There might be a seemingly endless array of mid-size luxury SUVs out there these days, but the Alfa Romeo Stelvio is one that clearly stands out from the pack.

If you’re after a mid-size luxury SUV these days, your options are almost endless yet most are a bit same-samey. Big screens, leather-lined interiors, and a driving experience that’s generally just fine, those want to have their cake and eat it too may find that most of these offerings might pack the right features but a delectable driving experience is the missing piece of the puzzle.

That is, unless you turn your attention to the passion and flair of the Italians, and the one luxury SUV that actually stands out – the 2024 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Veloce. Even just from its name alone – taken in honour of the legendary Stelvio Pass, one of the world’s greatest driving roads – it’s easy to see that this is an SUV that is plainly all about the way it drives, and the rest can all come second.

Freshly facelifted for the coming model year with new lighting designs being the most noticeable update, the Stelvio is one of the most distinctive SUVs on the road, with the inimitable Alfa Romeo grille shape and phone-dial alloy wheels making it a clear standout in a sea of sameness. The premium Etna Red finish is probably the pick of the palette, but the Alfa Red colour of my tester still looks the part as just about any red will do on an Italian car. There’s no denying that this is an SUV that genuinely does look sporty.

Of course, most premium SUV buyers are after some luxury on the inside to match the exterior bling, and this is where the Stelvio is a bit more of a mixed bag. For as much as I love mechanical dials, it was about time the Stelvio adopted a digital instrument cluster which this 2024 update fortunately brings in the form of a 12.3-inch display with the option of either retro or sporty graphics to choose from.

What’s still quite outdated, though, is the infotainment system. Housed on a 8.8-inch display and controlled via a rotary dial or by the touchscreen, the graphics are a bit dated, the display is grainy compared with the slick gauge cluster, and trying to program an address into the TomTom sat nav system is a real test of one’s patience. Mind you, the 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system is a great addition.

Similarly, the interior materials are a bit of a mixed bag. On the upside, everything you would regularly see or touch around the top half of the cabin feels good, particularly the leather trim on the seats and top of the door cards. The big column-mounted aluminium paddle shifters are also an absolute treat to flick through gears with. However, some of the switchgear does feel a bit cheap in areas, as do the plastics you’ll find strewn through the bottom half of the cabin.

What is right on the money, though, is the cabin’s layout from the perspective of the driver. The sporty seats are particularly supportive thanks to the adjustable side bolsters, the steering wheel is the right size in all dimensions, and the driving position is bang on the mark. Again, it feels like a car that was build solely with spirited driving in mind, which also can’t be said for many SUVs of this ilk. Forget a lofty driving position with a seat you’ll be thrown around in on a backroad – this feels thoroughly like a driver’s car from inside the cabin.

On a more practical note, interior space is good with plenty of room to stretch out in the front. There’s enough room in the back as well, although it’s not the most roomy rear pew in the class, but it does at least feel fittingly supportive like the front seats do.

Open the powered tailgate and you’ll find 525 litres of boot space, which is certainly good but a tiny bit off the mark of the Audi Q5 (although ahead of the Q5 Sportback) and BMW X3 (but equal to the X4), and well behind the massive Jaguar F-Pace. Braked towing capacity is listed at an impressive 2300kg.

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It must be said that on paper, the Stelvio’s spec sheet doesn’t immediately make it look like much of a stand-out. Ti and Veloce models are powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine producing 206kW at 5250rpm and 400Nm at 2250rpm, with it backed by a ZF eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission and Alfa’s Q4 all-wheel drive system. There’s nothing wrong with that, but compared with the Quadrifoglio model and its Ferrari-derived twin-turbo V6, it merely looks rather standard.

However, scan your eyes further down the page and you’ll notice that even this mid-spec model can get from 0-100km/h in just 5.7 seconds, putting it firmly in hot hatch territory. Indeed, the way the Stelvio Veloce performs is anything but ordinary – it lives up to the looks and the badge as it’s a genuinely engaging car to drive.

Although peak torque may not be delivered as low-down as in many modern turbo engines, the Stelvio’s mid-range pull is undeniably strong, with it scampering forward with the sort of ferocity that puts a grin on your face, particularly when you consider the responsiveness of the ZF transmission as you pull back on the big paddle shifters, their crisp metallic click accompanying the crisp gear changes perfectly.

Dynamically, it’s no heffalump either, with the precise feel of its perfectly-weighted steering masking its size and weight well. Unlike many of its rivals, it feels genuinely tight and tossable when you pitch it at even the most challenging winding backroad, its patented AlfaLink suspension – which uses a double-wishbone front setup and multi-link rear – keeping it phenomenally well-balanced.

Combine that with big ventilated brakes both front and rear (with 330mm and 320mm discs respectively) and a set of grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres and it feels confidently tractable as well, allowing you to push it harder than you’d otherwise be able to with typical mushy SUV brakes and noisy high-profile tyres. Despite the sporting pretensions of its underpinnings, it also still rides comfortably as well – it definitely leans towards the sporty side, but you’ll never feel like you’re being beaten up should you meet a pothole.

Really, there’s nothing to criticise about the way the Stelvio drives, and quite frankly that’s exactly the way it should be with an Alfa Romeo. The way a car gets right is probably the hardest thing to get right, but it’s a skill Alfa Romeo has undeniably mastered over the years – and that clearly shows when even a mid-size SUV is ticking the driver’s car boxes.

Fuel economy is perhaps one drawback to consider, as there’s always a price to pay for having this much fun. Over the course of my 527km of testing, I saw a return of 10.4L/100km which is well over the optimistic 7.0L/100km claim. It also only accepts premium unleaded of at least 95RON, although the tank is a decent 64-litre size.

All Alfa Romeo models are covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Five years of capped-price servicing is also offered, although it ranges between being affordable and expensive with those first five dealership visits coming in at $345, $645, $465, $1065, and $345 respectively. Servicing is required every 12 months/15,000km.

However, the Stelvio Veloce’s price tag is actually quite smart at $82,950 before on-road costs, putting it $13,550 clear of a BMW X3 xDrive30i and a whopping $21,950 less than the Mercedes-Benz GLC 300, although admittedly it is an all-new model. The Audi Q5 range lines up awkwardly against it, with the Stelvio Veloce a tad more than the Q5 45 TFSI Sport but thousands below the Q5 Sportback 45 TFSI S Line.

When you look at what most SUVs out there are like these days, it’s easy to see why so many enthusiasts are cynical about their dominance of the market. However, the Stelvio is the clear antidote to being stuck with a boring SUV as it is everything but that.

Fun and engaging to drive, nicely-styled, relatively well-equipped, and smartly priced, it’s a real quiet achiever in this segment of the market. It’s nowhere near as popular as its German rivals – indeed, a mere 110 have been sold in Australia this year so far in comparison to roughly 3000 each of the Q5, X3, and GLC – but being a big-time volume seller isn’t really the point of the Stelvio. It’s an SUV that’s been designed for a very specific crowd, and for them, it will be ideal.

It’s something that takes confidence to do, but bucking the trend can often pay dividends at the end of the day. Picking the Stelvio over a more sensible and less dynamically-pleasing SUV won’t be for the feint-hearted, but those brave enough to choose it will have far more fun behind the wheel.

2024 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Veloce List Price: $82,950 | As Tested: $84,650
  • 8/10
    Performance - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Genuinely engaging to drive, quicker than you’d expect a four-pot to be, sporty looks to match the way it drives, much cheaper than it’s rivals
Cons: Dated infotainment system, not all cabin materials are fittingly luxurious, much thirstier than claimed

In a nutshell: The Alfa Romeo Stelvio might not be the obvious or most sensible choice in the mid-size luxury SUV segment, but it’s easily the most fun. If you really do love driving but your need for speed is matched by a need for practicality, the Stelvio stands out as an ideal blend of the two. 

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Alfa Romeo Australia for six days with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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