2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio Sport AWD: A taller Giulia for the family?

Price: $53,585 as tested ($41,995 for the trim level; Cold Weather Package heats the seats, steering wheel, and washer nozzle for $795; all kinds of sensors add $2,300; more discussed below)

Marketer's pitch: "An SUV born from a racing pedigree."

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver liked the "attractive design, composed ride, willing power train, ample cargo space," but not that it was "on the smaller side, thirsty at the pump, middling interior for the price."

Reality: A somewhat taller, not-quite-so-fun Giulia.

What's new: Everything, essentially. The Stelvio is a new crossover from Alfa Romeo, as the company tries to round out its lineup for the U.S. market.

It has room for five and lots of nice Italian touches to make it attractive, as well as the pointy-nose Alfa emblem across the grille to draw buyers in.

It's not very tall for a crossover, though. It sits about as high as a Kia Soul or a Prius V.

Anticipation: I loved the Giulia so much that I couldn't wait to get my hands on the Stelvio. I expected a fun crossover with some nice handling and room for actual people-size people in the back seat.

I got some of that.

Up to speed: Acceleration is definitely strong, but it's not crazy fast like the Giulia. The 280 horses from the 2.0-liter turbocharged four take a little while to kick in, and then full throttle requires some practice to squeeze every bit of power out. It takes 5.4 seconds to reach 60 mph, according to Car and Driver.

On the curves: And here's where the Stelvio just can't come close to the Giulia. The Giulia is so tight with the road that with a little practice, sliding into turns becomes automatic. Don't try that with a crossover, because you'll end up in the ditch – or worse.

Still, it handles quite nicely, especially in dynamic mode. The Sport AWD package ($1,800) certainly helps on this count, with sport-tuned suspension and some other accents. An additional $750 upgraded us to 20-inch tires.

Shifty: Yes, very. The eight-speed shiftable automatic takes a little while to warm up, so the Stelvio offers some seriously bouncy moments in the morning. Don't leave the vehicle in dynamic mode, or breakfast might dynamically make its way to your lap.

After that, though, the Stelvio is a fairly pleasant partner, although the occasional lurch caught me off guard. Paddle shifters come with the Sport package above.

Wood accents and black and silver base give the Alfa Romeo Stelvio a classy look inside as well.
Alfa Romeo
Wood accents and black and silver base give the Alfa Romeo Stelvio a classy look inside as well.

Driver's Seat: Oh, but this ride is difficult. The seat is extremely firm, and I couldn't get the lumbar off to my satisfaction. But it sure holds the driver in place.

And inside you'll be surrounded by some beautiful Italian handiwork.

Friends and stuff: Rear seat passengers will be happier in this Alfa than they will in the Giulia, but that's not saying a whole lot. Foot room is at a premium, legroom is so-so, though headroom is pretty good. Expect a whine from the center if someone has to sit there.

The rear seat is as hard as the front, although with less grip.

Cargo volume is 56.5 cubic feet, quite on the small side – smaller than a Kia Soul.

Looking backward: The Stelvio's rear window is small and sits at a sharp angle, so the view behind is pretty poor. A clear backup camera helps immensely in all but the worst weather.

Keeping warm and cool: Round vents in the corners offer great airflow that's easy to direct. The center vents do a fine job as well.

Heated seats function well but ventilated seats are not available.

Play some tunes: Alfa shows they're serious with some nice sound from the speakers (courtesy of the $895 Harman Kardon Premium Audio) and an easy-to-operate dial to get around the screen. The map program offers one of the best facsimiles of GIS grid maps of the United States, keeping most roads on screen even when zoomed way out.

The clock, though, is really, really small.

Night shift: Here, the Stelvio and I could not find a happy medium. The low beams are far too dim and sit too low for safety.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 21 mpg in the usual Mr. Driver's Seat round of testing. Feed the Stelvio premium.

Where it's built: Cassino, Italy.

How it's built: Consumer Reports predicts the Stelvio's reliability to be 1 out of 5.

In the end: The Stelvio is a nice unit, but its performance is not as enticing as the Giulia's – for which I would throw all caution to the wind. Maybe the 505-horsepower Quadrifoglio will do the trick.