The Italian brand enters the SUV sector with the stylish Stelvio that has already achieved success – winning CCT’s Premium SUV of the Year title.
On the road
On the road
Launching one good-quality car successfully into a segment you weren’t in before is a decent job for any brand, but doing it twice in the same year, especially when you’re a comparatively small brand such as Alfa Romeo, is pretty ambitious.
Not content with bringing in the Giulia compact executive saloon early last year, Alfa has decided that the never-ending consumer desire for higher-seated off-road vehicles is an area of the market that it has to be part of.
It is right to think that way, because SUVs and crossovers are here to stay, and the huge sales numbers, which are predicted to continue to grow significantly over the coming years, simply cannot be ignored.
The Stelvio is being offered with four trim levels including the top-spec launch Milano Edizione that is described as a “limited production” model to celebrate the car’s arrival. The range features two petrol and two diesel engines, all mated to an excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox and either four-wheel drive or, on the entry diesel engine, a lower-emission rear-drive model.
The 2.2-litre diesel produces either 180hp or 210hp, with the lesser-powered model costing £800 less. Both share the same 127g/km efficiency figure. That drops one BIK band to 124g/km for the rear-drive 180hp version; this model is also £1,500 cheaper in second-from-bottom Super trim, which is the only one where both drivetrains are offered.
The range runs from the entry trim to Super, Speciale and the Milano Edizione, and standard kit on all includes autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning and active cruise control, highlighting Alfa’s focus on safety. It worked, because the car achieved a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating including the highest adult occupant safety rating in the class. Dual-zone climate control and rear parking sensors – front sensors don’t come as standard until you step up from the base trim – are fitted to all cars, while the step up to Super trim also brings sat-nav, part-leather seats, two-tone dashboard and a 7.0-inch TFT instrument cluster that’s double the size of that in the base car. Speciale is a largely cosmetic enhancement including aluminium cabin finish and red brake calipers, although it also adds heated and powered leather front seats and bi-xenon headlamps for the hefty price jump. The top Milano Edizione is the only one to get the likes of keyless entry, rear parking camera, privacy glass and sports leather seats as standard.
Much like the Giulia, the first things that grab the eye when you hop into the Stelvio are the big start button on the steering wheel and, where fitted, the huge gearshift paddles that are about as big as you get in any car. They’re standard on the top two trim levels, and a £275 option for the rest. Otherwise, the interior benefits from the two-tone effect that all cars bar the entry trim get. WIthout it, it would all be a bit dark, but it’s a cosy and comfortable cabin with everything logically laid out and a decent amount of interior storage, including a handy smartphone-shaped slot between the two large cupholders. The boot is a bit shy of the main competition’s, although it’s a fairly square shape and has a flat boot floor to help loading.
The weakest point is the infotainment system, which looks dated and cheap compared with the slickest German premium brand offerings, despite the larger screen size than the competitor systems. It also struggles for user-friendliness, with functions such as changing radio station when following the navigation requiring way too many button presses to get back to where you started. The navigation system itself is also off the pace.
The view forwards from the driver’s seat takes in the curvaceous bonnet lines, although chunky windscreen and door pillars and a narrow rear window all impact on all-round visibility. Good job rear parking sensors are standard, but it’s a shame front sensors are only offered from the Super trim, and a rear camera is optional until you get to the top-spec car.
Our test vehicle featured the 210hp version of the 2.2-litre diesel, which offers the same efficiency figures as the 180hp version of the same engine that is the other diesel choice. The 180hp better lines-up with the rival offerings, because only Mercedes offers a diesel medium SUV within 19hp of the Stelvio’s 210hp, while all have something equivalent to the less powerful model. But even allowing for that, the Stelvio Super is cheaper than any of the German competition, although the equipment offering maybe doesn’t quite stand up to the closest scrutiny. But in company car tax terms, the Stelvio looks a great bet.
And to drive, the story is the same, with the Stelvio belying its size and height to provide an entertaining driving experience. Body roll is well controlled, and the ride, while firm, isn’t crashy over bumps and potholes in the way some of its rivals are. It feels composed and at home at lower urban speeds, but relaxed and refined on longer runs. There is a surprising amount of wind noise around the door pillars, but otherwise it’s a great all-round dynamic package that’s successfully backed up by the punchy diesel engine and impressive eight-speed auto gearbox that shifts quickly and unobtrusively. The steering is also direct but a touch notchy.
As mentioned, Alfa Romeo has gone aggressive with pricing for the Stelvio, with the 210hp version tested here undercutting less powerful rival models, and the 180hp diesel another £800 to the good in four-wheel drive form. Factor in that only the Mercedes GLC250 diesel can get into the same benefit-in-kind tax bracket because of the Alfa’s good emissions figure and you can see why this is a car that will appeal to company car drivers. And why it’s our CCT100 Premium SUV of the Year. This model will save a higher-rate tax payer more than £300 a year versus the equivalent Audi Q5, and that goes up past £450 a year for a BMW X3.
It’s not perfect, with the infotainment system being the big area that needs an upgrade, but the cheaper price means a driver can cherry-pick a couple of options and still be at the same cost level as rivals. However, the 37.5% residual value may look good in isolation, but it’s put in perspective by those of the German cars, and Jaguar and Land Rover rivals, all of which are over 41%. That will have an impact on monthly rental figures, but is an area Alfa Romeo is looking to improve.
It’s testament to how far Alfa has come that it can launch into both the compact executive saloon and medium SUV market with new models within the space of half a year, but more importantly that it has done so with cars that are credible competitors in their segments. The Stelvio has its strengths and weaknesses, but is a characterful addition to the sector and those tempted to try something different will be rewarded with a fine-driving, efficient, keenly priced and stylish car that offers a genuine alternative to the established players.
Alfa Romeo has been hinting about launching its first SUV since 2003, when it unveiled the Kamal concept car (pictured) at the Geneva motor show. However, it has taken the company 14 years to decide that the SUV sector has got to the point where it needs to be present.
Named after the iconic Stelvio Pass with its 48 hairpin bends, the Stelvio was the second part of a huge 2017 for the Italian brand, following half a year behind the very well-received new Giulia compact executive saloon. The two cars share underpinnings, although the SUV is 22cm higher.
Alfa’s debut into the SUV sector won’t be alone in the line-up for long, with the brand confirming that two more SUVs are in the planning by 2020, although it’s not yet clear exactly where these will fit into the range. A larger model the size of sister brand Maserati’s Levante is a possibility, as is a smaller crossover in the vein of the BMW X1 and Audi Q3.
These models are part of a planned product offensive in the next three years announced in 2016 that will also include a saloon to sit above the Giulia, a hatchback to replace the Giulietta and two “speciality” models.
What they said
What They Said
"Weight saving technology and an efficient engine range mean that Stelvio falls into the lowest BIK band in its segment, from 26%, making it a rational choice of company car."
"A wide range of engines – all combined with a ZF eight-speed gearbox – offer performance, top fuel economy and low CO2 levels. And with a five-star Euro NCAP rating and a host of standard safety systems, there is outstanding peace of mind. Technology aside, the all-new Stelvio stands out because of its distinctive Italian design, sophistication and quality feel."
Francis Bleasdale, fleet and remarketing director, FCA UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
The huge cupholders also include a handy slot for a smartphone
The rear vents are as stylish as the front - not always the case
Big gearchange paddles are standard on higher trims
...And one we don't
The narrow rear window means rear visibility isn't the best in class
Great performance, very tidy handling and an excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox.
Right up with the best anything else in the class can offer, with a low of 124g/km and very small penalty for the 4x4 versions.
Boot space is a bit off rivals’, although cabin storage is good, including hefty cupholders. Big A- and B-pillars hinder visibility.
Good levels of safety kit but some items, such as a rear parking camera and sat-nav, aren’t standard until higher trims. Rivals have them more widely fitted.
A very elegant and striking Alfa Romeo SUV in a fairly conservative sector for design among rivals.
Comfort and refinement 8/10
The Stelvio rides well, especially on longer runs, and around town you feel the bumps, but it doesn’t crash or thump over them like some competitors do.
Much like the Giulia, the Stelvio has a cabin that feels cozy in a positive way, wrapping around the driver. The seats are comfortable, too.
The car’s biggest weakness. The graphics feel like older tech than premium rivals’ systems, and the nav system is frustrating to use. Big screen though.
Whole life costs 7/10
The Stelvio’s residuals are good in isolation, but rivals’ are excellent so it loses a bit of ground there, but regains it with excellent emissions.
CCT opinion 8/10
Alfa Romeo has come into a new segment and instantly put itself right up with the best on offer.
Great looks, excellent efficiency and very keen pricing are all strengths, and in this sector of the market those things are considered important to company car drivers.