Organizers of the Tour of Italy introduced the Stelvio Pass into the country’s most celebrated bike race 66 years ago. It rises above 9,000 feet and includes a few dozen hairpin turns on narrow roads. Alfa Romeo has branded its first compact sport utility vehicle with the same name.

The Stelvio route in the Ortler Alps near the Swiss border has been canceled several times because of inclement weather. Many cyclists have successfully negotiated the rugged trek, others have failed because of mechanical failures in the nasty elements.

The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio has 505 horsepower.
The 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio has 505 horsepower.

As such, the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio has a rugged legacy to follow. It’s powerful and confident like cycling’s best who ride top-end machines. But the all-wheel-drive luxury SUV also has failings. It’s like riders who have good intentions but suffer at the back of the pack when things go wrong quickly.

Available in base, luxury-oriented Ti and high-performance Quadrifoglio trims, the Stelvio is the third vehicle in the Alfa Romeo lineup since the iconic Italian manufacturer returned to the United States in 2014.

The Stelvio Quadrifoglio (four-leaf clover) is the best of the trio, boasting 505-horsepower and a Ferrari-derived twin-turbocharged 2.9-liter V6. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

With its 0-60 miles per hour acceleration in 3.8 seconds, it’s the monolith of SUVs. The Stelvio’s precise steering and aggressive nature stand out in a high-priced segment that also includes the BMW X3, Infiniti QX70, Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan.

For SUV fanciers into performance and looks, the Stelvio may not have an equal. Its stylish exterior attracts attention. It has Brembo brakes, signature 20-inch, five-hole aluminum wheels with Pirelli summer tires, flared fenders and four-leaf clover badging. It has the carmaker’s signature Scudetto (little shield in Italian) grille.

The Stelvio interior has its charms. The carbon fiber steering wheel is big and thin, with paddle shifters. The leather seating and red stitching and trim combination work well. The Stelvio blasts down the road with a hearty engine note and occupants advance quietly and in comfort.

But a few features are amiss. The ignition button on the steering wheel is gimmicky. The air conditioning and heating vents are made of low-grade plastic. The windshield wiper switch is minuscule and hard to reach on the underside of the turn signal indicator arm.

The rear window is small and the large head restraints block the view. Cargo space isn’t a strength, either, with many competitors offering larger, more efficiently designed areas.

The Stelvio’s complicated shifter is confusing. The electronic knob requires pressing a release button to go from reverse to drive and a different button to engage the park mode.

Still, the Stelvio’s shortcomings have been dismissed by performance-oriented enthusiasts for whom fast means quality. The new SUV has garnered its share of gushing accolades, including reviewers who labeled the vehicle as “the perfect SUV.”

The standard equipped list and packages are impressive. Xenon headlights, roof rails, a power liftgate, keyless ignition and entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, ambient interior lighting, leather upholstery, 10-way power-adjustable front seats and adjustable drive settings start the healthy list.

Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and auto-dimming mirrors are solid features. Adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and mitigation, lane departure warning and auto high beams are also all standard.

The Convenience package adds an adjustable rail cargo system, 115-volt auxiliary power and cargo net, and is available with or without a hands-free liftgate. Harman Kardon provides the audio system, and there’s a dual-pane sunroof.

But a perfect SUV, the Stelvio isn’t. Gas mileage averages are 17 miles per gallon in city driving, 23 miles per gallon in highway conditions. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $79,795 and $82,790 with its extras calculated.

Alfa Romeo’s first SUV is beautiful and it carries its Italian heritage with a swagger. Whether it’s worthy of its name remains uncertain.

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