Alfa Romeo Stelvio
By Bill McCarthy
A FEW years ago the thought of an SUV sporting the badges of motors with a racing tradition would have been unheard of.
Then Porsche produced the Cayenne, then the German giants Audi, Mercedes and BMW and Jaguar. Even luxury brands Bentley with the Bentayga and Rolls-Royce with the Cullinan have joined the party.
You perhaps would have bet money on it not happening with Alfa. But there you go.
The Stelvio was born and Alfa seem to cracked the conundrum of marrying Italian styling to a largish SUV with it Q4 all- wheel drive, while retaining its signature sporty performance.
This is aided by absolutely minimising weight with light materials, such as carbon-fibre for the driveshaft and aluminium for the bonnet, rear wings, engine and suspension, which also delivers better fuel efficiency.
A range of petrol and diesel engines also deliver excellent performance, including the lightning quick 2.9-litre 510bhp turbocharged Quadrifoglio, which can hit 60mph in under four seconds. This model, a 280bhp was no slouch either, hitting the same speed in a neck-wrenching 5.7 seconds.
Named after a mountain pass linking Italy and Switzerland, there is no mistaking it is an Alfa with its signature large shield grille, flanked by large air scoops, slanting, cat’s-eye like headlights and swooping bonnet. Can an SUV look sexy? Maybe.
The interior continues the theme. it is a riot of leather, chrome and wood effect, with soft touch finish.
The familiar flat-bottom multi function steering wheels is a key feature as is the central control screen which operates key functions. Steering wheel, auto gear lever and dash all chrome trimmed with alloy sports pedals completing the sporting look.
The electrically operated seats are figure hugging but comfortable and the layout of the cabin is easy on the eye with everything logically placed. There is room for three rear passengers and of course, as an SUV, it is practical with the seats folding. This means that an already generous boot area of 525 litres can be expanded to a huge 1,600 litres. Some rivals are bigger, but you sacrifice styling for not a huge amount of extras space.
That and the off road capability and its perfect for the country set.
On the road it is an excellent drive. Mated to an eight-speed gearbox, the car accelerates seamlessly through the gears. Like other Alfa models it features the now familiar DNA drive setup. D for dynamic, N for natural and A for all-road. Self explanatory really. Select dynamic and the large paddles behind the steering allow for a more sporty drive.
Dynamic is an apt description. The car, although slightly higher than the Giulia it is based on, handles nearly as well. Pin sharp, responsive steering and a excellent grip means the car responds to the slightest adjustment especially on a series of curves and beds, this is partly aided by the optional Dynamic Suspension with frequency selective damping.
Drive is to the rear wheels, with up to 50 per cent of power transferred to the front when conditions require it. Long gone are the days of Alfa poor steering lock. Slow it all down and occupants get a comfortable ride, although it is prone to crash over lesser surfaces.
Equipment is comprehensive, all the usual electric and electronic wizardry and creature comforts, with the central screen hosting infotainment and connectivity systems like Apple Carplay and Android Auto, to project your smartphone onto the screen, which can also send and receive SMS and display Google maps.
Safety is key with performance cars like this and the Stelvio offers in addition to usual assisted braking and comprehensive air bag cover, Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection and Lane Departure Warning (LDW) as standard.
If you like your SUVs, chic, sporty and practical, then the Alfa is a fine choice.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.0 Q4 AWD Speciale
Mechanical: 290bhp, 1,995cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving four wheels via 8-speed automatic gearbox
Max speed: 143mph
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Combined mpg: 40.4
Insurance group: 29
CO2 emissions: 161g/km
Warranty: 3yrs/62,000 miles