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The Top Gear car review:Alfa Romeo Stelvio
For:Powerful four-cylinder engines, seductive styling, that badge.
Against:Handling solid but uninspiring, build quality still lags behind German rivals.
What is it?
Another manufacturer has fallen at the altar of the SUV. This is Alfa’s first SUV in its history, and it comes at a time when SUV sales are rocketing and the company could do with a success story. Over €1bn has been spent developing the new Giorgio platform that underpins the Giulia, Stelvio and a mass of future RWD/4WD Alfas and Maseratis. This is crunch time, no excuses. If it’s to prop up the company, the Stelvio needs to be not just a great Alfa, but great full stop.
There’s something odd going on here. I’ve done two laps of it on foot now, sat in both front seats, twiddled every knob, stretched out on the rear bench and poked around in the boot. But it’s no good, I can’t find any glaring compromises, no loose interior trim, no packaging compromises or electronic glitches. The only obvious Alfa-ness is the exterior design – a gratuitous collection of curves and bulges, narrowed LED eyes and appealing proportions. Personally I find it a little thickset from the front three-quarter angle, better from the rear, but it is, by and large, an attractive thing and, for some reason, unmistakebly Italian. Perhaps it’s the red paint. That the cooking version you see here loses little in transition from the chunkier 503bhp Quadrifoglio version we saw at the end of last year (and drive in the summer), speaks volumes about its… er, volumes.
You sit 190mm further up from the road than in the Alfa Romeo Giulia, and Alfa’s Q4 all-wheel drive system (rear drive in normal conditions, up to 50 per cent of the power frontwards in low-grip conditions) is standard on all versions at launch (an entry-level rear-drive only version will follow later this year) this is very much an SUV designed to tackle roads, perhaps a gravel driveway at a push. Tellingly, Alfa’s engineering chief, Roberto Fedeli, (formerly of Ferrari) told us his aim was to exactly reproduce the Giulia in the way the Stelvio drives – a candid admission that modern customers like the idea of an SUV, but don’t want the roly-poly dynamics its higher centre of gravity brings with it. This is what engineers refer to as a ‘challenge’.
Fortunately, the Giulia platform with its double wishbone front, multi-link rear aluminium suspension is a good place to start. Springs are longer than the Giulia, but stiffer to counteract the extra height. There’s lightness, too, thanks to a carbon-fibre prop shaft as standard, engines with aluminium blocks, and aluminium skin for the bonnet, tailgate, doors and front wings. All-in the Stelvio weighs 1,660kg with fluids (that’s the same weight for 4cyl diesel and petrol versions), 145kg less than an equivalent BMW X3 and 185kg less than a 4cyl Porsche Macan. The foundations, then, are sound.