The mid-size premium SUV party is one that Land Rover, BMW and Porsche have been attending for some time. Alfa Romeo, meanwhile, has turned up fashionably late. But when the Italian manufacturer arrives, it does so in style, bringing along one of the prettiest 4x4s on the market: the Stelvio.
Built using know-how from the gorgeous, glorious Giulia, the Stelvio promises a sporty drive, too, and Alfa Romeo is adamant that it’s among the best in the segment.
The numbers certainly seem to back that up. Weighing in at just 1.66 tonnes, the Stelvio is about 200kg lighter than a basic Macan, and with the 2.0-litre, 276bhp petrol engine on board, it’s also more powerful. As a result, the Alfa will sprint from 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds – a full second faster than the Porsche.
It isn’t just the performance that looks good, either. The Alfa’s 525-litre boot is marginally larger than that of the Macan, while its 40.4mpg thirst is a marginal improvement on the Porsche’s 38.7mpg.
In Britain, though, most buyers will probably go for one of the more frugal diesel models. Porsche has walked away from the fuel altogether after it dropped the Macan S Diesel model, but the Stelvio offers buyers a choice of two diesel engines.
Both are 2.2-litre, four-cylinder units, but one is tuned to produce 177bhp, while the other manages 207bhp. Somehow, they both achieve about 60mpg, but the more powerful engine gives you a slightly faster 0-62mph time of 6.6 seconds.
On paper, then, the Stelvio looks like the SUV to beat, but cars don’t drive on paper.
Get the Stelvio on the road, and things start to unravel worryingly quickly. We sampled the car in its most potent diesel guise, and found the engine more sluggish than its performance figures suggest – particularly in the mid range. We’d never call it slow, but we were hoping for more.
We’d hoped for a bit more refinement, too. In pursuit of lightness, Alfa has steadfastly refused to install a six-cylinder diesel engine, so you’re stuck with gruff four-cylinder engines that protest noisily whenever you put your foot down. The 3.0-litre, six-cylinder engines are the pick of the F-Pace and X3 ranges, offering smoothness and economy in equal measure, and it would have been nice to have that option in the Alfa.
The single-minded desire for lightness has come at a price in other areas, too. The brake pedal, for example, isn’t really connected to anything. Instead, it sends electrical signals to the on-board computers, which then apply the desired amount of braking. That sounds fine, and it certainly saves a bit of weight, but it leaves the brake pedal worryingly devoid of feel.
The biggest issue, though, is the steering. When Alfa designed the Stelvio, the engineers decided the steering should be faster and more responsive than that of the Macan, hoping that would make the car feel more agile. Unfortunately for Alfa, the Macan’s steering is pretty much perfect, and their efforts only served to make the Stelvio feel twitchy and nervous.
It isn’t even like the Stelvio corners particularly well. Despite the 200kg advantage, it feels less poised than its rivals, lurching around on its springs over undulating surfaces. It grips well, though, thanks to a rear-biased four-wheel-drive system, and body roll is better contained than you might expect. It’s relatively comfortable, too.
Prices start from just under £34,000 – about £750 less than the Jaguar F-Pace – and for that money you get the least powerful diesel with rear-wheel-drive. Standard equipment includes an 8.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, 17-inch alloy wheels and rear parking sensors, as well as automatic lights and wipers.
Climbing the range adds satellite navigation, larger alloys and leather upholstery, but prices can rise to more than £45,000 – roughly the same as the 2.0-litre Macan.
In short, the Stelvio is an abject lesson in why manufacturers shouldn’t chase the stats. The numbers can look as good as you like on paper, but that’s no use if they don’t add up on the asphalt. Its rivals are better built and better to drive, and they don’t cost any more to buy.