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Right, what do I need to know about Alfa’s family SUV?
Well firstly that it’s not a genuine family SUV, but we’ll come back to that in due course. Anyway, it’s on sale in the UK now, priced from £33,990 and is available with four engines and four trim levels. The eagerly anticipated 503bhp Quadrifoglio will be along a bit later.
So for the time being your choice is either a 2.0-litre petrol with 200 or 280bhp and a 2.1-litre diesel (Alfa says it’s a 2.2, but it’s 2143cc and I’m a pedant) with either 180 or 210bhp. Those figures are all in PS. I’m an inconsistent pedant, so multiply each by 0.98632 to get the BHP figure. You learn something new every day, eh?
All are linked to ZF’s eight-speed auto and only the basest of base diesels is rear-drive – the rest are 4wd. Although this is a system that sends 100 per cent of torque to the rear wheels until grip runs short, at which point up to 50 per cent (but no more) is directed to the fronts via an active transfer case.
Do you notice it working?
Yes, because the Alfa Stelvio – rejoice – drives with a crispness and precision rare in this class. Especially rare to cars powered by diesel.
Central to all this is the car’s weight. The 2.1-litre 210bhp version I’m driving here weighs just 1659kg. ‘Just?’ I hear you say. Well, yes because consider the rivals: Porsche’s Macan diesel is 1955kg, a Mercedes-Benz GLC250d coupe is 1845kg, even a BMW X4 2.0d is 1745kg. And then there’s the new Jaguar E-Pace – 1926kg for the diesel D240 model. Wow. Even if you switch to an aluminium-chassis’d F-Pace (a foot longer, a class up, but the same engine) you’re still looking at 1810kg.
But weight isn’t the be-all and end-all…
It’s not, but it’s a very good place to start if you want your car to have a reasonable turn of speed, crisp handling and decent economy. All areas where the Alfa acquits itself very well indeed. Here are the important stats for the 210bhp version I’ve been driving: 127g/km of CO2, a claimed 58.9mpg, 6.6secs to 62mph.
The comparative 240bhp E-Pace runs 7.4secs, 45.6mpg and 162g/km. A Merc GLC250d coupe with 204bhp gets closer, hitting 56.5mpg, 131g/km and 7.6secs. But the message here is that Alfa has built a car that does the numbers and does the experience, too.
It really does drive like a high-rise Giulia. The steering is sharp off centre with a very quick rack, but manages to remain calm when you’re changing lanes on a motorway. It’s a lovely bit of algorithmic balancing, keeping you informed and engaged, but not tired on longer trips
The chassis balance is ace, too. Because it’s light, it doesn’t heel over through corners, but retains a poise and agility that belies its height. Quick direction changes are dealt with and front and rear ends are worked evenly – it feels neither nose-heavy nor tail-happy. This morning the tail edged wide on a wet roundabout. It felt natural.
How’s the engine?
I don’t think it’s the quietest of its breed, but it delivers good pace and acceleration: it’s one of those cars where you get up to speed sooner than you expect. And that’s a pleasant surprise. There’s good torque across the range and provided you twist the DNA controller to D-for-Dynamic, the gearbox does a good job of keeping pace. That’s not the case in the other modes, where it always seems a beat out of time.
Better still is to knock the lever across and use the long metal paddles that come as standard on the top two trim levels (Speciale and this Milano Edizione). It’s in manual mode that the ZF auto shines brightest.
Any dynamic drawbacks?
The brakes are wooden, dead at the top of their travel, so you press harder at which point they wake up and slam on. They’re inconsistent and hard to modulate.
But that’s about it. On the whole the Stelvio is a fun SUV to drive. Barring a rustle of wind noise from around the B-pillars it’s a competent cruiser and the ride, although not soft, is well damped and quiet. I enjoyed it, thought it was more engaging and interesting than most of its rivals, did its job well and was pleasantly surprised by the 43mpg it achieved.
How about the packaging? You said it’s not a family SUV…
It’s not – as you can tell from the rivals I’ve compared it against, it sits more easily alongside more style-orientated competition such as the X4, GLC Coupe, E-Pace/F-Pace and Macan.
As with those, its 525-litre boot will handle light family duties and you can get three adults across the back for short periods. But the impression the Stelvio gives is that it cares more about the driver than his passengers. Having said that, the shallow rear window limits visibility, and the steering wheel doesn’t have anything like enough reach adjustment. Sports seats in this Milano Edizione model have unnecessarily huge side bolsters, too.
The infotainment is logical enough, but not the last word in speed, ease or graphic quality and the cabin does feel almost oppressively dark – almost an anti-Volvo. And I’m not convinced about the material quality and construction. Nothing rattled or fell off, but it doesn’t have the same tactility, robustness or attention to detail of the Macan or X4 for instance. It doesn’t feel thickly luxurious.
But it’s not as expensive as them is it?
Well, prices may start at £33,990, but this flagship 210bhp diesel is £43,990. Now, we’ll often tell you the sweet spot, the one you’d be happy with, is much cheaper, but in this instance the Speciale, with 19s and leather trim is £42,290. Opting for the lesser 180bhp version will only save you £800, so have the beefier one.
It’s no bargain, but then nothing in this class is. The Merc GLC250d is the same money, so’s the X4, even the E-Pace, while the Macan, complete with an extra couple of cylinders, is only a few grand more. They all look expensive alongside an equivalent estate – a BMW 330d xDrive M Sport Touring is the same money for instance. But that’s not where the market is heading these days, so manufacturers are putting a heavy mark up on image and style.
Is it worth buying?
The Stelvio is a handsome machine. Which matters. I can see it tempting execs out of Jag XFs, 3-Series Tourings etc. They’ll enjoy driving it and it should be cost effective to run with good residuals. Fingers crossed for reliability, which has been the Giulia’s weakness. The Stelvio has it’s own personality. It’s a likeable car. An SUV for the driver.