There’s lots to like about this engine and it makes a fine match for the athletically inclined Stelvio. It’s a relatively subdued and obedient partner during gentler sorties, the auto ’box helping it mosey through urban shuffles and easy A-road canters promptly but without undue fuss with the DNA selector in N, for ‘Natural’ (A, for ‘Advanced Efficiency’, overly retards the drivetrain). It’s suitably quiet when cruising at 70mph, too.
But it really starts to shine when pressed, with robust acceleration available from just over 2000rpm most of the way to the rev limiter at 6000rpm. Turbo lag is perfectly manageable given the engine’s healthy specific output, and while the soundtrack won’t feature on Alfa’s greatest hits LP, it becomes quite racy as revs rise and is firmly an asset more than a liability.
With DNA in D, for ‘Dynamic’, the engine’s full repertoire is unlocked, throttle response improves and the gearshifts become enjoyably brisk, giving a nice little thump on the way up that’s more often seen in cars with a sleeker silhouette. Likewise, hold the left paddle and the ZF trips through downshifts sequentially, hold the right paddle and it upshifts then slips back into auto, or pull both to find neutral for a neighbourly blip of the throttle. Combined with the steering wheel-mounted starter button, these features heighten the sensation that this high-riding five-door is more game than most.
The Stelvio certainly feels capable of its impressive 5.7sec to 62mph claim and, when employing this eagerness, you’ll find its cornering skills are up to snuff, too. Roll is well contained, grip is strong at both ends and there’s a sweetness to the car’s mid-bend attitude that speaks of both its 50/50 weight distribution and keen, aluminium-clipped kerb weight of 1660kg.
The steering is very quick for this class and is more apt here than in lesser-powered Stelvios, but feel is limited and the weighting, which never quite reaches what you’d call heavy, doesn’t seem especially natural or progressive.
As with the steering set-up, the Stelvio’s front double wishbone and rear multilink suspension architecture is inherited from the Giulia, but the taller car’s different springs and dampers can’t muster the saloon’s ride quality. While never harsh, it can even get a little busy across smooth-looking surfaces, and the rippled back roads of our test route unearthed a reactiveness that had us trimming our speed at times. The brakes are strong but employ an electro-mechanical actuator, and the resulting pedal feel takes some getting used to.
The balance of the Stelvio package is as before: generous occupant and luggage space, cabin materials that manage the ‘premium’ tag but not much more and a good driving position with well-placed controls. Niggles are a limited rear view, headrests that nudge your pate forward a bit and an infotainment system that is effective enough but idiosyncratic.