Pretty flawed

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

Current page

181

Current page

182

Current page

183

Current page

184

Current page

185

Current page

186

Current page

187

Current page

188

Current page

189

Current page

190

Current page

191

Current page

192

Current page

193

Current page

194

Current page

195

Current page

196

Current page

197

Current page

198

Current page

199

Current page

200

Current page

201

Current page

202

Current page

203

Current page

204

Current page

205

Current page

206

Current page

207

Alfa Romeo’s first SUV has all the characteristics you would associate with the Italian company – good and bad

The Stelvio Pass is rivalled only the Karussel at the Nürburgring and Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew as candidates for the most over-rated stretches of tarmac on earth. But while the slow and fiddly race track corners merely interrupt what are otherwise fast and flowing laps of their respective circuits, the Stelvio Pass is somewhere to which people journey especially in the hope of finding one of the world’s great roads. It is nothing of the sort: it is instead an endless series of switchback hairpins, covered in snow during the winter, cyclists in the summer and guaranteed to induce nausea in your passengers at any other time you might be lucky enough to get a clear run at it. Let’s hope, therefore, that the Alfa Romeo that takes its name doesn’t also promise something sublime only to deliver something else altogether more noisome.

It has its work cut out. Making your first SUV seems to be a rite of passage among car manufacturers these days but it doesn’t make the job any easier, particularly when yours is a sporting brand carrying a certain level of expectation regarding how any car wearing your badge should drive and perform.

But Alfa Romeo appears to have done better than most at providing itself with the best possible chance: the Stelvio is based on the still new and well received platform that underpins the Giulia saloon and it has done well to keep the weight gain to not much more than 200kg. It sounds a lot, but when you consider how much higher the Stelvio sits and how much heavier still is much of the competition, the engineers involved deserve to be congratulated.

Stelvios come with 2-litre petrol engines with either 197bhp or 276bhp and a 2.2-litre diesel offering either 177bhp or 206bhp and the choice of rear- or four-wheel drive for all. And just like the Giulia, there is a 503bhp Quadrifoglio version sitting at the top of the range. The car I drove was a high-power diesel, with four-wheel drive and the bottom of three trim levels.

And as ever, Alfa’s stylists have worked wonders, somehow doing the impossible and making a high-sided, snub-nosed SUV still look like an Alfa Romeo, and a pretty attractive one at that. People buy cars like this to stand out from the crowd, but when the crowd buys them too – as they increasingly are – it is a powerful weapon for yours to be the best looking of the lot, and I’d say this is.

But even in the traditionally under-achieving SUV categories, a pretty face will only get you so far these days. There are now some really impressive cars in this category, such as the Porsche Macan, new BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace, Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC and the Stelvio will have to perform like few Alfas in history to provide a credible presence in the market place alongside rivals like that.

It performs well, up to a point. The diesel motor lacks neither power nor torque and in the relatively light Stelvio has no problem bowling it along the road at a decent rate. Allied to the ubiquitous and highly capable ZF eight-speed automatic transmission it seems always to have enough in reserve to get you briskly up to speed or past anything that may be holding you up. But it’s quite a noisy engine too. I was interested to see that it shares not only its 2143cc capacity but also an identical bore and stroke to the equally rattly four-cylinder diesel motor Mercedes-Benz is rapidly phasing out of smaller-engined diesels. Coincidence? Nobody’s saying.

Either way, as a tool for the job it’s good enough and during a couple of days running in mixed conditions, it also managed a genuine 40mpg, which I thought pretty commendable for this kind of car.

I take greater issue with the way Alfa Romeo has configured the chassis. Here, I admit, its engineers had a problem. How do you make something that’s quite heavy and has a notably high centre of gravity still somehow handle as you’d hope an Alfa Romeo might? Or do you simply accept that that’s a fool’s errand, soften it off and focus on providing superlative ride comfort instead? Alfa’s decision to split the difference, falling if anything on the side of dynamism and response, is entirely understandable, but that does not mean I agree with it.

Yes, it means the Stelvio handles quite capably for such a car, managing its mass under quite severe provocation and delaying the onset of understeer for as long as you could reasonably expect, but only at the price of tying the car down on its springs. The less desirable consequences of this include a generally stiff-legged gait and the occasional unseemly stumble over transverse ridges or into pot-holes. Even so, it should be said that the ride is not terrible nor even particularly poor, just notably compromised: you might well take the view that a little relative discomfort is worth putting up with for the point-to-point poise it undoubtedly brings.

It’s far harder to make the case for the interior which, relative to most rivals is, I am afraid, just plain poor. When not just the Germans but also companies like Volvo are creating cabins for £40,000 cars that would not have looked in the least out of place in something costing twice as much even a few years ago, the Stelvio cockpit appears as if from another age. Yes, it’s quite cleanly presented with an admirable economy of buttons, but the materials used are too variable in both number and quality, what little technology it places at your disposal is very previous generation, but most of all there is little of that sense of design cohesion in here that is essential for creating an ambience of true class in a car such as this. There’s quite limited rear headroom too, and only a tiny rear screen to look out of.

Despite such reservations, I think that Alfa Romeo should be praised for creating what remains a competitive, if flawed, new offering to this super-competitive market. Its first job was to create an SUV that was sufficiently distinct both in ability and appearance not simply to stand out, but to do so as an Alfa Romeo. And I think it has broadly succeeded in this regard.

But that’s a very different thing to saying I think it should be up there on your list with the best the Germans, the Brits and Swedes already have in this category. In its ride comfort, disappointing interior and noisy engine lie flaws that only the most love-blind of Alfisti will find easy to ignore. Its best rivals may be less attractive, they may even be a little less entertaining, but they are far more complete propositions.

So the question is, what matters more in this new class that’s so crucial to Alfa Romeo’s future well-being? And for me I think more people will want one of the quiet, comfortable and genuinely luxurious cars that already populate the class than an outsider with no track record in the field and a reasonable number of significant drawbacks. The Stelvio, then, may be the world’s first Alfa Romeo SUV, but it remains an Alfa Romeo, with all the good and bad that has so often entailed. The hope must be that for enough customers its charms outweigh its shortcomings for Alfa Romeo to gain a toe-hold in this class. For whether we like it or not it is in building cars like this, far more than the more smaller coupés and saloons upon which it built its reputation, that the future of this most enigmatic company now depends.

Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2 Turbo Diesel Q4 AWD Milano

Price £43,990 Engine 2.1 litres, 4 cylinders, turbocharged Power [email protected] Torque 346lb [email protected]1750rpm Weight 1659kg Power to weight 125bhp per tonne Transmission eight-speed auto,four-wheel drive 0-60mph6.6sec Top speed 130mph Economy 58.9mpg CO2 127g/km