Alfa Romeo Debuts the Stelvio, Named for Italy’s Stelvio Pass

The Italian car company Alfa Romeo recently debuted an SUV named the Stelvio after the Stelvio Pass, a high-altitude roadway located in the Eastern Alps. The Stelvio Pass, also known as the Stilfser Joch in German, is famous for its winding, hairpin turns that give the driver breathtaking views of nearby mountains covered in glaciers. The pass is considered to be a top scenic route, with the BBC automobile show Top Gear officially naming it the “greatest driving road in the world.”

The hairpin turns of the Stelvio Pass (Source: Rabih El-Khoury /Creative Commons).

It’s no wonder then that Alfa Romeo decided to capitalize on the road’s allure. The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the manufacturer’s first SUV model, was revealed at the Los Angeles car show in November. The premium version of the vehicle, called the Quadrifoglio Stelvio, can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.9 seconds, which Alfa Romeo claims is the fastest in its class. The car’s engine is superb with a 2.9-liter twin-turbo V6 and 505 horsepower. In comparison, the luxury 2017 Acura MDX has a horsepower of only 290. The Stelvio’s engine is also capable of shutting off half of its cylinders when they are not needed, meaning better overall fuel economy. According to CarBuyer, prices will start around £35,000 ($43,887) for the entry-level model and at least £65,000 ($81,505) for the Quadrifoglio edition.

“The SUV looked good, but keep in mind that I haven’t driven it yet. Nobody has. So it’s very hard to really know,” said Brent Snavely, an auto reporter for the Detroit Free Press, to GlacierHub. “I would say it’s an incredibly important vehicle for the Alfa Romeo lineup. It’s essential for any premium or luxury brand to have a small SUV in its lineup these days because that is the fastest growing segment in the U.S. auto industry.”

Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio SUV (Source: Alfa Romeo).

Renowned for their sports car lineup, Alfa Romeo has a long history on the race track, winning multiple championship races like the Le Mans, Formula 1 and the European Touring Car Championship. The brand, founded in 1910 in Milan, also has a place in popular culture with cameos in famous movies like The Godfather, The Pink Panther and James Bond films. As to why the brand decided to make an SUV for the first time, Berj Alexanian of Alfa Romeo North America told GlacierHub, “The world’s passion, especially in North America, for sport utility vehicles is only growing stronger. Sales of SUVs, pickups and vans have accounted for more than half of all U.S. light-vehicle sales (which also include cars) in each of the last 42 months.”

Lower gas prices and changing consumer tastes have a lot to do with the growing  popularity of SUVs in the United States, according to Alfa Romeo. “North America and the U.S. market specifically offer a great opportunity for not only Stelvio but the Alfa Romeo brand,” Alexanian added. “The premium luxury automotive space has embraced the SUV environment, and Alfa Romeo is now here with Stelvio as well.”

Map of the Stelvio Pass (Source: Google Maps).

With the new model, Alfa Romeo hopes to reflect the “traveling spirit” of the Stelvio Pass, according to the company. The roadway that serves as the inspiration rises 2,757 meters (9,045 feet) above sea level and boasts 48 hairpin turns, all of which are numbered in stone beside the road. Due to the strenuous climb, the bicycle race Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) sometimes holds a stage of its tournament on the pass. There is also an annual Stelvio Bike Day. The road itself is named the Strada Statale 38 and is 21.5 km (13.4 miles) long from start to finish. During the drive, the elevation changes by 1,533 meters (or 5,030 feet, which is nearly a mile long), offering unsurpassed scenery that tops off at 2,758 meters (9,049 feet).

Located next to the border of Switzerland and the town of Stilfs, Italy, the pass looks out onto the Ortler Alps, including the tallest mountain, Ortler, which is 3,905 meters high and has a glacier on its northwest side. Stelvio National Park is the largest park in the alpine region and is home to Forni Glacier, which is 12 square kilometers (4.6 square miles) in size, the largest valley glacier in Italy, parts of which are retreating. There are also glacier lakes in the park which meet with mountain streams to display beautiful scenery for the passing motorist.

Mount Ortler (Source: John Mason/Creative Commons).

Because of the high elevation and snowy conditions, the Stelvio Pass is open only in the summer when there is less snow. But even so, Alfa Romeo’s Stelvio is capable in icy and snowy conditions, according to Alexanian. “The intelligent Q4 all-wheel-drive system is standard on all Stelvio models, including the Quadrifoglio,” he said. “The system delivers even more all-season traction and performance capability thanks to the system’s ability to transfer up to 60 percent of the 2.0-liter direct-injection all-aluminum turbo engine’s torque to the front axle.”

Only time will tell if the car will measure up to its namesake and be popular with consumers, but the car does share promising elements with the Stelvio Pass in terms of power, uniqueness and desire. As for making the journey up the Stelvio Pass, the SUV might not make it up to the pass as fast as an Alfa Romeo sports car, but it will be far better suited for winter drives wherever the traveling spirit might take you.