Alfa Romeo’s return to the North American market is beginning to gather steam now with two additional models to the lineup, a mainstream sport sedan in the Giulia and a mid-size SUV in the Stelvio.

Named from the famed Stelvio pass in Italy, Alfa’s first SUV borrows from the brand’s new rear-wheel drive architecture that underpins the Giulia sport sedan. In the Stelvio Ti we get in North America, the Q4 all-wheel-drive is standard.

Powering the Stelvio Ti is a 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine with an impressive 280 horsepower and 306 pound-feet of torque. Mated to a quick shifting 8-speed automatic, it push the Stelvio to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds says Alfa Romeo.

The rear-wheel drive chassis architecture and its near 50/50 weight distribution pay off in the handling department over peers from Japan and the U.S who offer front-wheel drive bias to their steering, balance and power delivery.

Using its high quality aluminum paddle shifters, the Stelvio shoots off down the road with genuine enthusiasm and direct shifts regardless of which one of its three drive modes you are in. The sound is pleasant, the thrum refined.

The only bummer of the powertrain is its engine auto-start-stop system which downright sucks due to its slow response time and its default to on setting every time you start the vehicle. It cannot be permanently defeated which is sad, because it really kills the buzz and is potentially unsafe given how slow it is to respond at times.

At least sitting behind the wheel is pleasant with the cabin’s high quality materials. With the Sport package you get heavily bolstered leather chairs, heated of course. There is a flat bottom steering wheel and a fully digital center screen in the instrument cluster.

The driving position is high enough for that SUV feeling but low enough for confidence in spirited driving. Even rear seat passengers will find comfortable positioning though the seats are rather firm in their feel.

The infotainment system features an 8.8-inch center screen controlled by a console mounted puck and knobs. This is our least favorite setup as it requires you to accomplish many more tasks with fewer controls. Read paging through menus to do menial things regularly.

As our Stelvio Ti was well optioned pricing came to $54,000 and some change. The Sport Package was a notable item with a number of upgrades including its handsome 20-inch alloy wheels. Other options nice were its large sunroof and rear cargo area cleat system.

The Stelvio Ti in our opinion brings an interesting option to the previously German ruled class of high-performance rear-wheel drive luxury SUV’s with a driver’s heart in mind. Its styling and its character are unique, its quality and build appearing to be equivalent.