First drive on UK roads; works well, but comfort and quality could be better
British motorists have to wait a few more weeks before right-hand-drive versions of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio go on sale here, but in the meantime weâ€™ve tried a left-drive example of the 207bhp 2.2-litre diesel on UK roads to see how it fares.
This model and a 276bhp petrol version will initially be available, to be joined shortly afterwards by an entry-level 177bhp diesel and 197bhp petrol. The modelâ€™s sub-Â£34,000 starting price means a mid-spec 177bhp diesel costs about Â£3000 less than an Audi Q5, which makes it relatively good value.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2 TD 210 AWD Speciale
Engine: 4cyls, 2143cc, turbodiesel
Power: 207bhp at 3750rpm
Torque: 347lb ft at 1750rpm
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Top speed: 130mph
CO2/BIK tax band: 127g/km, 27%
Performance bodes well, too, as its relatively small size and use of lightweight materials such as aluminium and carbon fibre means the Alfa boasts a promising power-to-weight ratio. This runs to between 100 and 200kg lighter than the opposition.
Alfaâ€™s first SUV looks more closely related to a pumped-up five-door hatch than a regular SUV; more Porsche Macan than Q5 or BMW X3. Itâ€™s not as visually successful as (say) its Giulia stablemate, and our carâ€™s decidedly average paintwork didnâ€™t help.
Inside the cabin, thereâ€™s plenty of movement and room to raise the driverâ€™s seat height to a more SUV-style level, although the rear bench sits lower than you might expect and space is only class average. Quality is surprisingly mixed; the ambience canâ€™t match that of a Q5 or Mercedes GLC, thanks to slightly rough-hewn leather and cheap and/or dull trims and switchgear, while many of the buttons and fittings feel a tad wobbly. At least the seats are very comfortable, the controls well positioned and the infotainment reasonably functional.
As speed picks up, the four-cylinder diesel moves from its faint idling clatter to acceptable refinement. The responsive auto transmission aids good mid-range thrust from around 2000rpm. The handling impresses for an SUV, boasting surprising cornering agility, grip and body control. However, the Stelvio is harder to place as accurately as some SUV rivals that deliver a more nuanced handling experience, as itâ€™s a little more reactive to bumps than youâ€™d expect.
Typically Alfa-quick steering gives a dynamic attitude thatâ€™s confirmed on smooth roads. The car hangs on to or changes its line with zeal, even if the extra power assistance required by this taller, heavier model reduces feel. On less well surfaced roads, though, the Stelvioâ€™s springing and damping balance allows a degree of oscillation and passenger jiggling. Feedback from the advanced brake-by-wire system is rather random, yet we have no complaints about the actual stopping power and response.
We like that the Stelvio combines decent drivetrains with a willing chassis and good pricing structure. Whether premium SUV buyers will like its hatch-style handling characteristics remains to be seen; weâ€™d expected more ride comfort and cabin isolation, even if the Giulia levels of poise and driving pleasure impress. Those quality aspects we mentioned might not go down so well in the UK, either.