A Fun Italian Alternative to German SUVs – With Some Compromises
- Trim Tested: Stelvio Estrema AWD
- Price as Tested: $61,580 (including destination charge)
- What We Like: Fun to drive; uncommon choice compared with BMW and Mercedes
- What We Don’t: Limited engine options; small touchscreen; above-average price
Italian automaker Alfa Romeo sells only three vehicles in the United States, the Giulia sedan and the Tonale and Stelvio SUVs. You won’t see many Alfas around town, and that’s part of their appeal. They feel unique. That comes with some tradeoffs, though – Alfas tend to carry higher sticker prices, cost more to maintain, and forgo the latest tech. Still, for an adventurous car buyer, an Alfa can be a lot of fun.
We recently had a chance to test drive the Stelvio, Alfa’s compact SUV. It hasn’t changed much since it arrived in 2018, but there’s a new Estrema trim for 2023 with an adaptive suspension, a limited-slip differential, and styling upgrades. I tested the Stelvio Estrema for a week and these are my impressions.
How It Drives
Most Stelvio models, including the Estrema, come with a 280-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. It had decent acceleration, especially when I shifted the transmission into Manual Mode and used the aluminum steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters to kick it down a few gears.
However, I wish the Stelvio had a more powerful engine. Sure, a buyer could spring for the 505-horsepower twin-turbo V6 in the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, but that costs $87,000, almost double the 4-cylinder’s $45,000 starting price. Competitors such as BMW and Mercedes have mid-tier engines that provide more power without running the price up to $90K. The BMW X3 M40i and Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 both cost about the same as the Stelvio Estrema and have 100 more horsepower.
Engine power aside, the Stelvio Estrema is a lot of fun to drive. It feels light on its feet around corners and the steering system is responsive. The Estrema’s adaptive dampers make the ride a little harsh in Sport Mode (Dynamic Mode, in Alfa-speak). However, there’s a Soft Suspension button that relaxes the ride without turning off the other Sport Mode settings. The Stelvio is nimble enough that it doesn’t need the stiffer suspension.
Interior Comfort & Quality
Overall, the Stelvio feels small. The generously bolstered front seats held me in place during cornering, though they may squeeze those with wider frames. Rear-seat head- and legroom are adequate for a 6-footer. The cargo space is small and the rear window seems tiny, although the Stelvio’s small size does help its agility and parkability.
The Stelvio’s attractive interior sports a mix of hard plastic and padded surfaces that didn’t seem particularly fancy but felt well-built. The cabin was not especially quiet, but the growl of the turbocharged engine that came through was a welcome reminder of the Stelvio’s athleticism.
Technology & Usability
The infotainment screen is mighty small for a vehicle in 2023 – squished into a short, wide space and set deep into the center of the dashboard. Then again, that’s a tradeoff for the Stelvio’s sleek interior design. Drivers can use touchscreen buttons or a knob to control the infotainment system; the knob works better given the screen’s small size and location deep in the dash. Separate knobs for the volume and temperature mean drivers don’t have to rely on the touchscreen for everything.
The Stelvio is not particularly high-tech. There are no wireless Android Auto or cutting-edge ADAS features, such as automated steering. Buyers are paying for the Alfa name and performance, not the latest gadgets. If that focus on driving experience and styling over all else is appealing, the Stelvio is worth a look.
Read our full 2023 Alfa Romeo Stelvio review for more specs and information about the entire Stelvio lineup. Carfax vehicle reviews let shoppers compare a vehicle’s specs against its competitors. However, some aspects of a vehicle – performance, comfort, usability – can only be evaluated through actual driving. That’s why we evaluate as many vehicles as we can, so you’ll know what to expect.
If you have questions about this story, please contact us at Editors@carfax.com