Alfa Romeo Stelvio vs Jaguar F-pace

SUVS rated

Auto Car (UK) - - THIS WEEK - PHOTOGR APHY LUC LACEY

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

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