There is one very important, serious reason that every car owner should want a “fun to drive” vehicle: they are safer than “normal” cars. It’s true that big, relatively plain cars, like Ford Expeditions or Chevy Malibus, are inherently safe because they’re large and simple. (Both are perfectly fine cars, by the way.) But performance-oriented cars are safer because they’re more engaging to drive. It’s the difference between an airport massage chair and a certified physical therapist: “fun” cars are engineered as precision instruments that rely on the user to do good work — not generic, blunt solutions that substitute force for a lack of skills. The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport is a safer car because it’s fun, and that’s mostly why you should want one.
2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport
Engine: 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, paddle shifters
Torque: 306 l-ft
EPA city/highway/combined: 22/28/24 MPG
Base Price: $46,495 ($55,240 as tested)
That said, the Stelvio, aside from being “fun,” is also practical and big-ish and inherently safe in myriad ways. For a compact luxury SUV, it’s in the pricing sweet spot. It’s laden with safety features: standard all-wheel-drive; collision avoidance braking systems; lane departure and blind spot warnings are available. There’s seating for five and a lot more trunk space than I expected. But most new vehicles have all or most of those features. It’s the “fun” bit that’s the reason it (or vehicles like it) should be parked in driveways. It handles exceptionally, feels confidently heavy on the road (at just over 4,000 pounds it is actually quite light) and makes you feel in control.
Performance-oriented cars like the Stelvio, despite what many may believe, aren’t made for hot-rodder hooligan dumbasses (the 500+ horsepower version will come out in early 2018 — dumbasses, take note). “Fun” cars — engaging cars — are made by and for people who understand that feeling connected to a vehicle and to the road directly influences how well you can drive that car. Spirited driving is more than possible in the Stelvio, but its 50/50 weight distribution and rear-biased (up to 100 percent) all-wheel-drive should make it appealing to all drivers.
The Stelvio’s drive mode selector allows drivers to choose between eco, normal and dynamic: eco is good for highway cruising; normal is fine for parking lots or around town. Dynamic should be used in literally every other situation: passing, driving on any road with curves, driveways, wildlife, children or any traffic whatsoever because dynamic mode tunes the car’s suspension, throttle, steering and brakes to move exactly like you need and expect it to at all times. That quality is what defines a safe car, not the “I’m the bigger blunt instrument” quotient.
“Fun” cars — engaging cars — are made by and for people who understand that feeling connected to a vehicle and to the road directly influences how well you can drive that car.
Of course, drive mode selectors are commonly available too. So what makes the Stelvio the SUV to get? Its brilliant driving dynamics do set it apart, since many manufacturers have dulled down their “fun” cars (for instance, all BMWs used to be incredibly dynamic, while Mazda still does dynamic well). But there are other major pluses too. Its design: muscular, Italian-beautiful. Its lineage: the Stelvio shares a platform with Alfa’s sublime Giulia sedan. Alfa is owned by Fiat/Chrysler and comes with solid warranties, so the Stelvio is probably a good purchase.
I drove the Stelvio in and around Nashville as a guest of Alfa Romeo. In the city, on curvy backroads and the highway, in (regrettably) evasive maneuvers, it could not have been better. Great looks, handling, technology, safety and all the practical elements are there. But best of all, it’s fun — that’s because Alfa Romeo, with its sexy Italian flair, knows what separates a great car from blunt instruments. If you want a great car that’s purpose-built for what driving is meant to be — safe and smart — look no further.