In the present and immediate future though, we’re still seeing every manufacturer worth its salt reducing emissions and rather conversely, producing SUVs and crossovers.
One such example of a brand ditching its roots for something that appeals to a broader audience is Alfa Romeo, that now has an SUV in the form of the Stelvio. Alfa isn’t alone though; other notable SUV-adopters include Roll Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and well, pretty much every recognisable manufacturer these days. I recently spent a week with the current range-topping Stelvio First Edition.
Many a manufacturer that has produced an SUV in response to demand, has turned out some rather odd creations in an attempt to infuse some intrinsic brand design elements into an SUV shape. Think first generation Porsche Cayenne as an example.
Thankfully, the Stelvio bucks the trend of the problematic transition to SUV-dom with a rather unmistakable and undeniably attractive exterior design. Up front, we have the familiar triangular Alfa grille, highly stylised lower front grille and sweeping headlamps with LED design elements.
In side profile, the Stelvio mixes the SUV/coupe trend with the more traditional SUV shape, which ensures a degree of design prowess and practicality in the way of rear headroom. The rear-end features hints of the outgoing Giulietta but with chunkier proportions.
The latest Alfa Romeo interiors are very visually appealing and well designed. The Stelvio is no different. Upon first inspection, it is a very aesthetically appealing place to be with soft-touch materials, the now signature aluminium gearshift paddles and an uncluttered, simplistic design.
Despite its design, I had to factor in that my press unit was over R900 000, and for that price, I found the overall quality and indeed the resolution of the 8.8-inch Alfa Romeo Connect infotainment system to be lacking versus key rivals.
In terms of interior practicality, the Stelvio accommodates passengers well with enough head and leg room for four passengers. There are also nice-to-haves such as four USB ports, a large 525-litre boot and some 2300kg of braked towing capacity. Overall, there is quite a bit of utility on offer from Alfa’s first SUV.
This is an area where I was perhaps most impressed with the Stelvio. Despite the fact that this is a rather large car, its relatively low kerb weight of 1660kg combined with its punchy 206kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo petrol motor, four-wheel drive and superb eight-speed automatic gearbox make it a rather impressive performer.
Expect 100km/h to come up in under six seconds along with a top speed of 230km/h. You do pay for this at the pumps, with my weeklong test registering a combined consumption figure of 11.2-litres/100km, a far cry from the 7.0-litres/100km claim.
Aside from the powertrain performance, the ride and handling of the Stelvio is far sportier than I had imagined. I felt far more confident than one should when pushing it through the bends.
Alfa has done a commendable job of hiding the feeling of added ride height while driving the Stelvio; it really does feel more sedan than SUV. However, I did find the ride, particularly on the 20-inch wheels, to be bit more firm and less composed over imperfect surfaces.
The Stelvio is certainly a step in the right direction for Alfa Romeo. It is a quality product that competes in an ever-growing segment. Its only problem is that its rivals are exceptionally adept in this segment, and in certain areas such as refinement and quality, have the Stelvio pipped.