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Alfa Romeo Stelvio: A Mountain to Climb?

Cars

The Stelvio is Alfa’s first Sports Utility Vehicle in its 107-year history. But is it a true Alfa Romeo or does it have a mountain to climb to convince keener drivers?

8C, Disco Volante, the BAT cars, Giulia, GTA, Spider, 33 Stradale, Alfasud, and Arna (OK, perhaps not the last one).

Thumb though Alfa Romeo’s rich and colourful catalogue of past models and you’ll find cars of automotive legend. Beautiful but with an infamous reputation for being a little ‘temperamental’ on occasion, the rosso corsa creations from Turin have always pulled at the heart strings in ways that mean we can bypass most misgivings.

Alfa 33 Stradale

Throughout its 107-year history, Alfa Romeos have been as successful on the race track as they are stylish. Think 158/159 ‘Alfetta’ of the 1940s and 1950s or the fearsomely tough GTA and the swoopy kamm-tailed Giulia TZ of the 1960s. Only the 75 of the mid-1980s and early 1990s was a racing Alfa that enjoyed results that were as challenging as it was to the eye, its World and British Touring Car Championship results off the pace when compared to its rivals. The later 155 V6 Ti and 156 racers of the 1990s did have significantly more success, though.

Alfa touring car

Off the pace is one thing Alfa Romeo hopes that the new Stelvio is not. The high-riding SUV is the first in the company’s long history, and is set to play a major role in the Italian firm’s illustrious heritage and legacy. Forecast to replace the latest incarnation of the Giulia as the best-selling single Alfa Romeo model in 2018, the Stelvio has a lot resting on its broad, sculpted shoulders. Not least the cries of the Alfisti bawling over their cappuccinos and Torta di Nocciola. But they should be consoled by the welcome news that their favourite marque is to re-enter the F1 arena in 2018.

Alfa Romeo 1750 GTAm 105

It may not have been an SUV, but Alfa does have previous four-wheel-drive form. The 1900M ‘Matta’ (‘Mad Alfa’) produced from 1951 to 1954 lacked the ‘sport’ seen in Alfa’s new ‘Sport Utility Vehicle’, but the Latin-flavoured Willys Jeep-alike built for the Italian Ministry of Defence was capable of transporting passengers and cargo, just in a much more functional way. So, even though it appeared to be a curious (if essential for 2017) entry when it was unveiled, the Stelvio isn’t as leftfield as you may think.

But is it a true Alfa Romeo? It certainly mixes traditional Alfa styling cues with modernity well, its looks more sports estate car than mountain goat-climbing people mover. The V-shaped ‘Scudetto’ grille is more proportionally right than some recent Alfas, and the ‘Trilobo’ it forms with the air intakes nods to classic models from the company’s past. The lean and shapely exterior clothes an interior with deep-cowled instruments, beautifully tactile paddle-shifters, sumptuous leathers, and quality wood – and carbon-fibre – trims. So far, so Alfa.

Aimed at families and fleets, while the initial range of turbocharged four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines aren’t as sonorous as the legendary ‘Busso’ V6, that’s all set to change. The Stelvio Quadrifoglio arrives in the summer of 2018, packing a 510bhp and 600Nm (442lb ft) punch. The Cloverleaf Stelvio promises a scintillating 0 to 62mph time of just 3.8 seconds, and a top speed of 176mph. Very un-SUV-like. Just like the 7 minute, 51.7 second ‘fastest production SUV’ world record lap time set on the Nürburgring earlier this year.

Technically, the Stelvio follows Alfa family tradition. Non-all-pawed versions of the Turin SUV are rear-wheel-drive, while AWD ‘Q4’ models also have a 100 per cent rear-driven bias. But, they can also send as much as half of their power to the front axle, too. Perfect 50/50 weight distribution and innovations such as a carbonfibre propshaft as well as extensive use of aluminium throughout add up to the lightest mid-size SUV in its class, all of which help the sharp driving dynamics. Which are another Alfa Romeo legacy: Alfas of old were all about their handling, too.

Italian automobile and Alfa Romeo designer Orazio Satta Puglia said: “Alfa Romeo is a particular way of living, of experiencing an automobile”. With the digital-age Giulia and the Stelvio, the contemporary Alfa Romeo ‘experience’ builds on those century-old traditions, but offers modern technology, engaging dynamics as well as an unmistakable style. The Stelvio is billed as ‘The first Alfa Romeo that is also an SUV. It is an Alfa Romeo first and an SUV second.’

You know what? We’d be inclined to agree.

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