If you want your luxury crossover to stand out in a crowded market, name it after one of the greatest roads in the world.
That’s exactly the strategy Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is employing with the debut of the all-new Alfa Romeo Stelvio at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show on Wednesday.
Taking inspiration from the winding Stelvio Pass in the Italian Alps, considered by many to be the finest driving road on earth, the Stelvio sets its sights squarely on the BMW X3, Audi Q5, and other luxury sports crossovers that have exploded in popularity of late.
But where its competitors largely prioritize comfort, the five-seat Stelvio — the first SUV in Alfa Romeo’s 106-year history — favors a more aggressive approach.
“The Stelvio is an SUV uniquely engineered to challenge 2-door sports cars on the track without sacrificing any of the characteristics you would expect from an SUV. The no compromise Stelvio, like the Giulia, sets a new benchmark for the segment,” said Reid Bigland, who heads FCA's Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands.
In the Stelvio and Stelvio Ti trims, an aluminum 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque. All-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission are included as standard.
As with the forthcoming Giulia sedan, the Stelvio will also be available as a high-performance Quadrifoglio edition sporting 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque from its 2.9-liter bi-turbo V6 engine. Alfa Romeo says that 60 mph will be attainable in just 3.9 seconds.
The Stelvio plays a key role in FCA’s plans to establish Alfa Romeo’s foothold in the U.S. Currently, the brand has sales volume is in the low hundreds, mostly with the 4C sports car. Combined with the Giulia’s arrival on dealer lots in recent weeks, the Stelvio is poised to dramatically increase Alfa Romeo sales in early 2017.
The decision to enter the Sport Utility / Sport Wagon segment is a calculated one for Alfa Romeo. Sales in this market have increased by 6.4 percent through the first 10 months of 2016 compared with the same period in 2015, according to Autodata Corp, an industry research firm.
Cashing in on that wave would bring a surge of sales to Alfa Romeo. Through 2016, the brand has sold a total of 441 vehicles. By contrast, the new Maserati Levante luxury SUV — another FCA product — alone sold 979 examples in its first two months.
Not to say that sales will come easily; in addition to Audi and BMW, the Jaguar F-PACE and Porsche Macan have a head start with adrenaline-seeking SUV buyers — a redesigned Land Rover Discovery Sport also enters the fray this month.
Alfa Romeo hopes to catch the eye of potential customers with a wide array of standard features.
All trims will feature a backup camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leather seats, an F1-inspired flat bottom steering wheel, push button start, power liftgate and a 7-inch thin film transistor instrument cluster display. In the higher range trims, the Stelvio Ti delivers 19-inch wheels, an 8.8-inch infotainment display, and available Sport and Lusso packages.
The Stelvio emphasizes its high-performance intentions with a carbon fiber driveshaft, lightweight architecture and low center of gravity. All models offer three driving modes — Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficiency — while the Quadrifoglio boasts Race, as well.
In addition to its potent engine, which also powers the Giulia Quadrifoglio, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio boasts performance upgrades to the suspension, brakes and wheels.
Alfa Romeo promises inspired handling thanks to Chassis Domain Control, which includes a four-channel damping system called Alfa Active suspension as well as torque vectoring for improved control.
Aluminum paddle shifters mounted to the steering column can deliver gear shifts in 100 milliseconds, while optional carbon shell Sparco racing seats and Brembo carbon-ceramic material brakes bring track day bona fides to the SUV.
If Alfa Romeo is serious about capturing market share in the U.S., an inspired SUV — much like an inspired name — seems a great place to start.
Trucks.com writer Deanna Isaacs contributed to this report.