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.
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.