New Alfa Stelvio is

For­get your pre­con­cep­tions about SUVS and give the new­bie on the block a fair chance

Saturday Star - - LIFESTYLE - WILLEM VAN DE PUTTE

I’VE ADMITTED it be­fore and am not em­bar­rassed to say it again – I am an unadul­ter­ated Alfa Romeo en­thu­si­ast.

Be­fore I dis­cov­ered the de­lights of push­ing a 4x4 to the ex­treme, I had al­most ev­ery Alfa model be­fore the mar­que re­turn­ing to South Africa.

Ju­niors, 33s, Gi­uli­et­tas, GTVS and so it went on, teach­ing me much about the work­ings of the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine and throw­ing my hands up in de­spair at the elec­tron­ics of 1980s Ital­ian en­gi­neers. The en­gines would mostly purr along per­fectly, but di­als would swing wildly in ev­ery di­rec­tion; in the evening, the petrol gauge would show half and in the morn­ing full and dur­ing the day ev­ery­thing in-be­tween. For­tu­nately that’s all changed and they now not only pro­duce beau­ti­fully de­signed cars but, dare I say it, com­pete with some of their Eu­ro­pean neigh­bours.

And as SUVS re­main an im­por­tant and pop­u­lar choice among mo­torists around the globe, it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore the Ital­ian icon en­tered the fray, and it did so in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion with the Stelvio.

Be­fore you call me bi­ased, the Stelvio has walked away with nu­mer­ous awards in­clud­ing SUV of the year, best han­dling SUV, driver’s award, per­for­mance SUV of the year and the list goes on. Also, I haven’t yet come across a mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ist here or abroad who doesn’t sing its praises.

And yet, South Africans still weirdly have a fix­a­tion with SUVS from al­most ev­ery sta­ble ex­cept the Ital­ian brand.

“What is this?” asked a friend who knows very lit­tle, and cares even less about cars, when I picked her up on the way to din­ner. A short in­tro­duc­tion later and all she could come up with was that it was beau­ti­ful, both to look at and to sit in.

And she’s not far off. Alfa kept their sport­ing her­itage very much in­tact when they de­cided to en­ter the SUV mar­ket.

The in­te­rior is cer­tainly com­pa­ra­ble with some of the best Ger­man com­peti­tors with qual­ity fin­ish­ings and soft-touch sur­faces through­out. The Alfa Romeo badge stitched in to the head rest of the leather seats adds to the feel­ing of ex­clu­siv­ity.

The tra­di­tional round di­als, smaller multi-func­tional chunky steer­ing wheel, 22cm touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem and the ro­tary se­lec­tor all speak to an in­te­rior that has been de­signed with the driver in mind.

Ev­ery­thing is easy to reach and, granted, the car still had less than 10 000km on the clock, but it’s got a ton of elec­tri­cary in it. I’m glad the new en­gi­neers weren’t un­der the ap­pren­tice­ship of those ear­lier ones.

Un­der the bon­net, you get Alfa’s re­spon­sive 2.0-litre turbo-petrol en­gine push­ing out 206kw and 400Nm of torque. That’s cou­pled to an eight­speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion that pow­ers all four wheels via what Alfa call its Q4 all-wheel drive. It’s a sweet gear­box, to be sure, and if you want there’s a pad­dle shift as well.

The trick to hav­ing as much fun as pos­si­ble with this Stelvio is the DNA se­lec­tor on the cen­tre con­sole, which gives you an op­tion of Dy­namic, Nat­u­ral and Ad­vanced Ef­fi­ciency. Mostly you would use the Nat­u­ral set­ting for ev­ery­day driv­ing and the ef­fi­ciency op­tion on long trips, but it’s in Dy­namic that ev­ery­thing Alfa comes

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