From Alfa to Stelvio: why the Italian marque's first SUV holds real promise
I'm still finding it hard to get my head around the fact that Alfa Romeo are making an SUV but their new Stelvio is the car that may finally sell in serious numbers, spearheading as it does their return to the US market.
Here in Ireland, we're more concerned about driving dynamics and, on paper, the Stelvio looks promising.
Based on the new Giorgio platform, already used on the Giulia saloon, the Stelvio is light, modern and comes with a perfect 50:50 weight distribution.
It's also among the prettiest SUVs on the market, successfully translating the Alfa family look onto a bulkier bodystyle.
From any angle it looks right.
Those looks are partly down to a young man from Ranelagh, Sacha Barber, who grew up wanting to design Italian cars and eventually landed his dream job in Alfa Romeo's styling department in Turin.
At the recent UK launch in Northern Ireland, he pointed out that every line of the car is drawn by hand, to preserve its emotion.
We had the opportunity to try two engine variants, the 220bhp 2.2 litre diesel and the 280bhp petrol, both with four wheel drive. A 180bhp base diesel with rear wheel drive will also be available but it's not expected to sell in huge numbers.
I was initially a bit underwhelmed by the performance from the diesel until I remembered that the speedometer was in miles.
That made all the difference and in truth, performance is strong, with a quoted 0-100kmh time of just 6.6 seconds and the car does feel that fast.
When it comes to handling, the Stelvio, named for one of the great driving roads of Europe, almost completely disguises its SUV origins.
In normal driving, it feels like a quality sports saloon, with great balance and impeccable road manners. Only in extremes does understeer make its presence felt.
The ride too is comfortable until the road really gets rough and the Stelvio loses a little composure.
We tried the car in some extreme weather conditions with streaming wet roads and it was never less than secure and assured.
At one point, we had to turn back as the road was flooded and even with our raised ride height, we weren't willing to risk flooding the only petrol Stelvio in the country.
Yes, we were in the 280bhp petrol model and to be honest, it didn't feel that much faster than the 210bhp diesel. Although Alfa Romeo reckon there's some interest in the petrol variants, I think most buyers will be better off with the diesel and its better fuel economy and range.
The Stelvio range starts from €47,295 and even the base model is well equipped with items including 17in alloys, dual zone climate control, 8.8in colour screen, multiple USB ports, Keyless Go, electric tailgate and rear parking sensors.
Next up is the Super, with 18in alloys, 3D satellite navigation, a TFT instrument cluster, two-tone leather dashboard and part leather upholstery.
And Speciale trim includes 19in alloys, adaptive bi-xenon headlights, heated, powered leather seats and real aluminium shift paddles and pedals.
Finally, there's a special edition Milano Edizione with all the toys including sports seats, 10 speaker sound system, 20in alloys, keyless entry a rear view camera and privacy glass. So far, 90pc of all orders are for this model, which sells for €57,495.
The Stelvio will be in showrooms here from next month and there's an introductory zero percent finance offer for customers who order before the end of the year.
This may be Alfa Romeo's first foray into the competitive SUV market but I think they have nailed it with a stylish, sporty design and powerful drive that deserve to do well.