2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio First Test: Aging Well

A reminder of what makes this performance SUV so rewarding to drive

We scribblers in the auto-journalism business so often concentrate on the latest, greatest shiny thing that we forget about something truly great that was all-new just a few years back. As such, the 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio's midcycle freshening allows us to reevaluate this sweetheart SUV.

It's rewarding to view the update to this first-ever SUV from the storied Italian automaker—one that damn near won SUV of the Year alongside the Giulia sedan winning COTY a couple years back. And the 505-hp Quadrifoglio version was so good that it became the first SUV ever invited to our Best Driver's Car competition, where it finished respectably against supercars costing multiples more.

As important as how good a vehicle is at launch, however, how well these vehicles age is perhaps even more important. Remember, a compact luxury SUV lifecycle runs anywhere from five to seven years between redesigns.

A good vehicle can hold its own for its entire lifecycle; others languish on the vine, awaiting customers who fall prey to hefty come-on incentives. So how does the Alfa Romeo Stelvio compare against more recent entrants, such as the Acura RDX, BMW X3, and Infiniti QX50?

Fantastically well. When we first drove the Stelvio with the base 2.0-liter engine three years ago, we were impressed. A turbo-four delivering 280 hp that turned sub-6-second 0-60 times and scooted down the road like a sport sedan. But it got better than that: Upgrade to the Ferrari-developed 2.9-liter V-6 Quadrifoglio edition, and things got exponentially better.

How fast is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio?

As it's been a while since we last tested it, we took the 2020 Quadrifoglio edition out to the track. The results? Zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds. A 12-flat quarter mile at 113.7 mph. All while being able to carry five occupants and their stuff for a weekend.

For those of you who want to launch your Stelvio Quadrifoglio, some advice from road test editor Chris Walton: "I can't figure out why, if this is brake-by-wire, that it takes so much pedal pressure to keep the Stelvio stationary while bringing the revs up for a proper launch. The best launch is literally standing on the brake pedal (in Race mode) until the rear wheels start spinning."

Once the Stelvio is on its way, "upshifts are quick and smooth," Walton notes. There is some disagreement among staff, though, about the aural pleasure derived from the Stelvio Quadrifoglio's flatulent exhaust note during hard upshifts, especially compared to the crackle from a Jaguar or the bark of a Porsche.

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio has brake-by-wire leading to carbon-ceramic brakes, which several staffers chided for having vague brake pedal feedback. Regardless of sensation, "the carbon ceramics do their job," Walton notes. The best 60-0 braking actually was sliced out of a 100-mph threshold stop. In our tests, our 60 mph down to a standstill scored results of 111 feet, then 108, 109, 109, and 112. Tight.

Is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio fun to drive?

But more important than raw stop-and-go is the slinky, slithering sensation the Stelvio delivers when taking a corner. Most SUVs and crossovers that aim for a sportier ride—even compact ones with low centers of gravity—struggle with body lean and head toss, which make passengers uncomfortable when a driver wants to get his ya-yas out. The Stelvio's suspension is both supple and responsive at the same time.

You can even place the car in Dynamic mode but keep the suspension on a softer setting. There is something about how Italian carmakers, and Alfa Romeos in particular, tune their suspensions like no one else in the world.

Testing director Kim Reynolds, who tends to drive vehicles closer to the limit than 99 percent of vehicle owners, says: "It drifts exiting the corners. There's good power. It tended to understeer a bit too much by the end of the corner. Quite flat and stable. A very entertaining SUV indeed."

Say you don't have the $82,040 (or $97,790 as tested) for a Quadrifoglio. The base Stelvio can be equally as fun, even if you don't get face-melting acceleration. With a heavily turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder banging out 280 hp and 306 lb-ft of torque, the Stelvio likewise puts power down through a quick-shifting ZF eight-speed automatic, which in turn drives all four wheels. It's still quicker than every other turbo-four SUV in its class. Prettier, too.

Is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio safe?

The 2020 version of the Stelvio has yet to be tested, but the 2017-2019 edition was scored Good overall by IIHS and received a 5/5 star rating in the Euro-NCAP test. It has not been tested in any form by NHTSA.

For 2020, the Stelvio lineup has standard forward collision warning with full-stop capability. With a certain options package, you can get available Level 2 active driver aids with new Active Driver Assist packages, including highway assist at freeway speeds, traffic jam assist (up to 35 mph), active lane keep assist with lane departure warning, active blind-spot assist, traffic sign recognition, and drowsy driver detection.

What's new for the 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio?

For 2020, Alfa Romeo listened to consumers, dealers, and even the media (yes, really) to make changes to the Stelvio. Nearly every driver touchpoint has been enhanced or reimagined—including a redesigned center console with added storage and a new phone stowage area under the armrest with an available wireless charging pad. And although you can still hear the throaty engine if you listen for it, there's laminated glass for a quieter cabin.

There are also the tactile upgrades, such as a thicker steering wheel, a leather-wrapped shifter with stitching, and the improved feel of the rotary infotainment control knob.

But saving best for last, Alfa updated its relatively ordinary (for a luxury SUV) center infotainment screen. Now occupying the top of the center stack is a standard 8.8-inch touchscreen display features improved graphics with a faster processor, interactive configurable widgets, vertically maximized navigation view, redundant controls for HVAC and radio, and new performance pages if you want evidence of how much fun you are having.

Because fun you will have. Not every SUV need be a mere conveyance. The 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio, in either base or Quadrifoglio trim, more than proves it.


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Automotive Magazine: 2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio First Test: Aging Well
2020 Alfa Romeo Stelvio First Test: Aging Well
A reminder of what makes this performance SUV so rewarding to drive
Automotive Magazine
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