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THE ALFA Romeo Giulia finished in one of the podium positions at last year’s COTY which had cranked up expectations of the Stelvio. It’s fair to say that the presence of the Giulia Quadrifoglio helped sprinkle 375kW worth of fairy dust across the more prosaic models in the sedan’s range but the Stelvio arrived without that level of top cover, with the Stelvio Q flagship failing to make our shores in time for this year’s event.
Full review: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio review
Even had that all-wheel-drive rocket been present, I’m not sure it would have influenced the judging panel to any great degree. The Stelvio adds all-wheel drive and hatchback practicality, but in the demerit column are a distinctly firm ride, poor rear-seat space, and a cabin that lacks the sort of sheen and polish that distinguishes the best sports SUVs in its class. ‘Underwhelming’ was the word that popped up time and again in judges’ notes when assessing interior finish.
Of course, it’s entirely understandable that Alfa Romeo chose to build an SUV off the Giorgio platform rather than pursue the limited number of buyers who hankered after a low-slung Giulia wagon. The stated aim of the chassis team was to make the high-riding and heftier Stelvio drive just like a Giulia but, sadly, it just doesn’t. It can’t. Physics can be a pesky impediment to ambition.
It’s nevertheless a riot to pedal around the You Yangs’ gnarlier tracks and you could make a case for the Stelvio as something for singles or couples with no kids who just want to rapidly haul a bunch of sports gear with them.
Read next: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio pricing and features
That’s if they can see value in the pricing. The Stelvio Ti was a hefty $11K more than the diesel, but felt barely any quicker in the real world. Even the oil burner, with its suite of First Edition options, didn’t seem stellar value. “Doesn’t feel $75K” noted Inwood, while Faulkner thought it felt “like a Fiat 500X with some new bits”. The fact that you can buy a Mercedes-Benz C300 wagon for about this price is all the context you really need here.
The cabin has a curious propensity to ring like a bell over some surface imperfections, the ultra-rapid steering divided opinion and the touchy brakes proved similarly divisive. The petrol engines are rev-capped for emissions purposes, so neither of them can sing quite the way you’d hope.
Nevertheless, what was in no doubt was the Stelvio’s ability to cover ground at pace. Body control is excellent as long as the road surface is good, but the SUV lacks the Giulia’s subtle adjustability when you really get after it. That slightly inert edge to its on-limit handling is probably safe and wise, but when combined with its lugubrious styling, its shortcomings in four-up packaging and its comparative lack of interior polish versus key rivals, we found ourselves hankering for the sedan that so deservedly made it to the final round last year.
The Stelvio emerges as an interesting and worthy addition to the performance-SUV canon, but a COTY contender? Not by a long chalk.