUV. We call it woozy; Alfa engineers may have called it lunch.


 
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