If you’re looking for a driver-centric SUV, here are two of the best.
We’re not talking about the top-spec models of the Porsche Macan and Alfa Romeo Stelvio, either. Every luxury automaker can build a high-performance (and high-price) SUV, but it’s rare for the four-cylinder models to maintain some level of athleticism.
Looking for a blend of performance and practicality, at a price point that will only crack the bank instead of break it? We spent a week with both to see which walks that fine line best.
Interior and Cargo Space
Macan: Porsche has kept the Macan’s interior pretty consistent over its lifespan. With good reason, as the ergonomics are sound. The rectilinear dashboard design isn’t exactly adventurous, but it’s sturdy and very well-built. The black-and-beige scheme of this tester lightens the mood, too.
My main criticism is the move to capacitive touch buttons on either side of the shifter. I know, I’m a broken record here, but their techy, clean look doesn’t make up for decreased usefulness. A plain ol’ button is easier to use with minimal distraction. I’m all for digitization when it has its advantages—the perks with an instrument cluster, for example—but this sort of implementation just isn’t my bag.
Front-seat comfort is high, with nicely bolstered seats and 14-way adjustability, plus memory. The Macan driver sits nice and low for a connected driving feel, and the view out is acceptable. The Porsche’s power-adjustable steering rack is a nice luxury perk, too.
Rear-seat space is on the smaller side of the segment, particularly legroom (Porsche doesn’t give an official measurement). The less aggressive window line and large panoramic moonroof work in tandem to make the Porsche’s second row less claustrophobic.
Pop the powered liftgate and the Macan offers up a useful 17.2 cubic feet (487 L) of storage. That extends to 53.0 cubes (1,501 L) when you fold the second row flat, which features a handy 40/20/40 split for longer items.
Stelvio: True to form, the Stelvio’s interior has a flair for the dramatic. The bold, round air-con vents. The twin-cowl instrument cluster. The fillet of brushed aluminum bisecting the tall dashboard. It’s a fun look, and if it weren’t for the cheapish black plastic in the lower half of the center stack, the Stelvio would pull it off. All the controls are easy to find, with tried-and-true dials for climate and audio that are hard to beat.
The front seats are sportier in shape than the laid-back Macan thrones, offering an extra bit of squeeze on the torso, and more lower thigh support. They don’t offer the range of adjustments the Porsche seats do, but there’s still a memory setting. Similarly, the wheel is manually adjustable for reach and rake. The Alfa’s chunky C-pillar puts it at a visibility disadvantage.
With the all-black interior, back-seat passengers have to contend with a tight space lacking in natural light. The large glass panel in the roof helps, but the rising beltline sure doesn’t. The seat cushions are notably flatter than the ones in the Macan, as well. Alfa’s interior designers have scalloped out the front seatbacks as much as possible to liberate legroom, but the Alfa still feels tighter. At least the door opening is more adult-friendly.
While the Alfa is shorter overall, it does hold the advantage in the cargo space race. There are 18.5 cu-ft (524 L) with all seats up, and 56.5 cubes (1,600 L) with the 40/20/40 seat folded flat.
SEE ALSO: Genesis GV70 vs Porsche Macan Comparison
Bottom Line: The Porsche’s interior is the nicer space, but those touch controls are a step backwards. The Macan also holds an advantage for rear-seat space, if only marginally. If you’ll regularly be fitting adults back there, that matters. We like the Alfa’s controls, front seats, and more spacious cargo hold, but that’s not enough to earn it this first category win.
Tech and Features
Macan: Porsche updated the Macan’s infotainment as part of this 2022 refresh, fitting a sharp 10.9-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dashboard. Of the two, it’s the more user-friendly setup, though it’s important to note the rest of the German luxury brands do better still. The high point for the Porsche setup are its refreshing lack of sub-menus: almost everything can be found in two pokes. The native navigation is one of the few I’ll regularly use instead of my phone’s apps. Speaking of, Android Auto is still unavailable for Macan owners; iPhone users only, sorry.
Porsche’s pick-and-mix approach to options allows buyers to tailor the car’s feature list to their tastes. That can be a positive—but it also comes across as stingy on occasion. Take this Macan’s dearth of driver assists: you’ve got lane departure warning, lane change assist, and … that’s about it. It does use a surround view camera, which is helpful, but the perspective is so warped that it takes a while to get used to. There’s also the self-steering park assist, should you need it.
The Macan does a good job pampering riders, with heated seats in both rows, ventilated front seats, and a solid Bose stereo. Porsche’s dynamic lighting setup is great at night, too. There are two USB-C ports for back-seat riders, but you’ll have to cough up extra for Porsche’s awkward wireless charger setup, located in the center console storage.
Stelvio: Stelvio’s infotainment system is a far cry from the Uconnect 5 we love so much in other Stellantis products. It looks slick enough in its 8.8-inch screen, but the system itself isn’t intuitive. It works via multiple “cards,” almost like someone cribbed homework from older examples of BMW’s iDrive. You can poke around via the touchscreen, or use the central-mounted rotary dial. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported, however.
Like the Porsche, the Stelvio features heated seating in both rows, plus a pair of USB-A ports for rear riders. It misses out on seat ventilation, but has the superior Harman/Kardon sound system. No wireless charing here, either.
The Alfa has the Porsche licked on the driver assist front. Standard kit includes automated emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors front and rear, plus a better rearview camera. Add on this tester’s driver assistance package and you’ve got active blind-spot assist, full-range adaptive cruise control, road sign recognition, highway assist, driver attention alert, and lane-keep assist.
Bottom Line: The Porsche has the better infotainment system, plus ventilated front thrones and a power-adjustable steering wheel. The Alfa counters with a slightly worse infotainment (but with phone mirroring for both major platforms), a better sound system, and comprehensively better driver assist suite. The Alfa ties the game up.
Powertrain, Driving Feel, and Fuel Economy
Macan: The Macan’s 2.0-liter engine got an upgrade for 2022, now producing 261 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. “On paper, it looks like it doesn’t have the power to motivate the SUV’s weight or the 295 mmwide rear tires,” notes Mike, highlighting what must be the highest rubber-to-horsepower ratio on the market. “But it still is quite quick, from a dead stop or on the highway.” I’m inclined to agree, and look at the excellent seven-speed PDK dual-clutch as the reason. The gearbox cracks off shifts with equal parts speed and accuracy, making the most of the Macan’s low (1,800 rpm) torque peak. AWD is standard on all models, on both sides of the border.
As you’d expect given the badge, the Macan rides firm. The fixed-rate dampers do a good job in most scenarios, though rougher surfaces do result in a jiggly cabin. The Porsche settles into a natural groove on the highway, where its rock-solid composure is clearly the result of hours of autobahn blasts. The steering remains a template for all crossovers, with good weight, unerring accuracy, and even some semblance of feedback. The brakes are easy to modulate, and the shifter needs a solid shove. I like that.
The feel-good times come to a halt once the Macan drains its tank—which is quick. The EPA rates fuel economy at just 19 mpg city, alongside a 25 mpg highway score and 21 mpg combined. NRCAN equivalent fuel economy figures are 12.4, 9.3, and 11.0 L/100 km, respectively.
Want more power? The Macan S and GTS both use turbocharged V6s, offering up to 434 horsepower.
Stelvio: The Stelvio one-ups the Porsche at every available opportunity, at least on paper. Horsepower? 280. Torque? 306 lb-ft. Number of gears in its automatic transmission? Eight. Alfa quotes a 5.7-second run to 62 mph (100 km/h), which is 0.7 s quicker than the Porsche.
One look at those enormous 21-inch wheels and you’d be forgiven for thinking the Alfa’s ride would be punishing. But it never gets there. You hear the suspension doing its work more than in the Porsche, sure, but the ride itself is comfortable. Should you want to attack a corner, switching to the Dynamic drive mode wakes up the Stelvio, and the rear limited-slip differential allows the car to find grip and pivot around corners. The steering isn’t quite as sharp nor feelsome as the Porsche’s, but the Stelvio is still a predictable, fun package to toss around. Extra points for the best paddle shifters in the business, and the fact the manual mode stays that way; the Porsche defaults back to auto after a few seconds.
The Stelvio’s hidden talent is fuel economy. With scores of 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 24 mpg combined, the Alfa’s combined number nearly matches the Porsche’s highway one. You’re probably not buying a luxury SUV to save cash, but you can’t argue with the estimated $450 the Alfa will save you each year in gas, according to the EPA.
(Canadian figures are 10.8, 8.3, and 9.6 L/100 km.)
Bottom Line: The Macan really is the Porsche of compact SUVs, with even this base model providing a solid hit of driver enjoyment. The Stelvio doesn’t let it run away though. The Alfa might not feel as quick, but it’s the speedier SUV, and it has a more pliant around-town ride. That it’s also better on gas helps. Its steering lacks that extra level of involvement, which forces the driver to hold back instead of truly committing. For 98 percent of the time, that won’t matter, but since we’re weighting dynamics more than the average SUV comparo, it has to be noted nonetheless.
Macan: This second facelift for the Macan doesn’t change the essentials. It’s still a good-looking SUV, avoiding the awkward early years Porsche struggled with on the Cayenne. With lighter paint colors, the plastic moustache in the front bumper can be overkill, but this Gentian Blue example helps it blend in. Mike is a big fan of the chunky five-spoke wheels. The full-width taillight still looks cool as hell with its dark glass and three-dimensional design. Four exhaust tips remains overkill.
Stelvio: Eye-searing yellow paint aside, the Alfa’s pointy front end and strong character lines have aged well. The shield grille makes the Stelvio immediately identifiable from 100 yards out. I’m with Mike on the Macan’s rims, but they can’t match the iconic look of the Alfa’s telephone dials. While both vehicles split the difference between upright tailgates and the slanted “coupe-over” look, the Alfa’s truncated tail gives it more of a tall-wagon vibe.
Bottom Line: Both of these models carry strong family genes, so you’ve likely got a favorite already. The relative ubiquity of the Macan does lessen its impact—if you want to stand out, the rarer Italian is the way to go.
Pricing and Value
Macan: If you’re looking for the absolute cheapest way into brand-new Porsche ownership, a no-options Macan lists for $58,950 ($62,550 CAD), including destination. Of course, should you find one without a single box ticked, you should probably buy a lottery ticket, such is the rarity.
This tester takes a surprisingly restrained approach. The Premium Plus package ($4,910 / $5,770 CAD) is an easy choice, adding rear-seat heating and front-seat ventilation, a panoramic moonroof, 14-way power seats with driver memory, Bose stereo, and a few other goodies. The next-priciest upgrade are those cool 20-inch alloys ($2,950 / $3,370 CAD), followed by the 360-degree camera ($1,200 / $1,360 CAD), Gentian Blue metallic paint ($700 / $790 CAD), and the Porsche crests on the headrests ($570 / $660 CAD).
There’s not much difference between standard kit for American and Canadian buyers. The former sees the variable-ratio power steering standard, the latter has heated steering as standard, and both include the other’s as an option.
The final tally is $70,210 ($73,000 CAD).
Stelvio: We have to address this from two separate viewpoints. In America, our loaded 2022 Stelvio Veloce tester would retail for $60,665, including destination. That is almost exactly $10,000 less than the Porsche, or around 15 percent off. With such a big gap, it becomes a lot easier to overlook things like slightly shinier plastics or a manual steering column adjustment. Like the Porsche, the Alfa requires extra cash for driver assists (the $1,595 Active Assist Plus Package), but then roundly beats its Stuttgart rival with a robust suite of aids.
Then there’s Canada. Stellantis products get some sort of maple syrup tax, and even the Italians can’t dodge it. The same spec tester, including the Harman/Kardon sound system, extended leather, and 21-inch wheels, rings in at $70,810 CAD. Now you’re looking at a gap of two grand.
Bottom Line: In America, no question, the Alfa’s lower price more than makes up for any gaps in its features list. Not the case in Canada, where the Porsche is the clear value winner. Yeah, we never thought we’d hear that combination of words either.
Verdict: Porsche Macan vs Alfa Romeo Stelvio Comparison
Both of these compact SUVs might be getting on a bit, yet they remain two of the very best examples to drive. Even with their base engines, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Porsche Macan can be rewarding and fun, yet remain practical people-haulers.
The results are close. The Alfa is the more characterful choice, its slightly old-school power delivery mixing with a surprisingly pliant ride. Its tighter rear quarters are easy to overlook; the brand’s long history of reliability issues, less so. That’s not a problem for the Macan. The Stuttgart-based brand’s best-seller isn’t just a cynical cash grab: it really does imbue the compact class with Porsche feel. We’d be lying if we said the middling fuel economy and occasionally rough ride didn’t make us excited for the upcoming EV model.
There are better-equipped compact SUVs. More affordable ones. Options with better tech, too. These two are the irrational choice, the triumph of the heart over the head. Yet the ultimate decision came down to pragmatism. If you’re shopping in the US, the huge savings you’d enjoy with the Stelvio makes it our overall pick. Canadians get the better Macan deal, and it’s our choice in the Great White North.
Become an AutoGuide insider. Get the latest from the automotive world first by subscribing to our newsletter here.