2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport AWD: Pass with Flying Colours

The Stelvio pass is an alpine route in northern Italy. With its 48 switchbacks, the Stelvio requires a vehicle with superb handling, muscular brakes, precision steering, and a driver with testicles of steel. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport can help with the first three.

Everywhere we went, heads turned. For an SUV, the high-standing Stelvio is an attractive beast, almost as attractive as that iconic badge. You’d think that serpentine logo was inspired by the Stelvio Pass’s switchbacks, but you’d be wrong.

The AR logo is NOT inspired by the Stelvio Pass, nor by Saint George’s Cross, nor even St. George’s dragon. It’s Milanese.

We drove the Stelvio to Ottawa from Toronto and back, mostly on the 401 a stretch of road as tedious and uninteresting as the Stelvio Pass is not. The route’s such a boring drive that we’ll talk instead about this car’s design, starting with that badge and its seeming blood donation symbol (or is it the English flag?) and man-eating snake.

First, the left half: The red cross, big surprise, was a fairly common symbol throughout Europe long before it came to represent blood scandals here in Canada. For instance, a red cross on white, England’s contribution to Great Britain’s Union Jack (which is also composed of Scotland’s St Andrew’s cross, but sadly not Wales’s bad-ass dragon) is also the official flag of the Duchy of Milan, the city where Alfa Romeo was founded.

Milan also factors into the far more diverting right half of the logo. It’s NOT a man-eating snake, but actually a dragon, part of the family crest of the Visconti, lords of Milan who plastered the man-eating dragon throughout the decorations of their 600-year old Castello Sforzesco, the only building in Milan to rival the Duomo for its imposing impressiveness. (Speaking of common symbols, Wales’s flag, not part of the UK’s Union Jack, is also a dragon and England’s St. George, mentioned earlier is usually depicted with a dragon!) So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Alfa Romeos are much more common on the streets of Milan than they are here.

Is all this relevant? Sure it is when you’re driving Canada’s most tedious stretch of road with hours to kill in a luxuriously appointed ride that’s as much hatchback as SUV. The hatch effect didn’t hurt the handling but the view rear windshield was minute. One of my only complaints.

That serpentine logo may have inspired the designers. The lines flow line a cosine curve. The ride is as smooth as a Botticelli baby’s bottom until you shift into paddling mode. Then, “Dracarys!” It unleashes its dragon, a 2-litre, 280-hp direct-injection 4-cylinder turbo engine. Enjoy the molten asphalt.

Considering the performance stats, it’s an efficient engine, rating 9.6L/100km on combined city/highway driving. (NB: I didn’t achieve that but didn’t attempt to either. The point is, in ideal conditions, one could.) According to vehicles.nrcan.gc.ca, “small SUVs range from 7.3 to 14.6 L/100km”. So the Stelvio’s on the more efficient side.

This tester’s base price of $54,995 is not cheap but much less than I’d expected given the romance surrounding Italian automotive design and manufacturing. That price included the essentials that made the ride so special: the front Brembo 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes; the DNA drive mode selection, which cheekily stands Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency (and not the ‘Drive, Neutral and About-face versus Reverses’ that I first thought); leather-faced seats; heated leather-wrapped steering wheel and A/C.

Among the extras that contributed to the luxurious feel, easing the dullness of the 401, were the $1,595 dual-pane sunroof, which added a feeling of open airiness, and the $2,500 Customer Preferred Package 22S, which maximized the sportiness: sport seats, and steering wheel, flashy aluminum pedals, mounted paddles and 20×8.5” sport wheels and brightly painted brake callipers. Flying colours indeed!

Base price: $54,995

As driven: $67,502

By Steven Bochenek, Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) member since 2011

This is a test