Glimpsing the Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Why everyone is excited about Alfa's new SUV
They won’t let us in.
‘We’re at full capacity!’ says the security man in a booming voice. It’s a general plea aimed at the throngs of people standing outside this large tent and his cry is repeated with something near the metronomic regularity of a foghorn blast. Given that I’m a guest of Fiat Chrysler Automotive at the Los Angeles motorshow, it would be a bit embarrassing if I missed the big launch going on inside the marquee, but it looks increasingly likely.
Trying to get a foot in the door
I’m just considering a sneaky investigation of any catering or trade entrances (which leads me into daydreaming about rappelling in from the roof), when another British journalist on the same ticket arrives next to me and asks what’s going on. The human foghorn appraises him of the situation before I get a chance to reply.
Thankfully a few people leave the tent and the will of the queue implements a sort of ‘one out, fifteen in’ ratio upon the poor beleaguered guard, so I slip in just in time to see the new Alfa Romeo Stelvio introduced to the world. Across a sea of glowing camera phones I watch as the Italian manufacturer’s first SUV in its 106 year history glides onto the sage. Then moments later it disappears from view again as it gets mobbed like a rock star.
Hundreds of terrible photos being taken as the new Stelvio is unveiled
If anybody was in any doubt about how much people adore Alfa Romeo, then this is a pretty good indication. Give or take, Alfas haven’t been on sale in the USA for about 20 years, yet such is the excitement that a tent with a capacity of 700 was brimmed fuller than one of those old Caterham fuel tanks that just splash petrol on your feet rather than making the pump click off.
You can see why it is so popular too. Alfa stands for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili, which crudely translates as Anonymous Lombardy Automobile Factory (although the Anonima is actually an truncation of Societa Anonima, which means public company), yet there is nothing anonymous about its cars. The Stelvio’s design is not the greatest to emerge from northern Italy (I think it looks a little heavy compared to an F-Pace), but just as an Italian suit has an inimitable flair that marks it out walking down a crowded street, so too will an Alfa Stelvio stand out in a stream of German and Korean metal on a busy A-road.
Of course, even in the wilderness years Alfa never really lost its skin deep attractiveness, but what’s so appealing now is that we know the beauty is backed up by proper engineering. I wouldn’t be half as intrigued by the Stelvio had I not driven the new Giulia, but I have and I know the Quadrifoglio version of Alfa’s latest saloon is good enough to beat the current BMW M3. That in turn makes the Quadrifoglio version of the Stelvio (other models were only vaguely mentioned – refreshingly it was all about performance in the press conference) instantly interesting and makes Alfa’s bold claims believable.
A quick run-down of the facts and figures: The Quadrifoglio’s engine is the Ferrari-derived, turbocharged V6 that we first saw in the Giulia, producing 503bhp and 443lb ft of torque (compared to 394bhp and 406lb ft for a Porsche Macan Turbo). The all-wheel drive system is Alfa’s new Q4 set-up which is rear-wheel drive until it deems the front axle needs to help out. It also has proper torque vectoring. A sprint to 60mph from a standing start will take less than four seconds, its top speed is 177mph and Alfa is claiming a Nurburgring lap time of less than eight minutes.
The one thing I’m not so sure about is the name. Yes, the Stelvio is Italy’s highest and most famous mountain pass, but while it’s great to look at, it’s not that brilliant to drive (something I hope we won’t be saying about the car) and the narrowness of the road is particularly ill-suited to an SUV. Curious.
Anyway, hopefully Alfa will sell Stelvios by the boat load as this will facilitate the Italians’ plan to have eight different Alfa Romeo models on the road by 2022. What’s next? I don’t know, but I’d guess a small rear-wheel drive replacement for the Giulietta. Whatever it is, I’ll make sure I get to the press conference early.