Which does it better? It depends on the road. On a smoothly surfaced one, well sighted and quiet enough to really open up on, the Alfa does. It’s more firmly sprung than the Jaguar, slightly more grippy and upright, and it feels more agile and incisive though faster bends. The Stelvio steers with greater pace than the F-Pace, too. It’s a genuinely encouraging and precise car to hustle along and would be an even better one but for the flighty-feeling vagueness of that steering around the dead centre.
Come the bumps without which a British road wouldn’t be recognisably British, though, the Stelvio begins to come unstuck. The Alfa rides a touch excitably over uneven tarmac, suffering plenty of fidget and head toss, and it has little of the fluency or finesse of the cleverly damped Jaguar. There’s an equally noticeable, relative shortage of good suspension isolation here, too, and bumps often thump through noisily.
Back in the silver corner, a hefty, trustworthy, oily-feeling steering completes the sense of carefully polished dynamic superiority that the Jaguar conjures when you drive it back-to-back with the Alfa. When you consider the F-Pace’s better-built, more luxurious and marginally more spacious cabin and boot, you can only come to the conclusion that – despite being outgunned by the Stelvio’s performance and out-handled by it in its way – the F-Pace has done enough here. The Jaguar has proved itself the more complete premium product; our victor on aggregate, if you like, given that its defeats to the Alfa are probably by narrower margins than its victories over the Italian.
But know this: the Alfa Romeo Stelvio has arrived – and it has done so with a bang. It’s well priced; it has the sub-130g/km CO2 emissions that might just get it onto your company car scheme; and it’s a really gifted entertainer. Like the Giulia, it’s a bit of a punt but a hugely likeable presence, too. The Stelvio is an unexpected source of zest, energy and fun in a class that really needs it. It is very welcome. It can stay.
1st - Jaguar F-Pace 25d Portfolio AWD
Rating 4/5, Price £47,115, Engine 4 cyls, 1999cc, diesel, Power 237bhp at 4000-4250rpm, Torque 369lb ft at 1500-2500rpm, 0-62mph 7.2sec, Top speed 135mph, Gearbox 8-speed automatic, Kerb weight 1810kg, Economy 48.7mpg, CO2/tax band 153g/km, 32%
2nd - Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2 TD 210 Speciale AWD
Rating 4/5, Price £42,290, Engine 4 cyls, 2143cc, diesel, Power 207bhp at 3750rpm, Torque 347lb ft at 1750rpm, 0-62mph 6.6sec, Top speed 130mph, Gearbox 8-speed automatic, Kerb weight 1659kg, Economy 58.9mpg, CO2/tax band 127g/km, 27%