The Alfa Romeo Stelvio is ideal for arching through the tight twisties lining the Valley of a 1000 Hills, writes JAMES SIDDALL
The Stelvio Pass. Italy’s highest mountain pass. In a little over 20km it packs more than 75 hairpin bends. It also lends its name to the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. This is the legendary Italian manufacturer’s first SUV. Something that might seem just a little unlikely until you realise that everyone from Bentley to Maserati to even Rolls-Royce, with its just-revealed, super-luxury Cullinan, is in on the SUV act.
Now two points: first, the Stelvio might be an SUV, but it turns in the sports car handling you’d expect from this marque. And, second, KZN lacks the Stelvio Pass. Obviously.
It does, however, boast the Valley of a 1000 Thousand Hills, which can be accessed just outside my hometown of Hillcrest. It’s named after the thousands of rolling green hills that pepper the vast valley, cut by the converging Umgeni and Msunduzi Rivers. Tourists – domestic and foreign – flock here to take in everything from Zulu culture to curios to hiking and bird watching. From my teens when I’d camp in its riverine depths; it’s edged into my psyche.
It’s also lined with roads full of torturous twisties – perfect for a squirt in the sublime Stelvio. A machine that with its state-of the-art-suspension, high-tech materials, direct steering, and Q4 all-wheel-drive system handles like, well, an Alfa Romeo. That’s to say visceral and vivid, invigorating and involving.
The Stelvio’s heartbeat comes courtesy of a two-litre turbocharged petrol engine making a punchy 206kW and 400Nm of torque running through a seamless eight-speed auto transmission. Enough to run it from zero to 100km/h in 5.7 seconds, topping out at 230km/h, while three driving modes are available via the machine’s “DNA” selector.
More than that, the Stelvio is superbly styled and crafted. Its lineage is unmistakable from any angle, and its build integrity makes a mockery of those apocryphal, braai-side tales of flimsy Alfas of yore.
It’s also a sybaritic place to be, with everything from dual-zone climate control to an excellent audio system to a big 525-litre boot with an electric tailgate – as well as an advanced infotainment system with an 8.8-inch screen.
Safety, too, takes a front seat. In addition to six airbags you get Forward Collision Warning and Autonomous Emergency Brake to pick from a long list.
Yet none of these systems are intrusive. None of them dilute the driver involvement of this “medium-sized premium SUV,” as its makers term it. An SUV that’s as adept at chewing up the razor corners along the Valley of a 1000 Hills as it is turning in relaxed open-road cruising or taking on unpaved trails or indeed South Africa’s pot-hole-peppered byways.
Yours from R810 000, including a three-year/100 000km warranty, and a six-year/100 000km maintenance plan.
But the final word goes to this vehicle’s manufacturers who – without a hint of hyperbole – beat me by saying thus in their marketing material:
“The Alfa Romeo Stelvio is the perfect blend of heritage, speed, and beauty.”
To which I can only add: Bellissimo. Oh, Bellissimo!