Following hot on the heels of the Giulia saloon, Alfa Romeo has the premium SUV market in its sights with the stylish new Stelvio. It is the company's first SUV, and though it was developed in a relatively short amount of time, it shows real promise. A high-performance Stelvio Quadrifoglio version is also due, but here we test drive the diesel version that is set to be the most popular choice.
In the Metal:
In a world of homogenous SUV design, the Alfa Stelvio really stands out. Thanks to its iconic and instantly recognisable Alfa grille and stylish headlights, there is simply no mistaking it for anything else. The Stelvio has a high beltline and, aside from a subtle light catcher along the bottom of the door and a crease running through the shoulder line, it is a simple yet attractive design. A gently sloping roofline lets the Stelvio retain its SUV silhouette without appearing too boxy; it looks sporty without being too in-your-face. With such a striking front end the view from behind is less interesting and is the only angle from which the car looks plain. The rear window is small considering the overall size of the Stelvio is similar to that of the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, and in addition to leaving only limited rear visibility when driving, it makes the tailgate look huge.
If you've already sat into an Alfa Romeo Giulia, then the interior of the Stelvio is going to look pretty familiar. The multifunction steering wheel features the engine start/stop button, as well as the usual controls. Behind it, mounted on the steering column, are metal paddle shifters for the automatic transmission. Not only are they well-sized, but they also have a wonderful mechanical action to them. The only small niggle being that, for some, they will slightly get in the way of using the light and wiper stalks behind.
The instrument display does look a little cluttered, too, even with a seven-inch TFT digital display nestled between the analogue tacho and speedometer. Nonetheless, by incorporating the optional 8.8-inch display screen behind a singular glass panel in the dashboard facia, through a process called 'optical bonding', the design looks very smart. Sadly, some of the switchgear, such as the rotary controller, just don't feel anywhere near the same quality as the likes of Audi's click-wheel or BMW's iDrive controller.
On the practical side of things, rear passenger space is good and the Stelvio can comfortably seat two adults, but three makes it a bit cosy. Head- and legroom in the two outer seats are good, and both come with ISOFIX fittings, too. The powered tailgate opens to reveal a 525-litre boot that has a usefully wide aperture.
It is refreshing that Alfa didn't just see the development of regular Stelvio models as a 'let's make an SUV' box-ticking exercise. It handles surprisingly well and for a car of its height and weight exhibits little in the way of body lean through corners when driven quickly. Alfa's Q4 all-wheel-drive transmission is set up to send 100 per cent of the engine's torque to the rear axle by default, so in normal driving conditions the Stelvio ostensibly feels like a rear-wheel-drive car. As grip limits are approached, the system then transfers up to 50 per cent of the torque to the front axle. The result is a car that feels very surefooted on the road, even in poor weather.
And it is that sensation of rear-wheel drive, combined with what Alfa Romeo claims is the most direct steering in the segment, that rewards those who want to drive the Stelvio in a more spirited manner. The only thing that holds it back is the diesel engine. The turbocharged 2.2-litre four-cylinder unit does have plenty of low-down performance, with 470Nm of torque available from 1,750rpm. But it is less responsive than the 2.0-litre petrol option, and even shifting through the gears manually it requires more effort to try to extract the performance from. Flicking into Dynamic mode via the DNA rotary controller does help by keeping the revs higher, though the overall difference between the driving modes isn't significant.
But in normal everyday situations the diesel performs well, and other than being a bit on the noisy side it suits the Stelvio. The eight-speed automatic has been tuned to work well with the engine and it slips between ratios very smoothly. Clearly the transmission has been tuned more with economy in mind, as it is always trying to move up to higher gears. The steering, meanwhile, is just on the light side, but it doesn't feel disconnected like some systems do.
What you get for your Money:
As the Alfa Stelvio isn't due to arrive in Ireland until September, no exact pricing has been confirmed, but we expect it to be priced to rival cars such as the Audi Q5 and Jaguar F-Pace, so expect it to start in the region of €45,000 to €50,000. Similarly, exact specifications have yet to be confirmed, but its equipment levels should reflect those already seen in the Giulia. That should mean a minimum equipment level that includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen, cruise control, rear parking sensors and forward collision warning. Once full pricing details have been confirmed we will update this section of the review.
Considering that the Alfa Romeo Stelvio is the company's first foray into the SUV segment, it has turned out a good, well-rounded car. It has lots of kerbside appeal, practical features and is one of the more enjoyable SUVs in this price bracket to drive.