La bella macchina


La bella macchina

Alfa Romeos are built for mountain passes with the kind of curves that made Sophia Loren famous. EGMONT SIPPEL put the Stelvio lifestyler through its paces.


THE Japanese love to give names to processes. Jidoka in Toyota language means something like “automation with a human factor". Kaizen indicates a drive to continuously improve; kai is change and zen is, well…

Robert M Pirsig's 1974 masterpiece explains it over 400 pages. By the way, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times before publication. In the first 121 days after publication, 60,000 copies were sold.

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Passionate Italians 

Unlike the Japanese, Italians don't bother with processes. In  film master Federico Fellini's Amarcord, the Azzurri remain trapped “in perpetual adolescence".

Emotions are all over the place. Temperaments fly around like witches' brooms. Life is chaotic.

But sometimes there is a bit of zen too. For example, on the justice ministry's main building the words Ministero di Grazia e Giustizia are inscribed.

Just imagine. The Ministry of Grace and Justice. We will apply the law, but the starting point is grace.

So, friends, Romans, fellow citizens, lend me your ears. Caesar was not the pig  Brutus thought he was. And Galileo was right when he reckoned the Earth revolved around the sun, even though the rest suspected the universe revolved around the Vatican.

There are always two sides. The legal process is flexible, pliable, adaptable. We can find delightful answers, even in rot. Roberto Benigni filmed it that way. Life is Beautiful.

That's why Benigni would become the only Oscar winner ever to clamber onto the top of the seat in front of him in the Dorothy Chandler Hall when La Vita è Bella was crowned as foreign film winner in 1999:

Indeed, it was an exuberant display of joy, but one could forgive Benigni his crazy antics. The man had just won an Oscar, and later that evening he would win another for best actor.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the real reason for the joker's excitement was that he was unstoppably on his way to embrace Sophia Loren. She had just announced Benigni's name as the winner – “Ro-BER-to!!" – before he breathlessly answered on stage: “Sophia, I leave the Oscar here, but I want you! I want to be rocked by the waves of your beauty! Come here!”

Even Chris Barnard, the beloved heart doctor who visited la donna più bella del mondo in Rome more than half a century ago, could not have delivered his declaration of love with greater conviction.

And that's what counts: passion, not processes. Caesar's descendants prefer to give names to emotions, experiences, passion, life.

The good life. La Dolce Vita. La Bella Macchina. La Lollo, the nation's pet name for Gina Lollobrigida, one of La Loren's contemporaries. Here is Sophia, also in a red dress.

Sports car on stilts

And as it happened, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.0T Veloce Q4 test car was recently delivered in red.

And yes, it may be an SUV, but actually the Stelvio is a sports car on stilts. Veloce doesn't mean “fast" for nothing and Cuore Sportivo, or the “sporty heart", has been an Alfa motto for a long time.

In the 1970s, that heart arrived in the form of the world's best four cylinders. The Alfasud Sprint Veloce's naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre with dual twin-choke, downdraught Weber carburettors not only produced an impressive 70kW, but that power was also delivered with Roberto Benigni's unbridled zest for life.

Even that crackling when you let rip was full of sparkle and punch!

Today's wonderful 2.0-litre petrol turbo once again occupies the four-cylinder throne, not only thanks to a lively 206kW/400Nm, but also to performance that is extremely sophisticated, clean and refined. The 0-100km/h run takes 5.7 seconds; the top speed is a brisk 230km/h. 

The super-smooth and super-quick eight-speed automatic transmission is an equally lovely piece of engineering.

In its basic form, the Giulia sedan (on which the Stelvio is based) is only a rear-wheel drive. However, Q4 variants have all-wheel drive that mostly serves the car's rear axle but can send up to 50% of engine power northward if needed.

Mamma mia handling

True mamma mia handling is a Q4 characteristic, even though the Stelvio stands 200 mm above the road. It's a ground clearance that, with strong torque, Q4 traction, proper suspension and solid construction, also delivers surprisingly good performance on gravel and even mud roads.

With the open-road needle regularly hovering between 130 and 160km/h, the Stelvio guzzles around 10ℓ/100km, but tempered speeds reduce this to 8ℓ/100km.

Equipment is complete, the rear cabin offers more than enough space for adults, and boot capacity is around 525 litres.

That leaves styling and ja well no fine, Italy doesn't produce La Lollos and La Lorens for nothing. It's an eternal fullness of curves that eventually finds its way into the national psyche, Milanese design included.

Half a century ago, Alfa did produce a few concept cars with straight lines and sharp seams (Giugiaro's Tipo 33 Iguana, Pininfarina's Cuneo and Gandini's Carabo and Navajo). And in the 1990s, Walter de Silva continued the sharp angularity of the 1970s' and 1980s' blunt-tailed Alfa Giulietta plus the 33, 75, 90 and 164 with Milan's 145 and 146.

However, since the turn of the century, Alfa has returned to a sultry sensuality that epitomises la dolce vita. Exotics such as Bentley, Bugatti, Aston Martin and Ferrari naturally overflow with Rubenesque curves, but in the mainstream there are only two manufacturers that follow an organic design philosophy: Mercedes and Alfa — with Romeo's organic sometimes becoming orgasmic.

In this sense, the Stelvio is anything but the product of a process. The 2.0T Veloce Q4 embodies hopelessly too much passion and testosterone.

Blend this with a hidden zen and the Alfa actually speaks of a love relationship between man and machine.

Therefore, friends, Philistines and fellow citizens, lend me your ears. The Stelvio is named after a mountain pass and it is through a mountain pass that it has to perform for its wonders to truly unfold, with this consistent promise: La bella macchina will transport you to La Lollo and La Loren country without delay, so you can discover Benigni's truth for yourself.

La Vita è Bella. Life is exquisite.

Price: Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.0T Veloce Q4 — R1.2 million


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