To people of a certain age, Alfa Romeo is how you say “sports car” in Italian. Its two seat barchetta, the Spider Veloce, played a staring role in Mike Nichols’ classic movie The Graduate. You don’t even have to know Italian to know what “veloce” means. Just say the word and it definition become clear. Road & Track often waxed poetic about the superb handling that was baked into the Alfa Spider. Its dual overhead cam aluminum engine was a thrilling site for those used to a 283 small block Chevrolet. That little jewel was light years ahead of anything offered by the Big Three in Detroit.
Alfa Romeo has not sold cars in America since the 164 sedan, which disappeared from US showrooms in 1995. More than 20 years later, Alfa Romeo may be knocking on Miss Liberty’s door once again, this time with a brand new sport utility vehicle dubbed the Stelvio. Curious what “Stelvio” means? It is the name of one of the highest Alpine passes in Italy. Not far from the Swiss border, it is more than 9,000 feet above sea level at its highest point. One section features 48 tightly linked hairpin turns as the road claws it way skyward.
For many car nuts, driving the Stelvio pass on a warm summer day with no other traffic on the road and the top down is what heaven must be like if there are sports cars and roads to drive them on in the hereafter. A well preserved Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce would be the perfect vehicle to drive on that celestial journey.
Enzo Ferrari would have been shocked and dismayed if he knew that one day his eponymous automobile company had been lumped in with the likes of Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, and Jeep, but the trials and tribulations of the Italian economy led to precisely that result. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles spun off the Ferrari brand a few years ago, but the linkages between all those companies remain in place in the background.
Ferrari is for purists. There are no electric cars in its future (although hybrids may be) and no sport utility vehicles. Even though Porsche has powered its way into the 21st century on the strength of its Cayenne SUV, Ferrari so far has refused to follow suit. But the Alfa Romeo Stelvio unveiled last week at the Los Angeles auto show, with its Ferrari inspired twin turbo 2.9 liter V-6 engine, may be the SUV that Ferrari could have built if it wanted to.
The Stelvio is reported to be the quickest production SUV available. It can storm to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, which is a tick of the watch quicker than a standard Tesla Model X. Alfa Romeo engineers say the Stelvio should be the fastest SUV ever to take on the Nordschliefe at the famed Nurburgring according to their computer models. It hasn’t actually taken on the ‘Ring in real life yet, however.
Reaction at the LA show was resoundingly enthusiastic. Brian Leon of the New York Daily News exclaimed, “From a looks standpoint, the Stelvio has hardly an equal, with accentuated curves, an impossibly aggressive front end, a handsome tapered roofline, and tall, rounded rear with quad exhaust pipes that tell you ‘this is how you’ll most often be viewing the Stelvio.’ The scowling headlights and signature triangular grille make this SUV look wholly different from any luxury competitor that’s come before, and while it’s definitely not for everyone, I’ve got to admit that I’m a fan.”
Prices and availability are two details Alfa has yet to reveal. We don’t know what sort of dealer network will carry the quadrifoglio (four leaf clover) brand into the future. It has been the trademark for Alfa Romeo longer than the cavallino rampante (prancing horse) has stood for Ferrari.
One pundit has quipped that the Stelvio looks like a Mazda CX5 with Alfa badging. There may be some truth to that. The new Fiat 124 is based on the current Mazda Miata. There may indeed be some Mazda DNA in the Alfa Romeo Stelvio as well but that shouldn’t matter much to potential buyers. SUV’s are hotter than a tamale on Cinquo de Mayo. One SUV does look much like another but none wears an Alfa Romeo badge on its flanks. For some, that will be enough.
Source: Automotive News Photo credit: Alfa Romeo