NASHVILLE, TN – Alfa Romeo sold just 516 vehicles in the U.S. last year, but deliveries are trending upward thanks to a gargantuan marketing push and the introduction of the Giulia sports sedan.

Now the boutique brand gets a huge boost with the introduction of the ’18 Stelvio, a premium midsize CUV spiced with Italian attitude, engineering and manufacturing pedigree that should give Alfa Romeo the potential to break through in an increasingly cluttered segment.

On a media drive here on winding mountain blacktop interspersed with brief freeway runs, the Stelvio proves an able CUV counterpart to the low-slung Giulia sedan, seemingly giving up little in the handling department despite a 400-lb. (181-kg) increase in curb weight and a 2.5-in. (64-mm) higher ground clearance and 8.9-in. (226-mm) overall gain in height.

The Stelvio shares Giulia’s 111-in. (2,819-mm) wheelbase, lightweight, carbon-fiber driveshaft and 50:50 front/rear weight distribution.

Our drive features the Stelvio Sport and Stelvio Ti, both powered by the same twin-scroll turbocharged 2.0L 280 hp and 306 lb.-ft. (415 Nm) I-4 found in the Giulia. The standard gearbox is a ZF 8-speed automatic, managed by large aluminum, column-mounted paddle shifters. All Stelvio models are all-wheel drive, but with a rear bias and capability to shift 100% of the power to the rear wheels unless slippage is detected.

A center console-mounted knob control allows choice of Dynamic, Natural or Advanced Efficiency driving modes, altering the response of the engine, transmission, steering, braking and stability control. The vehicle remains in the last mode chosen even if the car is turned off. Models equipped with an optional Performance package add adaptive suspension and an extra control.

Not available until first-quarter 2018 is the Stelvio Quadrifoglio featuring a Ferrari-derived 2.9L twin-turbo V6 making 505 hp and 443 lb.-ft. (601 Nm) of torque.

In our spirited driving, the Stelvio shows off the strengths of its underlying Giorgio chassis, handling dips and sharp corners with confidence and rarely requiring mid-corner steering correction. Steering is nimble and braking is immediate and assured.

Although enthusiasts will gravitate to the flagship Quadrifoglio, the 2.0L turbo offers plenty of power for the 4,044-lb. (1,834-kg) vehicle, pushing it to 60 mph (97 km/h) in just 5.4 seconds, topping competitors including the Audi Q5, Porsche Macan, Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes-Benz GLC300 and BMW X3 28i, Alfa Romeo says.

Stelvio’s punchy engine response is aided by an overboost control (in Dynamic mode) that prevents the turbo’s electric waste gate from opening, thereby maintaining higher boost over a longer period.

As a result, the engine offers strong power across the range, with only minor turbo-lag hiccups at low speed. The engine and exhaust make gorgeous music together, with the exception of some poorly attenuated low booming in the 1,100-1,500-rpm range in Natural or Advanced Efficiency modes when the transmission dips down to eighth gear too early, chasing fuel economy.

The simple black interior in the base Stelvio won’t wow anyone, but trim options including real wood, aluminum or carbon fiber allow buyers to spruce up the space. Standard leather seats are supportive with a commanding ride height. Simple knobs for the audio, climate, navigation and vehicle controls are close at hand.

Going from sedan to CUV gains substantial cargo room, increasing from Giulia’s 13-cu.-ft. (368-liters) trunk to 18.5 cu.-ft. (524 liters) behind the Stelvio's second row and 56.5 cu.-ft. (1,600 liters) with the seats folded. FCA says Stelvio’s maximum cargo volume is comparable to its competitors.

The athletic exterior styling bears some resemblance to Infiniti’s FX CUVs as well as the Porsche Macan, with a tight greenhouse and sharply angled windshield and backlight. Standard content includes dual exhaust, bi-xenon headlights, LED taillights and a power liftgate.