It seems so long ago now that Porsche added the Cayenne to the mix, a Porsche that was not only quick but easy to get in and out of thanks to its increased ride height.
Did in fact the world need a Porsche S-U-V? Buyers thought so, as baby boomers flocked to the Cayenne, followed soon after by an economical — gag, cough, splutter — DIESEL version.
Purists were aghast, but the number of sports SUVs has multiplied like rabbits across the brands since those days, and now stretches all the way to the lofty heights of the Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
But it behoves us to pause and wonder not for the first time if the world needs an Alfa or for that matter Ferrari SUV, with the Maranello car maker poised to drop to drop the Purosangue soon — try saying that after you’ve had a few?
The figures speak for themselves. Alfa has sold 126 Stelvios so far this year, not that many but it’s now Alfa’s best-selling model in Oz – so the answer would seem to be yes.
What’s it cost?
The front is classic Alfa with its prominent, predatory, triangular grille, together with black trim, fat exhaust outlets and black 20-inch rims, with red brake calipers peeping out.
The term classic returns to mind when it comes to the interior, with its analogue dials, driver-focused dash, aluminium trim inserts and heavily bolstered sports seats.
You’ll find the start button located on the steering wheel and another one labelled DNA, which provides access to three drive modes, along with another less conspicuous button in the console that can be used to soften the ride in sport mode.
DNA stands for Dynamic, Natural and Advanced efficiency, in other words Sport, Normal and Eco, with Dynamic mode delivering sharper brake and steering feel with more aggressive engine, transmission and throttle tip-in calibrations
There’s four grades from which to choose, starting with 147kW Stelvio from $64,950 (available by special order only).
For $5000 more, you get the Sport, also with 147kW and priced from $69,950. Then comes our test vehicle, the 206kW Veloce, priced from $78,950.
At the top of the tree sits the Quadrifoglio, priced from a nose-bleed $146,950. Justifying its price is 375kW twin-turbo V6 and mouth-watering o-100km/h time of just 3.8 seconds.
Standard kit includes Alfa DNA Drive Mode, dual climate control, heated leather sport steering wheel, leather sports seats with power adjust bolsters, along with aluminium pedals, shift paddles, with aluminium dashboard, tunnel and centre console inserts.
There’s also sporty red brake calipers, push button start on steering wheel with keyless go, auto headlights and wipers, auto dimming rear view mirror, front and rear parking sensors, and 35W bi-xenon headlights with auto high beam and an adaptive front lighting system (AFLS).
As well as more power and torque, Veloce adds a limited slip rear diff, active variable suspension, beefed up brakes and 20-inch aluminium alloys.
There’s also a sports body kit, dual exhausts and a hands-free tailgate.
Inside you’ll find ambient lighting, stitched leather dashboard and door trim, 8-way power adjust front seats and heated rear seats.
Infotainment consists of an 8.8-inch touchscreen, with 3D Navigation, 10-speaker, 400 watt sound system, with subwoofer, AM/FM and DAB+ digital radio, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.
It can be controlled from the screen, a rotary selector or advanced voice recognition system.
There is one front, two centre and one rear USB port, along with wireless phone charging.
Five-star safety includes six airbags and autonomous emergency braking, with forward collision warning.
There’s also driver attention alert, rear-view camera with dynamic guidelines, active blind spot assist, lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring with rear cross path detection.
Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km, with a five-year/75,000km capped-price service plan that totals $2865.
What’s it go like?
Although it looks around the same size as Australia’s best selling SUV the Mazda CX-5, the Stelvio is actually slightly larger — 137mm longer with a 118mm longer wheelbase.
That means more room inside, in theory at least. Of course, it’s what you do with that extra space that counts.
Rear legroom is still a bit tight for our liking.
The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine produces 206kW of power at 5250 revs and 400Nm of torque, the latter from 2250 revs.
Drive is to all four wheels through an eight-speed traditional automatic, with over-sized aluminium, column-mounted gear change paddles that make manual shifting extremely easy.
Although it’s all-wheel drive, the system is biased towards the rear wheels to give the Stelvio a sportier feel, with a limited slip rear diff that transfers drive between rear wheels.
The powertrain is shared with the Giulia sedan, but because the Stelvio is larger and heavier, it’s not quite as punchy — not that you’d notice.
Top speed is 230km/h and it does the dash from 0-100km/h in a brisk 5.7 seconds.
Being a high-riding SUV, there’s more body roll than a sedan, too. The trick is to reduce that roll as much as possible.
The resulting ride quality is okay, but can be jarring at times, especially when it encounters potholes, speed humps and some of our second-rate roads.
Surprisingly, there’s no head up display and the instrumentation is a bit, well . . . dated.
Two standard analogue gauges flank a small central driver display, without any of the pyrotechnics of a fully digital cluster that is fast becoming the norm.
I imagine the Italians dismiss this as irrelevant. It’s how the car looks and performs that is most important after all.
I kept looking for any mention of LED lighting, either inside or out, and found none which is unexpected. Bi-xeno, yes — but they are so last season.
There’s three drive modes: Dynamic (D), Normal (N) and Advanced efficiency (A) — ergo D-N-A.
As mentioned, in Dynamic or sport mode, it is possible to dial up softer suspension, but surprisingly the ride is worse — so we left it where it was.
On first impression the 206kW turbo provides easy, effortless acceleration, but the ride is fidgety, fussing all the time instead of settling down, with steering that requires constant and undivided attention.
Take your eyes off the road for a moment and the car is likely to go walkabout.
The eight-speed auto is spot on most of the time, with slick timely changes and those big paddles if you want to do it yourself.