This is Alfa’s first SUV in its history, and it comes at a time when SUV sales are through the roof and sedans are becoming a thing of the past sadly. So, an SUV from Alfa simply had to be brilliant and I can say with confidence that it’s damn good. Named after the Stelvio Pass in northern Italy, at an elevation of 2,757 m above sea level. It is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps, and the second highest in the Alps and has 60 hairpin turns as it winds its way down the mountain. It is arguably one of the greatest driving rods in the world.

The Stelvio uses the Guilia platform with its double wishbone front, multi-link rear aluminum suspension but has longer stiffer springs to counter the extra height. They have kept the weight down too thanks to a carbon-fiber prop shaft as standard, and engines with aluminum blocks. That means the Stelvio weighs in at 3,660 lbs. making it lighter than its competition.

Looks wise the front is end almost identical to the Giulia sedan, a little bigger but handsome nevertheless. Towards the rear the waist line rises to a sweeping roof-line where you pay the penalty in cargo space. It’s long but height is compromised so Fido will have to lie down or get a crick in the neck.

Our 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio TI Sport arrived dressed in a cool Monte Carlo blue suit, 20-inch Sport Aluminum wheels shod with all season rubber. One complaint I had about the Giulia was its lack of grip at the limit due to 18 inch wheels, so I hoped the Stelvio, with its bigger footprint would grip much better and it does, thankfully. Under the hood is Alfa’s turbocharged 2.0 liter four with 280 hp @ 5200 rpm and 306 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm, the same specifications as in the Giulia we tested a couple of months ago. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

We strapped on our test gear and because there is no way to turn the traction control off, you simply left foot brake, push gas pedal, watch revs rise to 3,000 rpm and snap your foot off the brake. This results in a 0-60 time of 5.2 seconds which is only marginally slower than the Giulia that posted a time of 5.02 seconds. The difference is the extra weight makes it not feel as fast, the Stelvio just can’t recreated the litheness of the Giulia. That said it’s still one of the most fun to drive SUVs I have driven.

How does it go?

The transmission is very smooth if the DNA selector is in position N, which stands for Normal or Neutral, and is tuned for the highest efficiency. The A driving mode stands for All Weather. This is the setting used when road conditions are wet, icy and slippery. The D driving mode stands for Dynamic. In this mode the brakes, throttle, and steering are sharpened and more aggressive. It’s hard not to keep it in D all the time thanks to the very long column-mounted shift paddles, which changes when you want and the ideal sporty experience. Care is needed though as this turbo engine will hit the rev limiter quickly so it’s actually better to flick the change up panel at 4,000 rpm to take the best advantage of the turbos 4’s torque band. Stick with a full throttle upshift and the transmission has been programmed to give a little pause as it selects the next gear, as if it is trying to imitate a manual.

At 8/10ths the Stelvio is close to the Giulia; it carves into turns with gusto, grip is aplenty and the body is well controlled, it does things an SUV shouldn’t really do. Plow into a bend too fast however, and it won’t pivot like its little brother, instead traction control forces under-steer until it sorts itself out and the power returns to the rear wheels. It’s all very good fun. The steering gets a super-quick ratio better than most by a country mile and the brakes are progressive and bring your speed down as required.

There is some wind noise coming from around the door mirrors at speed and road noise is ever present, but this doesn’t take anything away from the entertainment. This car’s handling poise and response are near the top of the class, this is truly an enjoyable drive.

But does it do off-road?

Indeed, it does if you consider a lack of pavement off-road. A jeep it’s not, but with 8.1 of clearance moderate ruts can be tackled and with hill descent control it copes with inclines with aplomb. The suspension irons out all but the worst washboard surfaces and ride comfort is maintained.

Stylish Interior

The Stelvio has an attractive and smart interior, it’s a pleasing design, fuss and clutter free. The dashboard design is also taken from the Giulia, only the steering angle is different due to the vehicle’s higher stance. The interior is a very minimalist in its design which I like, and although the infotainment screen is small most of the controls are at hand in the center console, the DNA mode selector, the infotainment volume and the rotary menu controller.

If I have a quibble it’s the low rent gear selector. You also get a thin-rimmed steering wheel with enormous paddle shifters mounted on the column and a starter button. The seats are comfortable and have decent side bolsters, and it’s easy to adjust to a near perfect driving position.

The quality of materials is pretty good except for that gear selector I mentioned, which should be an easy fix, so I won’t dwell. It’s not a match for an Audi interior but it feels robust and durable but it has what most cars don’t, it has soul, it’s been built with a passion for driving, to get you from A to B with a grin on your face.

Final Thoughts

There are many choices in the small luxury SUV segment, including offerings like the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC and the Jaguar F-Pace. None is as entertaining as the Alfa though, they simply can’t match its verve for life. If you’re considering a compact sporty SUV, go drive one, its pure fun. My ideal choice in a perfect world would be a Giulia Wagon………

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport numbers

VEHICLE TYPE: Front-engine, AWD, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
BASE PRICE: $43,995
ENGINE TYPE: 2.0 liter turbocharged and inter-cooled SOHC 16-valve inline-4
POWER: 280 hp @ 5,200 rpm
TORQUE: 306 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters
CARGO VOLUME: 18.5 ft³, 56.5 ft³ with seat area
CURB WEIGHT: 3,660 lbs
ZERO TO 60 MPH: 5.2 seconds
TOP SPEED: 130 mph
OUR OBSERVED: 22.3 mpg
PROS Quick Steering, great handling for an SUV, turbo 4 has plenty of power
CONS Quirky Italian controls