The 2018 Mercedes-Benz GLC and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio are two excellent luxury compact crossovers with very different personalities.
One’s like the kind of person you want to date and meet at a bar because it’s fun, sexy, and exciting, but the other is the one you might consider going long term with because it’s the smart, responsible choice that you can feel comfortable bringing home to meet your parents. I’m pretty sure you already know which one is which.
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Typical Alfa Romeo
An Alfa Romeo must have two things: a sexy style and engaging driving dynamics, and if one is missing, then it can’t really be an Alfa. Luckily, the Stelvio nails it on both of those fronts. The Stelvio is easily the most attractive and unique crossover in its class — it stands out in a very crowded segment and you can actually feel cool driving it. Everywhere you go, people are checking the car out, giving you thumbs up, and doing double takes. This isn’t a CUV that blends in and its cool factor gets it a lot of points.
Some would argue, however, that you can’t mention an Alfa Romeo without pointing out the brand’s history with reliability and quality, and my example had an uneven and large panel gap that was clearly a mistake. It was a small issue and not a dealbreaker, but still something to consider.
The Drive is Alive
Once you drive the Stelvio, you realize how special it is — the drive feels alive because everything is crisp and engaging. This model, which is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque, isn’t blindingly fast, but it feels quick, which does more to make the car feel fun. Power gets to all wheels via an eight-speed transmission that’s snappy and responsive, getting it to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. Fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway for a combined 24 (10.8 L/100 km city, 8.3 highway, 9.6 combined). The TI Sport model we tested gets a bunch of upgrades, the most important of which are bigger wheels and a sportier suspension setup.
The standout feature of the driving experience is the steering, which is heavy and precise. It has a sharpness that’s hard to find in this class. The chassis also makes it drive like a hatchback and not a crossover — it feels balanced and composed in all types of driving and you never feel like you’re leaning too much. Outside of a Porsche Macan, which is much more expensive, the Stelvio probably has the tightest driving dynamics in its class.
The only issue I could find with the driving dynamics are the brakes — they’re firm, which is good, but they are not as linear or progressive as I want. I’d like more action in the first bit of pedal travel, but it seems a bit numb until you really stomp on it, but that’s easy enough to get used to.
When you’re not looking at it or driving it, however, the Stelvio begins to lose some points. It’s no secret that the ergonomics in Alfa Romeos are laughable and really hurt the Stelvio’s day-to-day livability — two things that constantly annoy me are the enormous paddle shifters that always get in the way and a turn signal that doesn’t click into place.
The other annoying thing is the infotainment system. FCA has a brilliant system called UConnect, which is good enough to use in Maseratis, so why don’t they use it in Alfa Romeos? Instead, Alfa drivers don’t get a touchscreen and are stuck using a rotary knob to control a system that has a non-intuitive structure too many menus to be user-friendly.
Although the layout is mostly nice, there is also a lot of hard black plastic inside that is unbecoming of a luxury car. It’s the little things like that and a lack of attention to detail that makes the Stelvio harder to live with and harder to recommend.
|Vehicle||Alfa Romeo Stelvio||Advantage||Mercedes-Benz GLC|
|Engine||2.0L turbo 4-cyl||-||2.0L turbo 4-cyl|
|Torque||306 lb-ft||Alfa||274 lb-ft|
|Transmission||8-speed auto||-||9-speed auto|
|Cargo Capacity cu-ft||19/57||Alfa||17.6/56.5|
|US Fuel Economy (MPG)||24 combined||Mercedes||24.5 combined|
|CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km)||9.6 combined||Alfa||10 combined|
|US Starting Price||$41,995||Alfa||$42,050|
|CAN Starting Price||$51,845||Mercedes||$45,900|
Benz Fights Back
Mercedes probably isn’t too worried about the Stelvio as competition because it has been making crossovers for much longer and has a strong product with the GLC. There’s really not too much wrong with it, which is refreshing because the Alfa’s flaws are just so in your face. The GLC simply does a good job at everything you expect it to — there are no surprises.
The inside of the GLC is luxurious and is much more put together and well thought out than the Stelvio. Ergonomically, there’s not too much wrong with it, but the infotainment system would benefit from a touchscreen and being more intuitive. There’s a bit of a learning curve required and the lack of a clear home button makes it worse.
The other weirdness is the gear selector, which I have never liked because it’s where the wiper stalk is supposed to be. The cruise control stalk on the steering wheel is also hidden from plain sight, which makes it difficult to use. In total, the steering column has four stalks on it, which is too much.
Other than those small issues, the interior is great. Materials are good, the design is pretty fresh, and there’s a lot the GLC gets right.
Driving the Benz
So, let’s get it out of the way right now: the Mercedes is not as fun to drive as the Alfa. It’s much more geared toward luxury than sport, and there’s nothing wrong with that because some people don’t prioritize driving engagement. There’s nothing wrong with the way the GLC 300 drives — it’s smooth, quiet, reasonably quick, and balanced, but it’s definitely not fun and it isn’t going get you excited. It’s not engaging, but it’s predictable and comfortable, and that gets it a lot of points.
The GLC 300 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbo four, just like the Alfa, but outputs 241 horsepower and 274 pound-feet, which is less than the Alfa in both cases. It sends power to all four wheels via a nine-speed transmission and gets it to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, which is slower than the Alfa by a whole second.
Fuel economy for the AWD model is rated at 21 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway for a 24.5 combined rating (11.1 L/100 km city, 8.6 highway, 10 combined), which is pretty much on par with what the Stelvio gets.
The GLC has 17.6 cubic feet (498 L) of cargo space and 56.5 (1,600 L) with the seats folded, which is actually less than the Stelvio, which has 19 (538 L) and 57 cubic feet (1,614 L). But here’s why: The Alfa’s bigger trunk takes a hit on rear seat passenger space, so it feels cramped compared to the GLC. If you have passengers regularly, the Benz is the way to go.
My biggest knock against the GLC is that it’s just so generic. This isn’t a car that gets any attention on the road, it will easily get lost in a parking lot, and there’s no valet person that’s going to be impressed by it.
The Verdict: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio vs Mercedes-Benz GLC Comparison
If style and driving dynamics are what you want, the Alfa is the clear choice here. It’s unique and beautiful and you can feel cool and have fun driving it. But sadly, that doesn’t mean it’s the better CUV for most people. The GLC is more well-rounded and easier to live with day to day. It’s definitely not as exciting as the Stelvio and it has pretty much zero personality, but it does mostly everything remarkably well, which is something I just can’t say for the Alfa.