Alfa's first crossover takes aim at Germany's best

Alfa Romeo’s all-wheel-drive Stelvio features a torque vectoring differential to improve traction and stability, while its standard Q4 all-wheel-drive system allows transfer of up to 60 percent of torque to the front axle.

The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio — the first crossover from the resurrected brand and key to Fiat Chrysler’s hopes of restoring Alfa Romeo to global relevance — features a trim lineup that puts German competitors squarely in its sights.

The Stelvio, named after a harrowing mountain pass in the Italian Alps, is built on FCA’s new Giorgio platform, which also underpins Alfa’s Giulia compact sport sedan.

It will be built at FCA’s plant in Cassino, Italy, and makes its global debut Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It is expected to begin appearing in showrooms in 2017.

Alfa is the latest luxury marque — after Porsche and most recently Jaguar, Maserati and Lamborghini — to expand beyond a traditional car lineup and market increasingly popular SUVs and crossovers.

Fiat Chrysler is banking on the Stelvio to provide a big spark to the low-volume brand’s U.S. sales, which have slumped 23 percent this year to 441 vehicles, most of which are the 4C coupe and 4C Spider.

Alfa Romeo returned to the U.S. market in late 2014 after a nearly two-decade absence and is betting on the Stelvio to help draw a new generation of buyers as well as fans of rival German brands.

“American drivers are still getting to know the Alfa Romeo brand, and the introduction of the Stelvio is the best way to gain exposure to consumers in the bustling premium utility segment,” said Eric Lyman, chief analyst for TrueCar.

Fiat Chrysler is investing $ 6 billion to expand Alfa’s product lineup with the goal of generating global sales of 400,000 in 2018. The Stelvio is expected to account for a major chunk of that volume.

Reid Bigland, the global head of Alfa Romeo, told Autocar UK that the Stelvio will stand above its German competitors because of how it drives.

“The reason people will buy our midsized SUV is because they will get blown away by the driving dynamics,” he said. “Every car Alfa makes must stand apart for that reason. This car will not disappoint.”

The Stelvio will come with two available engines. The base model and midtrim Ti is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four with direct injection making 280 hp and 306 pounds-feet of torque. The top-end Quadrifoglio is powered by a 2.9-liter biturbo V-6 engine that generates 505 hp and 443 pounds-feet of torque — good for a 0 to 60 mph time of 3.9 seconds, according to press materials obtained by Automotive News. The V-6 also features cylinder deactivation, allowing it to conserve fuel by shutting off half of its cylinders when not under load.

The all-wheel-drive crossover features a torque vectoring differential to improve traction and stability, while its standard Q4 all-wheel-drive system allows transfer of up to 60 percent of torque to the front axle.

Inside the cabin, the Stelvio shares a number of features with the Giulia, including its climate controls, flat-bottomed steering wheel with paddle shifters, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-compatible infotainment system.

They also share Alfa’s “DNA” selector knob, allowing the driver to change driving dynamics, including Race modes for the Quadrifoglio models. A second rotary dial in the center console controls the infotainment system.

When it enters production next year, the Stelvio will be available in 13 exterior colors with a sizable number of interior trim and color choices. Pricing was not announced.

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