SLEEK AND SO­PHIS­TI­CATED: IN­SIDE ALFA ROMEO’S FIRST SUV

The Stelvio, which shares many com­po­nents with the Gi­u­lia, is Alfa Romeo’s first ven­ture into the SUV mar­ket. Jon Reay finds out what it’s like...

Belfast Telegraph - NI Carfinder - - Front Page - ALFA ROMEO STELVIO

WHAT’S NEW? This is Alfa Romeo’s first SUV – no pres­sure – so the Ital­ians cer­tainly aren’t mess­ing around when it comes to show­cas­ing Alfa’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of an off-roader. Rather than bor­row­ing some bits from sis­ter com­pany Jeep, Alfa has started afresh with the Stelvio - bas­ing it on the plat­form of the re­cently launched Gi­u­lia saloon in­stead.

This, says Alfa, helps keep the Stelvio’s han­dling in check – pro­vid­ing much more car-like dy­nam­ics along with a rear-bi­ased four-wheel-drive sys­tem.

En­gines are largely shared with the Gi­u­lia too – al­though the 2.2-litre diesel has been given a boost, now out­putting 207bhp in its most pow­er­ful guise – and the four-wheel-drive sys­tem is the same rear-bi­ased set-up you’ll find on Alfa’s new saloon as well. LOOKS AND IM­AGE From the front there’s no mis­tak­ing which sta­ble the Stelvio be­longs to: Alfa’s trade­mark shield-shaped grille sits proudly in the cen­tre, flanked by head­lights that any­one fa­mil­iar with the Gi­u­lia will be quick to recog­nise. In pro­file, the Stelvio is def­i­nitely more of a svelte crossover than a stout-look­ing SUV, and we reckon that’s no bad thing – in fact, it be­lies its size far more suc­cess­fully than a BMW X4 or Mercedes GLC.

In­side, things are pretty im­pres­sive too. Ma­te­ri­als can’t re­ally be faulted, the dash is at­trac­tive and log­i­cally de­signed, and the driv­ing po­si­tion is spot-on. What Alfa hasn’t quite nailed, though, is the wow fac­tor that Mercedes, Jaguar and even Audi man­age to in­stil into in­te­rior de­sign.

The Stelvio’s in­sides are sleek and so­phis­ti­cated, yes, but there are no party tricks to shout about – no fancy

quilted leather, no touch-sen­si­tive but­tons, no fancy ‘vir­tual cock­pit’-like screen be­hind the steer­ing wheel.

Sim­i­larly, while the in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem is miles bet­ter than that on Al­fas of old, it’s not quite up there with the BMW idrives of this world – the strangely tiny rear park­ing cam­era dis­play alone would never have been signed off by Bavaria’s finest. Quirks aside though it’s not a bad ef­fort at all, and Alfa has clearly put some thought into a few nice de­tails in the cabin – such as the flat-bot­tomed steer­ing wheel and tac­tile metal paddle shifters.

SPACE AND PRAC­TI­CAL­ITY

Given its shapely body, the Stelvio isn’t quite as prac­ti­cal as some of its more tra­di­tional-look­ing SUV ri­vals – think more BMW X4 than X3, for ex­am­ple – but there’s eas­ily still room for four adults and their lug­gage. Rear legroom is de­cent, the boot space is par for the course at 525 litres, and it’d be rel­a­tively easy to get child seats in and out too. Rear vis­i­bil­ity does take a bit of a hit though, thanks to the rel­a­tively small rear win­dow and thick rear pil­lars.

Alfa has filled the Stelvio to the brim with safety kit too, so there’s tech­nol­ogy aplenty to help pre­vent a crash. All the usual 2017 bits are there – lane de­par­ture warn­ing, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing with rear cross-path de­tec­tion, and for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing with au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing – and al­though the Stelvio is yet to be tested by Euro NCAP, the Gi­u­lia saloon on which it’s based has al­ready re­ceived a five-star rat­ing.

BE­HIND THE WHEEL

Alfa Romeo is very keen to stress that this isn’t just another SUV with some sporty bits tacked on – in­stead, de­sign­ing the Stelvio with driv­ing dy­nam­ics in mind from the very be­gin­ning.

That phi­los­o­phy seems to have paid off. From be­hind the modern, flat-bot­tomed steer­ing wheel you’ll find a car-like driv­ing po­si­tion and a cabin that’s more driver-fo­cused and en­velop­ing than in a typ­i­cal SUV.

Where the Stelvio re­ally shines is in the way it drives, though. The steer­ing it­self is di­rect, ac­cu­rate and – al­though a lit­tle bereft of feed­back – del­i­cate with­out feel­ing over-as­sisted. De­spite its rel­a­tively tall body, there’s very lit­tle roll around cor­ners – some­thing Alfa’s engi­neers are rightly proud of – and at 1,660kg for the 2.0-litre petrol, it’s 100kg lighter than even the dain­ti­est of its Ger­man ri­vals too.

Com­bine those el­e­ments and you’ll find an SUV that’s as en­joy­able around a set of cor­ners as a well-sorted saloon or es­tate, and al­though the trade-off for all that com­po­sure is a rel­a­tively firm ride, it’s not un­rea­son­able or un­com­fort­able by any means.

Re­fine­ment isn’t bad ei­ther. We’d like a touch more sound­proof­ing to sep­a­rate the cabin from that fa­mil­iar four-cylin­der diesel rum­ble, but beyond that the Stelvio should make for a com­fort­able mo­tor­way cruiser too.

VALUE FOR MONEY

Prices for the range start at £33,990. To keep things sim­ple there are just three trim lev­els – Stelvio, Busi­ness and Su­per – and even en­try-level cars get an ar­ray of stan­dard safety kit, front and rear park­ing sen­sors, a 6.5-inch in­fo­tain­ment screen, key­less en­try and 17-inch al­loys. Up­grade to Su­per and you’ll get half-leather seats, big­ger al­loys and so on, while Busi­ness bun­dles in a few op­tions above the en­try-level car but only Bik-friendly diesel en­gines.

Above that, the op­tions list gives you some as­sorted niceties such as a posher Har­man Kar­don stereo with ei­ther 10 or 14 speak­ers, a ‘full-grain’ leather in­te­rior, a heated steer­ing wheel and so on.

Most of the usual elec­tronic toys such as ac­tive cruise con­trol are avail­able too, al­though don’t ex­pect Vw-group lev­els of so­phis­ti­ca­tion just yet. If you’re af­ter LED head­lights, ac­tive park as­sist or a head-up dis­play, you’d best take your­self off to buy that Q5 (or even a Tiguan).

WHO WOULD BUY ONE?

As this is Alfa Romeo’s first SUV and, along with the Gi­u­lia, one of its first fam­ily-sized cars in half a decade, the Stelvio’s cus­tomers are likely to be new to the brand – snar­ing some ex-audi and BMW own­ers.

Alfa would like to think its cus­tomers are just a tad more dis­cern­ing than the usual SUV rab­ble: more in­ter­ested in de­sign and han­dling than whether or not you can have in-car wi-fi. To an ex­tent, they’ve nailed that brief – the Stelvio is prob­a­bly the sweet­est-han­dling SUV this side of a Porsche Ma­can, and in the looks de­part­ment alone it’s ef­fort­lessly so­phis­ti­cated com­pared with its slab-sided Ger­man ri­vals.

Com­pany car users are on the agenda too, tar­geted by a diesel-only trim level imag­i­na­tively called the ‘Busi­ness’. Even the most pow­er­ful diesel chucks out a mere 127g/km of CO2 on the com­bined cy­cle – less than the equiv­a­lent Audi Q5 or BMW X3 –so it’s likely that the Stelvio should of­fer a com­pet­i­tive propo­si­tion for any­one sub­ject to ben­e­fit-in-kind.

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