Stelvio an SUV stormer

DRIVING on motorways might be the safest and quickest way to complete a journey, but it doesn't teach us anything important about a car.

That takes things like hills and dales, twists and bends, adverse camber, speed humps, city parking and the good, the bad and the completely diabolical of road surfaces.

Drive all of these slow and fast - and then turn around and drive back again - and you soon get a measure of whether a car can cope well with the ups and downs of daily life.

The new Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV - the first one in the company's 100 year history - is a superb all-rounder easily able to shrug off anything a family could throw at it.

Yet it also holds true in no small way to the long held Alfa tradition of building beautiful cars that are a joy to drive.

Talking to Sacha Barber, one of the designers involved in the Stelvio project, he said that all the way through the design process, the company stuck to those core values of beauty and unbeatable driving pleasure.

"Owning an Alfa Romeo is a way of life, and our cars inspire a passion that few others can match," he added.

The Stelvio takes many styling cues from the lovely Giulia saloon that's wowing everyone who has driven it, and is based on the same superb rear wheel drive chassis, thus returning Alfa to its roots of some years ago.

Those lovely curves give it a shape that is good looking from every angle and it's as accomplished on the road as it is beautiful.

Both diesel and petrol all wheel drive (AWD) models that I drove are hugely refined, amazingly agile and decidedly quick, with light weight helping them to belie their size in the handling department.

The AWD 2.2 diesel has 210bhp, while the 2.0-litre petrol comes with a serious 280. There are also rear wheel drive models available, and both petrol and diesel offerings have 180bhp.

Acceleration is excellent in the AWD diesel and even quicker in the petrol. But the diesel is likely to be the biggest seller.

In it the 0 to 62 miles an hour sprint from standstill take just 6.6 seconds, and a top speed of 133 miles an hour should be enough for just about anyone.

Allied to that is fuel economy averaging an excellent 57mpg in the government figures and low emissions for an SUV of just 127grammes per kilometre.

The eight speed gearbox works perfectly well for most people in normal fully automatic mode, but when pressing on, the manual setting works brilliantly.

This is because it has gearchange paddles like those in a Ferrari, fixed to the steering column behind the wheel, rather than turning with the wheel as they do in Audis and most others.

With such a fixed setup, the driver always knows exactly where they are and changes are quick and easy.

When the paddles are on the wheel, they are often difficult to hit and I have always found it easier to use the Sport automatic setting instead.

In the Stelvio however, this gearbox setting only comes as part of the standard Fiat/Alfa DNA package. This has three settings - Normal, Dynamic and All Weather - and uses adjustable dampers and the car's engine management systems to change driving characteristics.

In Dynamic therefore, you get stiffer damper settings, increased engine torque, revised auto change up points and weightier steering.

However, the Normal suspension settings are so, so good that most owners will never bother anything other.

The handling of the Stelvio is tremendous and roadholding marvellous with amazing 'chuckablity', and yet the ride is also very good.

Levels of equipment are excellent throughout the range, but the £42,290 Milano Edizione, a special edition that's only available until the end of the year, has everything you could wish as standard and then some.

These includes door handle courtesy lights, parking camera, heated electric leather seats, 20-inch wheels, bi-xenon headlights, heated steering wheel and red brake callipers.

The Stelvio is an excellent all round luxury SUV, and with beaty and driving pleasure high on its agenda, is well worthy of the Alfa Romeo pedigree.

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