We tested the car in mid-range four-wheel-drive 2.1-litre turbo diesel Sprint form, in which it provided a broadly familiar driving environment and experience. If you’re a keener driver, you’re still more likely to be attracted to the Stelvio by the latter than the former, though, in spite of Alfa’s attempts to smarten up the interior.
The changes to the cabin certainly take a keen eye to spot. There’s a new grooved aluminium finish to the centre console and some richer trim materials on the gear selector lever and infotainment controls. There’s also a neat little tray just ahead of the armrest cubby to simply drop your smartphone into for wireless charging (where compatible), and – in the wondrous era of keyless car operation – also a new, roughly key-fob-sized storage cubby just next to the gearlever where you can keep your car key while driving. What, exactly, was wrong with an ignition barrel in the first place is a question that still puzzles so many of us.
There remain plenty of places where the Stelvio’s interior looks and feels just a little bit cheaper and plainer than an equivalent Audi, Mercedes or BMW, though. The grade of the plastics used on its air vents and column stalks can be all too easily compared with what you might find in a holiday rental, and the look and feel of its steering-wheel-mounted switchgear isn’t a lot classier. Much of the ‘leather’ used around the lower reaches of the fascia quite clearly isn’t what it’s pretending to be, either.
On the plus side, the part-leather seats are smooth and tactile enough, and there are other material niceties to discover besides. The oversized, column-mounted aluminium gearshift paddles are easy to find without looking, and they reward you with a cool metallic touch.
There’s also an Alfa Romeo logo ‘designed in’ to the two-piece load-bay cover that reflects appealingly in both the rear-view mirror and the rear screen. It’s the sort of thing a designer would come up with to add a sense of richness and occasion to a car in a fairly cost-effective way.
The bottom line, however, is that Alfa could certainly have done more to lift the quality look and feel of this interior if it really wanted the Stelvio to finally tempt people out of Q5s and X3s in bigger numbers. What it has done isn’t too convincing, and only narrows very slightly what remains a sizable deficit to those German rivals.
The updated infotainment system is an improvement on the old one in some ways. The 8.8in screen is no larger than it was and suffers with the same pervading dimness that characterised it before, although at least that means it shouldn’t dazzle too much. It is more usable than previously, though, with a new customisable home screen whose layout you can decide on yourself in order to grant easier access to the functions you use most. Wired smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android handsets is standard through a USB 2.0 port up front, and there’s a second port in the back to keep the kids’ devices working.
You start the car’s engine via a button on the steering wheel, and, after the usual diesel commotion, Alfa’s 2.1-litre diesel runs relatively quietly. Even so, it’s a slightly old-fashioned-feeling diesel that’s particularly big on mid-range torque but also particularly slow revving. It pulls with real gusto from below 2000rpm, but shifts long before 4000rpm.