Fantastico: Alfa Romeo Stelvio aims for SUV perfection on a plate
First drive by Jack Evans
Two years in, and Alfa Romeo's first SUV - the Stelvio - is settling in very nicely.
WHAT IS IT?
Just over two years since Alfa Romeo Stelvio, went on sale, and it looks like the gamble - if ever it was one - has paid off.
The slick SUV is now Alfa's biggest seller, as well as a head-turner in what is a very competitive segment.
Alfa Romeo, being a manufacturer of dynamically capable vehicles, has worked hard to ensure the Stelvio is geared towards 'sporty' driving more than other SUVs on the market today.
As such, you'll find it has perfect 50/50 weight distribution, and suspension set up to provide a more dynamic drive, rather than an overtly comfortable one.
They've also carried over many of the features which were popular on the Giulia saloon; the gearshift paddles, for instance, are massive and crafted from aluminium, while the steering rack is quicker than you'd expect - another trait of the Giulia.
We're still early in the vehicle cycle, so with the exception of some specialised editions, not much has changed with the Stelvio. That's probably because they got it right first time, so there was no need.
WHAT'S UNDER THE BONNET?
Though the Stelvio is available with a range of engines, our test car came fitted with the most powerful unit, a 2.2-litre, 207bhp turbocharged powerplant.
The performance is brisk, with the sprint to 60mph settled in 6.4 seconds, while the Stelvio's top speed is set at a respectable 134mph.
Despite this, the Stelvio still has a claimed economy of from 46mpg on the new stricter WLTP standard, while emissions are reasonable at 138g/km CO2. The more powerful engines, naturally, have lower figures.
Save for the very lowest-output cars, all Stelvios benefit from four-wheel-drive, aiding traction levels in poor conditions.
Power is driven to them via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and there's a decent amount of torque generated by the engine to keep the whole affair pushed along - 470Nm in fact, which is a good slug of pushing power for a car of this size.
WHAT'S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
As mentioned, the Stelvio's been designed to sit on the more dynamic end of the SUV spectrum, and as such rides and drives in a slightly different way to a conventional four-wheel-drive.
The ride suffers a little at low speeds, with its overall firmness transferring imperfections on the road surface into the cabin. It means that when pottering around town, the Stelvio can feel a little unsettled.
However, as you increase in speed, the car's suspension begins to make sense, where it manages body roll well and allows you to corner confidently.
The steering is, as mentioned, quite quick too, and this gives the whole car an eagerness when turning in - again, another plus point when travelling at faster speeds.
HOW DOES IT LOOK?
The Stelvio has been infused with all of the design touches you'd expect from an Alfa Romeo. There's the large triangle grille at the front, angled headlights and, of course, the all-important offset number plate.
It's a good-looking design, and markedly different to the remaining offerings in the SUV segment.
Our test car also featured yellow brake calipers and 19-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels, which aided the overall sporty look.
Certainly, against the rounded silhouettes of cars such as the Porsche Macan and BMW X3, the Stelvio's edgy styling makes it stand out.
The rear end of the car is particularly strong, with large (really quite large, in fact) exhaust pipes giving the car a very sporty appearance.
WHAT'S IT LIKE INSIDE?
The interior of the Stelvio covers the basics well; the steering position is good, the steering wheel has plenty of adjustment and the electric front seats can be set to exactly the right position with little effort.
There are harsher plastics here, for sure - the material used for the gearshift surround is quite hard, and the gearstick has a sharp edge to it, but for the most part it's a very comfortable and well-made place to be.
The rear seats offer plenty of space, and though the sloped roofline does cut into headroom levels somewhat, there should more than enough for average-sized passengers.
The Stelvio does well in terms of boot space as well, with its 525 litres of seats-up capacity trumping that of the Porsche Macan.
WHAT'S THE SPEC LIKE?
Prices for the 2.2-litre diesel-powered Stelvio start at £37,505 for the entry-level Super trim, and there's a lot of standard equipment included as part of this price.
You get 18-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors and a lane departure warning system included, as well as a power tailgate and an eight-speaker sound system.
Our Super test car featured the larger, eight-inch infotainment screen (a smaller seven-inch unit is included in lower-spec models), and this houses features such as satellite navigation and media functions.
It's easy to navigate thanks to a simple rotary controller, but it lacks the definition of rival offerings.
The main range then rises up through Nero Edizione and Speciale trims, topping off with the high-spec Milano Edizione (from £45,605).
Then there's also seriously sporty variant, the Stelvio Quadrifoglio, which is said to be the fastest SUV in its class.
It features a 2.9 V6 Bi-Turbo petrol engine, with 510hp and 600Nm torque, provides acceleration from zero to 62mph in just 3.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 176mph. It's packed within fancy features and quality engineering, priced from £69,510.
The Stelvio does things a little differently compared to usual SUVs. It's still a comfortable cruiser, but comes alive when the roads get twisty, and exhibits a driving experience like few other cars in its segment.
It looks special, too, and does well to appear different against the vast amount of similarly-sized cars currently on the roads.
Though it may not be quite as refined as rivals - the Audi Q5 is better behaved on rougher surfaces - the Stelvio offers up just a touch more involvement for the driver, which is why it's well worth considering. All in all, the Stelvio is a bit of a triumph.