It certainly feels taut and agile, with a well-damped ride that stayed civilised over the roughest surfaces that the car’s eponymous pass could throw at it. High-speed refinement, as tested on the Autostrada, is also excellent; only the slightest wind whistle from the top of the front door seals disturbed the tranquillity at a rapid cruise.
Handling responses are essentially those of a taller Giulia, with the two cars sharing their major chassis components and electric power steering systems. The Stelvio’s helm is direct and fast-acting, the front end turning keenly, and there’s an impressive absence of body roll even under harder use. What’s missing is any real sensation through the steering wheel beyond raw weight. Alfa is justifiably proud of how well the Stelvio resists understeer - something it demonstrated well on the pass’s numerous hairpins - but in slower turns this seems largely due to the unswitchable stability control system aggressively winding back the engine when the front axle is in danger of running out of grip.
Despite the rear bias of the Q4 all-wheel-drive system and the claim of torque vectoring across the back axle, there’s little give or throttle adjustability in the chassis; even with the controller for Alfa’s so-called DNA system turned to its most permissive 'Dynamic' setting, the engine is never allowed to overwhelm grip. Given the fundamental excellence of the Stelvio’s well-balanced chassis, it feels like a shame that the car isn’t allowed to play more. Roberto Fedeli, Alfa’s chief engineer, confirmed the forthcoming 493bhp Quadrifoglio will have fully defeatable stability control and that the company is considering it for lesser models.
Despite its peak 197bhp output, the basic petrol engine feels more effective than exciting. It’s tuned for torque, the peak 243lb ft available from just 1750rpm, and the eight-speed autobox shifts its ratios adeptly to keep it in the lower reaches of its mid range, where it’s happiest. It will rev when called upon to do so, from the lowly 4500rpm where peak power arrives and all the way to its 6000rpm limiter if forced to. But, although never harsh, the soundtrack lacks the zing and sparkle that used to characterize even Alfa’s humbler four-cylinder engines.
The electrical servo assistance of the brakes also takes some getting used to, with the pedal lacking feel under harder retardation. The system automatically compensates to eliminate the sensation of fade too; a questionable benefit on the descent from the Stelvio Pass, where the pedal stayed rock hard even as the front pads started to smoulder. Some indication of the overworked anchors would have been welcome.
The rest of the car feels less developed than the chassis. While the cabin is spacious and has some nice touches, many of the materials lack the sort of quality that buyers in this segment expect by right these days; an omission considering Alfa’s insistence that we view the Stelvio as a premium player. Scratchy door trim plastics and the insubstantial controllers for the infotainment and DNA systems stood out for particular criticism.