The judgment: The new Estrema trim level of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio bridges the gap between smaller versions of the car and the fire-breathing Quadrifoglio, but its troubled powertrain and aging interior are definitely issues.
Against the competition: The Stelvio sticks to its looks and branding, but newer rivals have better powertrains and roomier, better-designed interiors.
Drivers looking for a compact luxury SUV have many options: Acura, Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Infiniti, Jaguar, Land Rover, Lexus, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volvo all make one. Debuting as a 2018 model, the Stelvio offers two powertrains in the US: a 280hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine available in all trim levels except the top-of-the-line Quadrifoglio (Italian for “four-leaf clover”). This car gets a gnarly Ferrari-derived twin-turbo V-6 that puts out 505 horsepower. For the 2023 model year there is a new Stelvio Estrema fairing that aims to bridge the gap between regular Stelvio models and the unique Quadrifoglio. I drove one for a week to see if Alfa had successfully bridged that rather significant gap, but living with the SUV’s quirks and some outdated features led to a completely different conclusion.
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Nobody styles like the Italians…
Although the Stelvio 2023 is a 6 year old design that hasn’t seen any major updates, it still looks amazing. Unlike other generic SUVs in this category that might swap badges without most people noticing, the Stelvio features sculpted curves, muscular hips, bonnet bulges and a unique Alfa Romeo triangular grille opening. The Estrema model adds blacked-out trim almost everywhere, not painted in one of the car’s four available paint colors. My test vehicle was a stunning Misano Blue Metallic, but red, white and black are also offered. Other design cues include gloss black 21-inch wheels, gloss black brake calipers with white Alfa Romeo lettering, and carbon fiber veneers on the grille and mirror caps. There’s nothing to fault with the way it looks; It’s a dynamite design that has aged well. It is still unique and easily identifiable as an Alfa Romeo.
… But sometimes style needs an update
Unfortunately, the style of the Stelvio, which has come of age, does not extend to the interior. While the material quality of the Stelvio Estrema is acceptable, the design, packaging and technology are decidedly behind the times.
The Stelvio shares its platform with the compact luxury sedan Giulia, and you can feel those compact roots when you climb in – which isn’t particularly easy. The B-pillars are oddly far forward, making climbing into the driver’s seat a contortionist. Curiously, the driver’s seat is supposed to have an easy-in-and-out function, but that didn’t work on my test vehicle despite being selected on the central screen.
Once in the driver’s seat, settle into a chair that’s both beautiful leather and surprisingly uncomfortable. It sits too high for the surrounding controls and gauges, and that’s not just my opinion: several passengers of different sizes tried out the vehicle and echoed those sentiments. Headroom is tight, too, thanks to that seating position and a sunroof that eats up a few inches of airspace over the head, front and back.
Aside from making things feel cramped up front, the back seat is practically useless for everyone but kids. Legroom, even with the front seats moved forward, is almost comically non-existent. Part of that can be attributed to the floor hump for the driveshaft, but if it’s difficult to snug your toes under the front seats – and you have to, as there’s simply nowhere else to put your feet – know that the interior to do this needs to be improved. Cargo space, on the other hand, is acceptable, and the rear seatbacks fold easily thanks to levers in the cargo area.
All in all, it feels like the Stelvio just wasn’t made for the US market; It’s better suited for people who are 10%-20% shorter than the average American (which, let’s face it, most of the rest of the world is). Of course, the Genesis GV70 doesn’t have any of the Stelvio’s space and packaging issues, so I think Alfa Romeo simply needs to rethink its tech.
Old technology inside
There is a surprising 8.8-inch touchscreen on the dashboard Not Running a redesigned version of Stellantis’ Uconnect multimedia system. It’s particularly strange considering that Maserati, the conglomerate’s even fancier Italian brand, does use it. I wish Alfa had done that too, as the Stelvio’s multimedia system is sluggish and slow, and doesn’t offer easy reconfigurability or the wealth of features that Uconnect offers. The screen is a decent size, but with many rivals moving to even larger screens, the Alfa looks a bit puny. However, at least it is well integrated with the dashboard. it doesn’t look like someone has pinned a massive iPad to the instrument panel.
Thankfully, the rest of the Stelvio’s controls are still honest knobs and switches, which we prefer almost everywhere, rather than cramming everything into a soulless touchscreen. The start button on the steering wheel is a nice touch, and the rotary selectors on the center console are big and chunky, making them easy to spot and use. The steering wheel is grippy and thick and feels good in the hand. No complaints about the gauges either – the Stelvio hasn’t switched to a digital instrument panel, so those smooth-looking round dials that are easy to decipher are still there.