Alfa Romeo Stelvio vs Jaguar F-pace
Jaguar and Alfa Romeo are car makers with an awful lot in common, when you come to think about it. And although I dare say the management at neither Gaydon nor Turin would particularly welcome the observation, they seem fated to compete more closely than ever in the developing premium car market of the near future.
Both brands attract a certain sort of buyer; one with a preference for a classically good-looking driver’s car and, quite possibly, a subscription to a car magazine not unlike the one you’re now reading. A certain sort of buyer like you and me, in short. And both car makers have aspirations one day to stand shoulder to shoulder with the German premium-branded automotive industry powers – although it won’t be any day soon.
Jaguar is currently significantly more successful than Alfa on a global basis, but you need go back less than a decade to find a time when the Italian outfit was much the bigger of the two in volume terms. And yet both brands shifted an almost identical number of new cars to European buyers last year: 66,000, give or take a few. For the next decade or so at least, ‘Jaguar versus Alfa’ should be a coverline that crops up time and again on the front of Autocar – and I’d like it think it’ll always describe a story worth reading.
We’ve had one instalment of the Jaguar-versus-alfa battle already this year, when a Giulia 2.2-litre diesel saloon dominated an XE 2.0d in a group test for driver appeal, only to surrender the initiative and ultimately lose out as a rounded premium product. Now for instalment number two.
Neither Jaguar nor Alfa Romeo has been a member of the Suv-making fraternity for long but, with the introduction to UK showrooms of the new Stelvio this month, both are now well and truly in the club; and, since both are intent on a fast rate of growth, neither can really afford not to be. Jaguar introduced the F-pace last year but has taken until now to complete the car’s model range, with the addition of the high-powered four-cylinder diesel engine that many will consider the optimum propulsive option: the new Ingenium 25d. Unfortunately for Jaguar, that has happened just as the first real challenger to the F-pace’s unique sporting selling point among its immediate competitors has materialised, in the shape of the Stelvio 2.2-litre diesel – a car that’s not only cheaper than the F-pace but also lighter and, on paper, quicker-accelerating and more efficient.
Suddenly, the questions we must address over the coming pages
rack up faster than bricks in Nick Knowles’ latest garden wall. Will Jaguar Land Rover’s big-hitting four-pot diesel finally deliver the goods here when it has so far failed to in the new Range Rover Velar, and when sampled elsewhere? Have Alfa Romeo’s engineers successfully transferred the best bits of the Giulia’s driving experience onto the Stelvio – while improving the saloon’s standard of ride comfort, as we’d all hope they would on an SUV? Will the Stelvio’s perceived quality be any better than the Giulia’s?
Furthermore, who now makes the default choice for enthusiastic drivers among family-sized premiumbranded SUVS – and just how good a driver’s car is that, exactly?
FILM STAR LOOKS
The Stelvio does have a certain Hollywood movie star look about it – mostly because it’s a little bit shorter in real life than you’d imagined it might be. Having an F-pace on hand as a measuring gauge only confirms that. The Alfa’s ride height and belt line are highish but not quite up there with the mid-sized SUV class average. Its roof line is curvy and relatively short and its rear screen is fairly raked. In all three respects, it makes the Jaguar look rather conventional as well as quite big and square – but it’s conventional in a good way.
If the first round of this contest is fought on styling appeal, the Jaguar narrowly wins it to my eyes, although neither of these cars is stunning to behold. The F-pace just seems to ‘own’ its look better than the Alfa. It’s more comfortable in its sheet metal somehow, whereas the Stelvio looks a little like a car designed by separate teams, in separate rooms, who couldn’t agree if they were making an SUV, a crossover or just a Giulia in platform shoes.
Take a seat inside these two cars, one immediately after the other, and you can’t mistake the fact that the Jaguar is the bigger car with the higher driver’s hip point, although the Alfa Romeo manages to compete with it on interior space by virtue of better packaging. If I was an owner with grown-up kids or adult passengers to carry frequently, I’d consider the F-pace the marginally more practical car by dint of it having a more comfortable second row and a bigger boot, but that’s true mostly because you sit lower than you expect to, and with knees more bent, in the back of the Stelvio.
In the front, Alfa Romeo’s choice of plastics, leathers, garnishes and switchgear is no disgrace at all. Compare it with what’s in the F-pace, though, and you’ll find all the evidence you need to support the conclusion that one of these car makers is an awfully long way further down the road to becoming a maker of fully realised premium cars than the other.
During the early half of the past decade, I remember comparing the apparent cabin quality of a Jaguar X-type with that of its contemporaries from BMW, Audi and Mercedes-benz and doubting that its maker would ever close such a yawning gap. And yet Jaguar has done it; perhaps not closed it entirely, but certainly narrowed it enough to make the difference relatively unimportant today – at least for those who buy into Jaguar’s other established strengths.
The F-pace’s cabin isn’t quite the equal of an Audi Q5’s or a Mercedes GLC’S on rich luxury feel or expensively hewn material quality and solidity, but it’s close enough. The Jaguar’s leathers are soft and attractive, its mouldings mostly tactile and well finished, and its switchgear rubberised and robust in feel. The car’s infotainment system is nicely navigable and sophisticated and it does most of what it needs to in order to stand comparison with the best in the segment. There’s also a sense of effortless warmth and good taste here that the German alternatives don’t easily conjure.
As for the Stelvio’s cabin, it definitely has less ground to make up on the established premium elite now than the X-type had back then – but plenty of it all the same. The Alfa’s front seats are very comfortable, its controls are well placed and its instruments are mostly clear and readable. But there isn’t a single moulding here that you could substitute for its opposite in the Jaguar without it grating. Every grained finish is rougher, every stalk, dial and button feels cheaper and even the leather seats aren’t as appealing to the touch.
As a place in which to travel, the Stelvio’s interior is plainly the product of precisely the same attitude that brought us the Giulia: ‘We can’t
At their cheapest, the Alfa’s price is almost £4000 less than the Jaguar’s and it’s rated 5% lower on Co2-derived company car tax
Alfa’s steering has a vagueness around the dead centre
Perceived quality in the Jag is superior in every respect