Sunday 21 October 2018

From Alfa to Stelvio: I'm outnumbered by Romeos

New SUV turns heads, but our motoring editor is not convinced on its looks

Alfa Romeo
Alfa Romeo
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Now and again - less frequently of late I admit - you come across a car that sets the senses tingling. Let me say straight away that was not the case with this week's review motor. Not for me, anyway.

Not that much really surprises any more, you see: Range Rover going 'electric', Jaguar, Bentley - you name it - making SUVs. They have taken the major element of surprise, occasion, history out of star names making Crossovers.

That meant there really wasn't that sense of 'first' or fanfare when I got into Alfa Romeo's new Stelvio SUV last week. Yes, it's an Alfa SUV. Did we ever think we'd see the day? Well, we did really because, as I've said, everyone is doing SUV now.

There may not have been a sense of occasion for me but there was, most comprehensively, from many, many others.

From the car park at the gym, to the shopping centre, to waiting at the lights, to the muddy farmyard surrounds of two cousins and an old friend at work, to the posh suburban churchyard, this car sparked attention.

Not in a long time has a test motor drawn so many to my driver's window to enquire and admire. And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew - for them and me.

Bear in mind the car was draped in a drab grey colour (inside and out) which only heightened the sense of cloudy gloom all week.

Yet several people got their phones out for pictures. A number gave it the video treatment. One man from Croatia delivered an excited two-minute commentary as he walked around the car, phone at arm's length - live to his Italian friend in Canada, he told me breathlessly.

A young businessman said he loved the look of it. "Love it," he kept saying. And I discussed it with another perfectly intelligent young executive whose vocabulary, for a limited time, was confined to the word "beautiful".

I give up. I couldn't rev up at all. Maybe the dark grey colour and the week that was in it dimmed my ability to see contours and design (heavily influenced by a young man from Ranelagh, Sacha Barber by the way) that made the Stelvio truly outstanding to look at.

The front is strongly Alfa, I'll grant you that, but the side and rear come with softer, to me, more bland lines. There isn't the wow factor (I have to keep saying 'for me'). Yes it looks a million times better than the ultra conservative Audi Q5. But it doesn't powerhose you (for good or ill) like the Jaguar F-PACE or Porsche Macan to mention a couple of rivals.

If ever I've had a lesson in different folks and different tastes this is it. So I'll leave it at that. You'll love it or you'll do as I did and turn your attention to other aspects for reassurance that you haven't completely lost the plot.

And there was reassurance aplenty. For starters there is such impressive room inside (great width and legroom at the back as well as a good boot), real comfort and a lovely easy canter to the way it is set up to handle and ride on motorway and around town.

The 2.2-litre diesel and the 8spd autobox (with mega, previously-criticised, manual-change handles on the steering column) made my drives to Wexford and the midlands what they should be - a cruise. For all intents and purposes it is rear-wheel-driven but power can be split to the front wheels if needs be.

And that's where it really engaged: a good schlep on poor byways and especially a sustained lash across the extraordinarily multi-contoured Woodfield Bog road revealed depths of torsional ability that would not be out of place in any mid-size sports saloon never mind SUV.

With another cousin on board swearing he'd buy it, I dished out harsh and heavy treatment to the car (but still couldn't shut him up). I reckon it has the sort of handling Alfa lovers would expect, but I must stress I needed it in Dynamic mode (one of three) to be able to say that with conviction. If an Alfa, regardless of model, doesn't look striking and drive sharply, what's the point? For me it fares okay on one aspect of that equation and much better on the other.

Would I buy it? It didn't unleash the adrenaline to the extent that would warrant me saying yes. And I'd have to say I'd probably let an overhang of concern about residual values disproportionately concern me too.

But it's only fair to strongly stress that the car isn't just keenly priced but is jammed with spec and trim. There is value there, no doubt. And I'd love to see it do well. I really would. It's not for me but it would appear to be for many. Take a test drive yourself.

A final irony. In the course of my farmyard and bog-road sojourns a lot of muck and mud clung to obscure the outside - but that still didn't stop people asking about it. I give up.

FACTS & FIGURES

Alfa Stelvio SUV 2.2-litre auto, 210bhp diesel, AWD, 4.8l/km, 127g/km, €270 tax.

Price: From €47,295. Tested: €60,545

Entry level (Stelvio) includes: dual-zone climate control, 8.8ins infotainment display/DAB, Bluetooth/AUX, 8 speakers, 4 USB ports (2 rear), cruise control, 17ins alloys, rear LEDs, double exhaust, pipe, rear-park distance control.

'Super' adds 7ins TFT cluster, leather/cloth upholstery, 18ins alloys, 3D satnav.

'Speciale' adds 19ins alloys, bi-xenon headlights, leather, heated front seats.

Milano Edizione (on test): sporty leather seats, 10-speaker Sound Theatre, 20ins alloys, rear-view camera.

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