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It’s hard to know where to start with the Stelvio, it undoubtedly sets new standards for the SUV genre.
You have to ask why so many people opt for a SUV type of vehicle. The reality is there are many advantages to being higher off the ground, providing better visibility and indeed views of the countryside (not forgetting for back sufferers, it’s much easier to get in and out!). Also, having 4×4 is no gimmick, particularly if you live somewhere like Dartmoor, where ice and snow on lanes can mean that four wheel drive is the difference between getting home safely and having to park up and take refuge somewhere!
I think everyone realises that SUVs, having a higher centre of gravity, can be a bit more challenging in the twisties, and there’s been much work done by manufacturers in the past few years to improve vehicle dynamics in order to make their SUVs handle corners with less drama.
Several years ago, I road tested the excellent Land Rover Discovery Sport diesel, much work had been done to reduce weight on this model, particulary at higher height levels, and indeed, the vehicle certainly provided great improvements in this area. I think we all realise that excess weight is the enemy, it impacts badly on all areas of vehicle performance.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio Speciale tested was loaned by Vospers at Exeter, the vehicle having the 2.2 turbo diesel engine churning out 210 bhp, complete with a ZF 8 speed auto gearbox. The usual Devonshire test route incorporates both A30 motorway type driving as well as more challenging ‘A’ road conditions by taking a trip over the moors from Ashburton to the Two Bridges Hotel for lunch.
It was great to climb aboard the Stelvio which had all mod cons installed such as electrically controlled and heated seats with memory settings, heated steering wheel (how lovely are these touches when the weather’s colder), split screen sat nav/radio – the specification was really luxurious, the Alfa cabins are great places to be these days.
Upon driving off the Marsh Barton estate, the stability and briskness of this car was noticeable, Kevin at Vospers told me that the 0-60 time was 6.6 seconds, pretty staggering. This is what amounts to a class leading figure, beating the much larger engined VW three litre V6 Touareg (6.9 seconds), an amazing feat – you have to wonder how Alfa Romeo have achieved this? Weight saving materials and advanced design technology are very much to the fore, and of course, this weight saving not only boosts performance, but results in less effort being required when negotiating corners, greatly benefiting handling.
The chassis is something of a triumph and it’s not until you’re in the corners that you can really feel the advantage of both the weight savings and also the remarkable chassis, which possesses incredibly quick and precise steering. Coming off the A30 at Ashburton and taking the road up to the moors proved just how much fun could be had in this lithe and precise car. It’s unusual in that it has a ‘sports car’ like feel to it, aided by the slick engine/gearbox/braking setup.
Powering out of corners and changing the line was no problem, even getting into mid corner and applying the brakes, none of the usual pitch and yaw of lesser machines. It took me quite a while to adjust to the dynamic cornering capabilities of this car, which seemed to defy what you usually expect from a SUV.
If you need to make haste, the Stelvio is unflappable, covering distance at a fast pace is both safe and effortless. Coming out of a junction onto a main road and accelerating up to speed was totally uneventful, the slick gear changes handled by the eight speed ZF gearbox were seamless and smooth, with absolutely no pitching of the chassis.
The 2.2 turbo diesel power plant is both quiet and relatively free revving, providing both great acceleration for overtaking slow vehicles and also long-legged cruising capability. Cruising along the A30 at the legal limit, the car felt as if it was barely running much above tickover, such is the overdrive, meaning that if you ever have to cover any great distances the car has the long legged feel of a grand-tourer, but also diesel economy. The actual gearing meant that in top gear, 2,000rpm gave 80mph. Say what you will about diesels, they provide massive levels of torque that makes driving effortless and affordable.
I wish I’d had more time to enjoy driving this great machine, but unfortunately work was pressing, so it was back to the Vospers Alfa Romeo showroom at Marsh Barton. Incidentally, they’re moving shortly, see details in display advert (right).
The Stelvio is available with a range of engines, the most impressive being the Ferrari designed three litre V6, which would provide more than enough thrills for any speed glutton, the 4×4 system on the Stelvio actually making it quicker than the blistering Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde due to enhanced traction (0-62 in 3.8 secs) – yikes!
If you’re considering buying a SUV, the new Alfa should be top of your list, it provides a level of refinement and sheer driving joy that’s unbeatable.
(Incidentally, reading an old Express & Echo from the 1980s, a 2 litre diesel Range Rover took over 19 seconds to get to 60 – yawn. How things have moved on!)