The Alfa Romeo Stelvio is named for a historic Italian mountain pass that ascends to 9,000 feet above sea level and features 48 tight hairpin bends. Befitting its name, the Stelvio has fantastic handling, among the most agile in a class that includes the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace. It feels eager in corners, and its quick steering helps to make it extremely fun to drive.

The Alfa Romeo Stelvio has enough gusto to easily merge onto the highway, powered by a 280-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that runs quickly and decisively through an eight-speed automatic transmission. But the experience isn’t always gelato smooth, especially in low-speed situations; there, the transmission occasionally stumbles after a cold start. Nonetheless, the engine’s Italian heritage comes through with a pleasant exhaust snarl. Yes, this SUV has character.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio

Alfa Romeo built its legacy on high-performance sports cars and sedans, but to stay competitive, it needed to expand its lineup into SUVs. With its typically equipped $50,000 price, the late-to-the-game 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio is up against some fierce luxury competition. It might be difficult to sell this new SUV to the uninitiated buyer who has little knowledge of the company’s history. Further complicating matters is the Stelvio’s uncertain reliability. Its parent company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, has a woeful track record.

The Stelvio’s ride has a firm edge to it but still absorbs bumps fairly well. By comparison, the F-Pace and Macan are stiffer. The cabin stays mostly quiet, but some road and wind noise creeps in. Visibility is a challenge, particularly to the rear, where the curvy styling, small rear window, and sizable rear head restraints block the view.

Learn more about luxury SUVs.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio interior

Inside, the Stelvio suffers from the same ergonomic flaws as its sedan sibling, the Alfa Romeo Giulia. There are quirky touches, such as the start button located on the steering wheel, that we can live with. But other touches are true head-shaking frustrations. You use a rotary knob to interact with the infotainment system, which, at face value, is similar to how the Audi or BMW systems work. But the icons aren't clear and the menu structure is convoluted. You’re forced to select an icon to highlight its label, or click on a band source in order to scroll to the next choice. The whole process is cumbersome, too distracting, and quite annoying.

The driver's seat and driving position are also compromised. You can’t adjust the angle of the bottom cushion independent of adjusting the seat height. The only way to adjust the position of the cushion is to raise or lower the seat.

And last, the electronic shifter is a nuisance to use, requiring the press of a release button to go from Reverse to Drive, and a different button to engage Park.

The Stelvio we bought came in the Ti trim with all-wheel drive, the Driver Assistance Static package (which includes blind-spot monitoring), and the Driver Assist Dynamic Plus package, which comes with two important safety features: forward-collision warning and low-speed automatic emergency braking. Adding the dual-pane sunroof, a Harman Kardon sound system, and a few other odds and ends brought the price to $52,040.

We also sampled an Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti Sport model, which is equipped with larger wheels and sportier seats that feature more aggressive side bolsters. The larger wheels didn’t seem have too much of a negative impact on the ride, and our staff preferred the seats because of the extra support and wider range of adjustments they offered.

Check back with us after we finish the 2,000 break-in miles on the Stelvio and start putting it through its paces as part of our test program.

2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio rear driving