What use has DTW’s South Yorkshire correspondent, Andrew Miles for hairpins?

Once a border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian empire, nowadays oft-frequented by those choosing to wear multicoloured Lycra® whilst pedalling a two wheeled carbon fibre device. Also, for powered vehicles seeking hairpin heaven, the Passo dello Stelvio has, for practically two centuries, delivered. 

Carlo Danegoni’s original pass contains over seventy hairpin bends, but suffers extended closure due to winter snows. In the Great War, fierce battles were pitched here in the Alps at practically 1900 metres above sea level. And of course it has now lent its name to that most bulbous of the Biscione’s range – the Stelvio SUV. It’s a decent moniker; trips off the tongue a little better than the Stilsferjoch for language-averse Brits, though how many know where the road is?

The Tipo 949 has been available since 2016 but the car’s long gestation begins in 2003 with the Kamal concept car. An Alfa Romeo SUV? Folk scoffed – for a while. Finally revealed to the world at the 2016 LA motor show, the Cassino plant manufactured, Giorgio platformed (shared with the Giulia), rear or four-wheel driven car came to the UK with a starting price of around £32,000.

European sales nudged 50,000 sold in the first two years, the Americans just 14,000 for the same period. Sales remain low. The next two years, Homeland Europe took around 44,000 Stelvios, peaking in 2019. Over the Atlantic, one has to be a committed Alfaholic for just 20,000 found owners. 

Current Stevios have altered from their first brethren – the range now wholly AWD with 8 speed automatic transmissions. UK’s base Sprint version starts at £45,249, a 190bhp, 2.2 litre diesel or petroleum drinkers, a 2.0 200bhp. Stakes heighten along with outputs; a Veloce (£50,000) can have a 210bhp diesel or a 280bhp petrol followed by the £54,000 Veloce Ti – by now the diesel has disappeared. Fatter wallets or those seeking recognition, the Quadrifoglio leans on an unknown start price – bargain around 80k. But for £829 per month (over 48 more) one could entertain with 510 bhp AWD and a 2.9 V6 benzina. 

Stelvio Pass: Wikipedia

Two cars, one platform – Alfa’s American presence has fallen at the first hairpin and the European head feels dizzy. Charismatic looks and history do not a packet, make. Used examples in the UK stretch from around £20,000 to bonkers liveried Quadrafolio’s tipping £100,000. But the Stelvio following is strong, if small.

One enthusiastic exponent is former work colleague, Julie, who (presumably) pays by the month for her 2017 Vulcano black, Milano Edizione. Senza piombo power is good for 277bhp, her  commute of just over 200 miles for the working day. With spirited driving, she’s seen “around 30mpg” with the occasional slip of the rear end when the temperatures dip – that 64-litre fuel tank requiring all too frequent fill-ups.

Wheels are not for the faint hearted. Silver 20 inchers – the five horseshoe variety that she alluded to paying extra and for which her husband “was sorting out new tyres as these are shot.” A later inspection revealed liquorice thin Dunlop’s – one cannot imagine much tread there was in the first instance. The car’s flanks were heavily mud splattered but the paint appeared to withstand such atrocities. This is a robust Italian. And at over 1,600Kgs, for one so Rubenesque, incredibly lissom, according to the driver. 

Julie and her husband are clearly obsessive Alfa Romeo fans, a trait that as many can as cannot understand. Let’s begin our examination with the Italian elephant within the car park – the Stelvio’s physical presence. Making other car park heroes look puny in comparison, the Alfa does rather pack a punch, minus the physical elephantine trunk.

With a 4687mm length, compare that to the car alongside, the Discovery Sport at 4599mm and the Hyundai Tucson, only 4475mm. The Disco trumps the boot space race with 981 litres, Tucson with 878 and the Italian only 525. Where will all those shopping bags go? Why does the car park fill with such largesse? Along with Italian style, Julie likes the Stelvio for offering that higher aspect of driving, inside and out. This is a fair argument but arguments can rage any number of ways.

Inside, the seats which, I’m informed, are particularly comfy for those long journeys; supple black leather, multitudinous adjustments. Stelvio’s dashboard contains its own range of curves. My brief glance within gleaned an acceptable response – monochromatic, yes but decently set out and finished, although not at liberty to prod and poke. Top-spec models get body colour hoardings which to these eyes appear gaudy. The windscreen pillars are notably massive, the tiller wheel not quite circular and whilst overall the cabin seems fine, neither does the pulse race. 

Exterior: Exhaust pipes that on first glance resemble a recoilless rifle are of course mere shiny covers for the real thing. Ubiquitous side strakes offer visual strength and ambiguity; the travel stained black hull, mean and moody in the cold light of day. 

To the nose then, where there can be no mistaking where this pumped up vehicle hails from –  it’s a Giulia on steroid stance. Those eyebrow like headlights and V-grille (which could easily vacuum an Audi City Carver from the streets) reveal a passive aggressive fizzog softer than anything launching out of Ingolstadt, sleeker than the two mentioned above but with an underlying darker intent. 

Could this be the root cause of the problem? The car show bore waxes lyrical over how intrinsically Italian, enigmatic, sexy and cool old Alfa Romeo’s were. Yet in the past tense, the vast majority of their cars were small by comparison. The Stelvio is clearly anything but. Current, yes of course but currently au fait? In a word, no. 


Your author never fails to be amazed at the engineers making such large vehicles handle as though smaller. Properties of the magician, illusionist – charlatan, even. Damned that they can; all the hairpins in the world cry out Alfa Romeo, now under the confident sounding Stellantis. But too large a question is that of the Stelvio’s relevance – without which, the Biscione ceases.

Useless to the balding pate, the hairpin remains sought by many; Julie remains in the minority.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

39 thoughts on “Stelvio!”

  1. Good morning Andrew and thank you for a reminder of the Stelvio, a car I (and many others, I suspect) had pretty much forgotten. I really want(ed) the Giulia and Stelvio to succeed, but time is passing and neither has made the impression in the market that FCA must have hoped for.

    With regards to its appearance, it’s at all not bad for an SUV:

    Perhaps the combination of Stellantis and the forthcoming Tonale, which I like enough to forgive the stupid ‘hidden’ rear door handle might finally get Alfa Romeo properly out of the starting blocks?

  2. The reference to the massive windscreen pillars forced me to scroll back up to the cover shot – and you weren’t kidding! I’ve seen one in the metal – in Spain a couple of years back – and it looks better than anything the Germans can do. Not my cup-of-tea though.

    1. Hi Mervyn. Regarding windscreen pillars, it has previously occured to me that they might be optimised to minimise the blind spot they create by keeping the deep cross-sectionof the pillar roughly parallel to the driver’s line of sight. This would of course mean that the pillars would be asymmetrical and LHD and RHD cars would need the pillars reversed, so a different body-in-white. This would probably be uneconomic for the marginal gain in visibility and safety.

  3. Ahem. There is ever such a slight difference between the acts of peddling and pedalling. If the Lycristi are peddling two-wheeled carbon-fibre devices, they are Arthur Daley or Del-Boy Trotter surreptitiously purveying goods of questionable provenance. If they are pedalling them, they are propelling them from A to B (while impeding the progress of vastly more righteous vehicles powered by internal-combustion – or, at a pinch, electric or hydrogen powered – engines.

    1. Albert: Thank you for your comment and should this one be your first, welcome to DTW. Thanks too for pointing out the typo, now corrected. I must assume for the present moment, that your comment as regards the superiority of the motor-propelled vehicle to that of the noble bicycle was of the tongue in cheek variety. For as someone who not only appreciates (but regularly uses) both, this part-time Lycristo does not endorse the diminution of the pedal bike.

  4. The Stelvio is another of those cars which seemed to be much awaited and then rather quietly slips into the morass. I´ve seen about five of them – the Danes of Jutland did not take to them very much. From a style point of view, it´s not that bad by modern standards. However, like the Giulia it´s too big and costly. Alfa would have been better to offer a car one class down in size. People who really like driving probably don´t want bulk. The most fun Alfas were handily sized cars and cost similar money to similarly sized cars (perhaps edging towards the higher end of their price range though).
    We´re back to the discussion that also takes in Jaguar. Do their values matter enough any more to justify a whole range of cars? And what should be a core Alfa (or Jaguar) if they only sold a few models. To answer myself, I´d have thought a decent rear drive saloon was a core Alfa car. Seemingly not – too big? Too saloony? Too costly? Not BMW enough?

    1. Did Fiat get their marque strategy completely wrong starting from the mid 90s? Perhaps they were better off selling AR as their mainstream brand (with slightly elevated transaction prices like VW) rather than trying to make it a BMW fighter. That role could have gone to Maserati, leaving Fiat as a cheap & cheerful budget offering and Ferrari as true luxury. Where does that leave Lancia? Unfortunately, probably in the same place its in now.

    2. I agree Richard – a rear drive mid-sized saloon would be a core Alfa, but the Giulia is too expensive. I’ve owned numerous Alfa’s (33, 105 (x2), 155, 156 (x2)), but I can’t justify the cost (or size) of a Giulia, even though I admire the car greatly. I’d also suggest a rear drive 2-door coupe would be core.

      I also agree with Ben. Fiat tried to stretch marque identities too far (small Alfa’s and Lancia’s, big Fiat’s etc.), whereas they could have created a very logical and streamlined strategy with the marques they own, each marque selling between 1-2 models. I imagine that would have required more sacrifices than Fiat was willing to make.

    3. Rather than “between 1-2 models” I should have said “either 1 or 2 models”. I’m not suggesting 1.5 models per marque. Obviously.

  5. I see a Stelvio everyday. Someone close to where I live has one. I see a Giulia every day too, someone else a little bit further away has one. Other than that I barely see them on the road.

    Personally I have no use for the Stelvio, but I was rather interested in the Giulia. The Alfa dealer I went to didn’t seem interested in selling them, so I have yet to find out if it is as good as I’ve read it is.

    1. That’s quite typical for Alfa dealers. First they aren’t interested in selling you the car and when you’ve managed to get one against their resistance they aren’t interested in servicing it.
      This is Alfa’s true and biggest problem and as Stellantis dealers are mostly the same I fear this isn’t getting any better.

    2. I’ve had a very different with owning Alfa’s. I never had one, but my mum had an Alfa Romeo 33 from 1993 till 1997. I ended up driving it more than she did (no surprise there) and always took it to the dealership for service and repair. The dealer was great in every respect. The Alfa Romeo importer in the Netherlands changed after that and our trusted dealer lost his dealership. Things went downhill from there.

  6. Someone in our neighborhood, in the very fine houses up the hill, drives a Stelvio (red, naturally) so I see it occasionally. I may have seen one other in this metropolitan area of approximately 3 million people. I’ve always been partial to Alfa styling (even some of their lesser efforts appeal to me for some reason), so they are a rare treat for my eyes.

    Alfa, at least here in this part of the north central United States, does not seem to supply the driver’s SUV of choice. That seems to be the province of Porsche. The Stelvio (and Jaguar’s efforts in this marketplace) seems to exist as what the younger people today call a “flex.” It tells viewers on the road that the owner (lessor?) has at least a bit of an independent streak and can afford an expensive vehicle for which residual value and the availability (or lack thereof) of parts is of little concern. The true road warriors with cash to splash are driving Escalades and Grand Cherokees which can be maintained at Costco and repaired even in sparsely-populated towns hundreds of miles from here. But I’d much rather look at a Stelvio than any of those.

  7. I see several Giulias and Stelvios on a regular basis in my neck of the woods, which is odd because NY’s Southern Tier is neither particularly affluent nor is it populous (about 300k casting the widest net). And the nearest dealership is over an hour away in Pennsylvania. It seems to me that the owners are proud Italian-Americans glad to have a semi-affordable choice from the motherland again. Never underestimate the pull of ethnic solidarity in the US market.

  8. I really like the Stelvio; it could be a lot better if less chunky but otherwise I think the shape (four-light, not square-backed but not crossover-coupé either) is very appropriate for the brand and I’m very fond of the reference to the TZ’s tail and the way the taillights deliberately clash with that shape (a bit of sprezzatura?). The Skoda Enyaq’s rear is rather obviously inspired by the Stelvio and that was a good idea. Here’s a nice brown one I’ve spotted a while ago (the colour is no longer available but it’s still possible to get it in green):

  9. Alfa has been selling around 400 per year here in Australia, their most popular model. I saw a white one yesterday, and didn’t recognise it initially, the first one I recall seeing in quite a while. BMW outsells it 10 to 1, the Porsche Macan is 5x and even Jag E-Pace 50% more popular.

    The luggage figures sound strange – perhaps the first two must measure to the roof instead of cover?

  10. I consider myself a bit of an Alfista : my father owned several Giulias when I was a nipper in Rome, and both my sister and I have owned Alfas. She had a beautiful GT Junior which she sadly never got around to restoring, and I owned until recently a 159 TI. A perennially underrated, beautifully designed car, which doesn’t get the credit or column inches it deserves. In my view the 159 is unjustly overshadowed by the inferior (and less well designed in my view) 156. Will DTW feature the 159 one day? I live in hope. But I digress…

    The reason I am posting is to highlight how AWFUL Alfa dealers are, even here in France. A few months after the latest Giulia’s launch, when the motoring press was still full of praise for the Quadrifoglio, I decided to book a test drive. I rocked up at the local Alfa showroom in my pristine 159, only to be given the rudest of brush-offs by the proprietor, who ignored me and carried on smoking his cigarette. In the showroom! The place stank of tobacco, the show cars were dirty, there was only one Giulia there, and it was an entry-level model. I eventually spoke to the guy and asked about the Quadrifoglio, and he said something to the effect of “We won’t be stocking that model, there’s no demand for it round here”. Oh really. The “demand for it” was standing right in front of him. Fool.

    I turned tail and never visited that Alfa dealer again. And I never bought a Quadrifoglio either.I still have much affection for Alfa Romeo, but I may be wearing rose tinted specs without realising.

    1. Hi Ric. That 159 is just lovely. The idiot dealer should have spotted it and immediately realised that yours was a serious enquiry about the Giulia. I wonder how many other sales have been lost by such indifference?

    2. That´s remarkable. I´ve heard nothing good about Alfa dealers. Presumably there is a reason behind this to do with the kind of people who get the gig and the kinds of people who know trying to sell these cars is a hard job. Why would you want to try to sell a car from a brand with decades of bad rep behind it when you can sign up for a BMW or Suzuki franchise and know you´ll get support from the mother ship?

    3. I can tell similar stories.
      Going to our Alfa dealer because we wanted to buy a 147 for my wife.
      Parked my 156 in front of the showroom window.
      “Is that your 156, Sir?” “Yes, it is.” “Does it have a sport pack?” “Look for yourself and then decide.” “?” “Cars with sport pack can be identified by some external details” “?” “What’s in the sport pack?” “?” “You sell these cars, including sport pack and you don’t know what is in that pack?” “?”

      I’m sitting in a 159 in the showroom. Salesmen has some people obviously paying him a private visit and holding some private small talk. Suddenly salesmen opens door of car “excuse me” pushes aside my left leg and pulls on bonnet release to show the engine to his mates.

      When picking up brand new 156 wife discovers during handover procedure that window switch in passenger door is inoperative. Three days later car gets repaired – when fetching the car I find that the door card is cracked and the visible part of the door is scratched all over right down to the bare metal. Workshop manager tells me that I’ve done this myself and that they are not respoonsible for that.

      I could continue this stuff all day long.
      This started after the Fiat takeover. In old times Alfa dealers often operated from backyard premises but with enthusiasm. Our old “family” dealer raced a pair of GTAs and always was extremely competent and helpful and a true enthusiast.

    4. Hi Ric, your 159 looks wonderful. All the type 939s were beauts, even with the somewhat challenging FWD proportions. I agree that they’re criminally underrated, harshly criticized for stolid handling and a weighty feel when many in the class performed no better. And it seems that the Prodrive fettled Brera mostly fixed the handling issues and I see no reason the rest of the range couldn’t have gotten the same bits. News reports at the time claimed that the 159 was going to spearhead Alfa’s return to the US market; imagine my disappointment when that didn’t pan out.

    5. Ric: We’ll get to the 159 in the fullness of time. It’s on the list…

    6. Nice one Rick, looks like my current main squeeze (in the 1750 TBi format). Such a pretty car, and yet feels too big to me after my 75 and 116 GTV. The Stelvio is a bit of an abomination in my eyes – everything an Alfa should not be (large, bulky, overstyled, achieving performance by adding power and complication, rather than paring it back to lightweight and intrinsically direct handling).
      I’d give the Giulia QV a shot but I suspect I’d be disappointed, I think I’ll save up and get a good 1982 GTV6 instead.

    7. Hi Matt. That is a lovely image of a beautiful car. Happily, you’re in a US state(?) where you don’t have to disfigure the car with a front number plate.

    8. Thanks – actually Tasmania, Australia where I snapped a pic after taking the plate off to swap it over for a new registration. I doubt there are any 159s in the US but I’d be interested to know!

    9. Wow. How many 159s are there in Tasmania, I wonder? Yours must get a lot of attention from Alfisti, and car enthusiasts more generally.

    10. It’s a bit of a holdout for Alfa actually, I see probably 8 159s regularly around town, about 5 Giulias, a dozen Giuliettas and a smattering of 147s. Not bad for a city of 250k. We have pretty lax rules about keeping older cars on the road …

    11. Matt,

      The 159 and Brera were never sold in the US through official channels and the good old days of grey market imports had dried up by their time. However, I did use to see a Brera pretty regularly cruising around West Hollywood/Beverly Hills, a flat grey V6 model. I always assumed it was on a diplomatic plate. I think Alfa sold them in Mexico, too, so maybe one could find them driving around the border towns.

    12. Nice! I see a few Breras around too, a pretty car but (quietly) not as pretty as the 159 I think. I do remember there was that TV show called Episodes in which Matt LeBlanc was conspicuously driving a 4C around Los Angeles. Now I see the Stelvio and Giulia are being sold in the US (presumably through the Chrysler network?) so I suppose we have re-entered the decade long cycle of “will Alfa revive? … no I guess not”.

  11. I really like the 159 but the Stelvio does nothing for me whatsoever. Another enjoyable read though Andrew.

  12. So, does anyone wish to advance a theory as to why someone would prop up an Alfa Romeo dealer sign on a property and proceed to tick off the customers or repel them or both? Dave´s story of the cracked door trim was a horror – that would drive apoplectic if it happened to me. You can´t win an argument with someone prepared to deny reality.

    “Your car´s what, sir?”
    “It´s burned out!”
    “Which one´s that?”
    “What? The 166, the burned wreck in bay number 3, on the stand… you walked past it just now”
    “Oh … right, yeah, that one.. what about it?”
    “It´s my car, it´s burned, it´s been incinerated… ”
    “That was the one needing the new timing belt…?”
    “… yes, so?”
    “You´ll be wanting to pay then… Cash or card?”
    “For f….look, it´s been set on fire….I am not paying for anything when my car is… a… burnt shell…”
    “Nothing to do with me. It came in like that as I recall…. Right bugger to work on too. That´s 459 pounds. Cash or card?”
    “…. are you telling me the fact the car´s burnt is nothing to do with you??”
    “We can put in the car wash if you want. Only seven quid…”

    1. You should immediately send your application for workshop manager to Alfa’s Frankfurt HQ HR department.

      The cracked door card ended in a one hour conversation with their country manager and their sales director and in the end the next service came at no cost for me. That was the service when they put four litres of oil in an engine that should have six and a half.

    2. Hi Richard. The denial of responsibility for damage done while a car was in the care of a dealer was not uncommon back in the bad old days. These days, with manufacturers routinely soliciting feedback directly from customers about their experience at the dealership, the problem seems to be much less common, thankfully.

    3. Alfa dealers make sure you get this kind of experience even today – at least that’s what current Alfa owners tell me.
      Alfa is losing some of their already very few customers every day because of the incredible non-service they provide. (If you look at the average Peugeot dealer they aren’t any better so this is not going to change under Stellantis)
      My 156 experience is from 1997, a time when the German Big Three already had sorted out service quality once and for all. Not that service for my 166 in 2002 was any better.

  13. I have an uneasy feeling that the manufacturers of such large cars may not sell enough to pay for the cost of developing them. The world is becoming a resources – hungry place. The price of fuels, petrol, natural gas, is rising. The price of energy in general terms,including electrical energy, also. In Athens the gasoline is priced at 1,70 eu – litre. In the islands of the Aegean archipelago is 2,00 eu, a friend told me. We heard from the news media that in the British Isles there is a fuel shortage, currently. Are we going to experience “days of the 70s” again?

    1. As much as I adore the snarl of an Italian intake manifold, I think it’s time to accept that the internal combustion engine is done as a mass market transport solution. I’ll miss my manual transmission and engine note, but what a small price to pay for living in low pollution environments, and reducing the catastrophic changes faced by our children. Bring on the fuel hikes and breakdown of the fossil fuel economy, I hope our governments can extract the tentacles of industry from their pockets and help everyone make the change as swiftly as possible.

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