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First tilt on UK roads reveals a chassis almost as absorbing as the Giulia’s, though the Stelvio’s comfort and quality levels may disappoint SUV clientele

What is it?

This is the second chapter of Alfa Romeo’s grand new epoch, ready for sampling on UK roads for the first time. With the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Turin follows up the well-received Giulia saloon, and answers some questions that be considered key to the success of the rebuilding process that it’s currently undertaking.

Can the firm successfully appeal to the tastes of buyers outside of the segments it has traditionally occupied? How effectively can that expensive new ‘giorgio’ platform be applied on a more challenging vehicle type than a compact executive saloon? And can we really expect Alfa to make the best driver’s car in every part of the market it enters from this point onwards – or was the Giulia just a wonderful exception?

It won’t be long before we’ll all have a chance to find out. The car goes on sale in right-hand drive form in September, initially with a choice of 276bhp petrol and 207bhp diesel engines - but with an entry-level 177bhp diesel and a 197bhp petrol available soon afterwards. It comes with punchy UK pricing starting under £34,000, with a mid-level trim 177bhp diesel undercutting an equivalent Audi Q5 by a cool £3000.

Besides value, the Stelvio can claim a promising power-to-weight ratio courtesy of a kerbweight between 100- and 200kg lighter than rivals, for which its relatively compact proportions, aluminium construction and carbonfibre propshaft are all contributing factors.

In advance of the arrival of the first right-hand drive cars, Alfa brought a left-hand drive 2.2-litre 207bhp diesel Stelvio over to the UK to provide us with an introduction on British roads.

What's it like?

Alfa’s literature on this car heralds the arrival of its first SUV, and it does so loud and clear. Maybe they forgot to tell the designers at Centro Stile because the Stelvio looks more like a large, jacked-up five-door hatchback than it does a conventional modern SUV in the metal.

The car’s roofline is curvy and fairly short, its rear screen has plenty of rake on it and its belt line is only medium-high. If you had to guess, you’d say those designers were aiming to create an alternative to a Porsche Macan rather than a rival for a BMW X3 or Audi Q5. But, while the car they’ve created is quite pretty in the details, it’s plainly not the visual success that the Giulia was. Its appearance wasn’t helped, in the case of our test car in particular, by quite a lot of uneven ‘orange peel’ paintwork.

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You sit only medium-high in the Stelvio’s driver’s seat - though high enough to excuse most drivers from the need to bend at the waist to get in. There’s plenty of headroom up front to allow you to adjust your seat upwards if you do prefer a lofty vantage point. Room in the back is just about class-competitive, although you’ll find yourself sitting lower in the second row than you might expect to, with more bent knees.

Like the Giulia’s, the Stelvio’s cabin quality is passable but certainly isn’t on a level with most of its premium-brand opposition. From its tough, coarse-feeling leathers to its slightly dull-looking decorative trims and its relatively cheap-feeling switchgear, the Stelvio’s interior isn’t likely to sell it to someone considering giving up an Audi Q5 or Mercedes-Benz GLC.

Still, our test car’s sports seats were very comfortable and usefully well-bolstered; its controls were adjustable and well-located; its infotainment system was acceptable for functionality and standard of presentation; and its instruments were readable. Now ask yourself how many low-rent buttons or slightly wobbly fittings you’d be willing to overlook for a rev-counter that says ‘giri’ rather than ‘rpm’? If the answer’s none, you’re probably a bit too impartial to be a serial Alfa owner anyway. And, as they’ll surely point out, you’ve no idea what you’re missing.

Alfa’s four-cylinder diesel engine idles with a faint clatter, but it settles down nicely at cruising revs and overall is certainly refined enough to suit the car’s purposes. It feels torquey, too, working through an automatic gearbox that’s fairly quick to engage and to fully lock up, and chiming in with a gutsy shove of motive force from around 2000rpm. The Stelvio’s relative lightness makes itself apparent in several ways as you drive it, but this is the first of ‘em. And while at the other end of the rev range this engine isn’t the freest-revving four-pot diesel you’ll ever encounter, it still does a decent job – making for an overall performance level that’s notably keener than the average diesel SUV.

The car handles very well by SUV standards, feeling surprisingly agile around bends, gripping tenaciously and keeping a taut hold on its body. In the minutae of its driving experience, though, it doesn’t show the polish of some of its SUV opponents. A steering rack as quick as the Giulia’s helps create that sense of handling dynamism, but it requires more power assistance to work on this taller, heavier car and it therefore lacks almost any contact patch feel, being notably short for on-centre stability too.

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Combine that with the Stelvio’s slightly excitable, occasionally brusque ride and you have a car that feels a touch too reactive over bumps than really befits an SUV, and that’s also a little too trying to place precisely on the road over a less than perfect surface. When the tarmac is smooth, the Alfa handles with an energetic zeal that really sets it apart, hanging onto your chosen course and attitude easily as you’re powering out of corners and showing off an encouraging balance of grip. Among SUVs like this, few handle better. But when the road deteriorates, the Stelvio’s shock absorption and general damping begins to come up short, allowing it oscillate a bit on its suspension springs and to toss its occupants around over bumps and through little compressions.

Like the power steering, the car’s pioneering brake-by-wire system (shared with the Giulia) has only an approximation of feedback which is better at some speeds than others, and so the pedal can be tricky to modulate and the car sometimes tough to slow down smoothly. Both outright stopping power and pedal response are good, though.

Should I buy one?

For many of the same reasons you might quite fancy a Giulia – styling apart, perhaps, although that much is for you to judge - it’s certainly worth considering. The Stelvio has decent engines, represents good value for money and will return an interested driver’s vote of confidence with its keen, agile handling on a regular basis.

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The question for this tester is whether the car’s dynamic selling point will work in the SUV segment quite as successfully as it seems to be for the Giulia in the executive niche. For me, a good-handling SUV is necessarily a different prospect from a good-handling saloon, and better ride comfort and cabin isolation is expected.

In the event, though it does a fine job of approaching its sister car’s poise and engagement, the Stelvio seems to struggle to improve on the Giulia’s civilised side, and I fear that may count against it slightly for the average premium SUV buyer.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2 TD 210 AWD Speciale

Location UK; On sale September; Price £42,290; Engine 4cyls, 2143cc, turbodiesel; Power 207bhp at 3750rpm; Torque 347lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox 8-speed automatic; Kerb weight 1659kg; Top speed 130mph; 0-62mph 6.6sec; Economy 58.9mpg; CO2/BIK tax band 127g/km, 27%; Rivals Jaguar F-Pace 25d R-Sport, BMW X3 xDrive30d M-Sport

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John Savill 7 September 2017

My thoughts

I have driven a basic spec Stelvio diesel hire car with 10000km on the clock  (Europcar from Barcelona airport) in Spain this week so can only comment on how it felt on Spanish roads. My initial thoughts were that it looked imposing on the road, it certainly turned a lot of heads.

The forward visibility was pretty good. The front bumnper had clearly taken a knock with a previous driver and had a crack in it. You can not see the outer corners of the car, but some of the bonnet is visible. There was a scrape on one of the doors where someone had obviously opened a door on to it, possible consequence of the width of the car, but that seems to be the case with many vehicles these days. 

The ride certainly seemed to be jiggly on the motorway - there was quite a lot of low amplitude pitching at speed. Wheels were 18" on 235/60 tyres. The steering was certainly sharp around the straight ahead, and initially steering on motorway curves was like going round a series of small straight lines. I found the brakes to be fine.

Seats OK, rear seats a little lacking in lower back support, and there was a bit of creaking from the PVC / fabric on the split between the 60/40 seat backs. Plenty of space for me (180cm adult) to sit in the rear behind someone else of a similar size.

Quite a bit of wind noise around the driver's door. It was quite and stable at speed, I thought it would be fine on a long journey.

I did not like the standard sat nav. It refused to acknowledge most of the road names I tried to enter. The voice in English was hilarious at pronouncing Spanish road names though, even worse than my poor pronounciation. I didn't try plugging a phone into the USB ports to see how that part of the infortainment system worked.

Stop start button on the steering wheel I thought was a nice detail. It was a shame that the DNA switch wasn't on it as well. Proper dials for the heating & ventilation which was good.

Instrumentation clear - large digital speedo in the central screen was very easy to read. Would have definitely benefitted from a reversing camera, at least for the hotel car park where we were staying.

Some of the plastic grains on the centre console left a little to be desired, not up to Audi standards for example. Overall though, whilst not an exciting interior, the deep grains made a pleasant change from the leather look ones you generally find.

I have not driven a F-Pace, Macan or any other SUV of this type so can't compare them to the Stelvio, but I would say that if you are in the market for this kind of vehicle, then it is ceretainly worth driving. 

John Savill 7 September 2017

My thoughts

I have driven a basic spec Stelvio diesel hire car with 10000km on the clock  (Europcar from Barcelona airport) in Spain this week so can only comment on how it felt on Spanish roads. My initial thoughts were that it looked imposing on the road, it certainly turned a lot of heads.

The forward visibility was pretty good. The front bumnper had clearly taken a knock with a previous driver and had a crack in it. You can not see the outer corners of the car, but some of the bonnet is visible. There was a scrape on one of the doors where someone had obviously opened a door on to it, possible consequence of the width of the car, but that seems to be the case with many vehicles these days. 

The ride certainly seemed to be jiggly on the motorway - there was quite a lot of low amplitude pitching at speed. Wheels were 18" on 235/60 tyres. The steering was certainly sharp around the straight ahead, and initially steering on motorway curves was like going round a series of small straight lines. I found the brakes to be fine.

Seats OK, rear seats a little lacking in lower back support, and there was a bit of creaking from the PVC / fabric on the split between the 60/40 seat backs. Plenty of space for me (180cm adult) to sit in the rear behind someone else of a similar size.

Quite a bit of wind noise around the driver's door. It was quite and stable at speed, I thought it would be fine on a long journey.

I did not like the standard sat nav. It refused to acknowledge most of the road names I tried to enter. The voice in English was hilarious at pronouncing Spanish road names though, even worse than my poor pronounciation. I didn't try plugging a phone into the USB ports to see how that part of the infortainment system worked.

Stop start button on the steering wheel I thought was a nice detail. It was a shame that the DNA switch wasn't on it as well. Proper dials for the heating & ventilation which was good.

Instrumentation clear - large digital speedo in the central screen was very easy to read. Would have definitely benefitted from a reversing camera, at least for the hotel car park where we were staying.

Some of the plastic grains on the centre console left a little to be desired, not up to Audi standards for example. Overall though, whilst not an exciting interior, the deep grains made a pleasant change from the leather look ones you generally find.

I have not driven a F-Pace, Macan or any other SUV of this type so can't compare them to the Stelvio, but I would say that if you are in the market for this kind of vehicle, then it is ceretainly worth driving. 

John Savill 7 September 2017

Sorry

Sorry I managed to post this twice

typos1 23 August 2017

What ?! The styling is "not

What ?! The styling is "not the visual success the Giulia was" ?? The giulia is hardly a "visual success", sure the grilles in the bumper look cool, but the rest of the styling is bland characterless and "me too" - take the Alfa grille off and it could be anything. The Stelvio is the more successful of the two - if they dumped the horrid Audi A6 esque headlights, the fat rear bumper, lowered it (and removed all the heavy fake SUV suspension mods) and crucially gave us the option af a proper manual gearbox it may even be good.