THE trouble with a lot of sports utility vehicles - aka SUVs - is that many aren't really very sporty ...at least as far as driving goes.
I'm not saying they are misrepresenting, merely that there are those that feel like you are behind the wheel of an overblown blancmange.
Of course, it's a real challenge trying to design a tall practical, family wagon that drives like road-hugging hatch. But it can be done - Porsche proved it with the Macan.
But for a smaller outlay you can buy the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, recently freshened and improved. What's more it's roomier and even more gorgeous looking than its German counterpart.
With its swooping lines and traditional Alfa grille, you get off to a good start with the Stelvio. The car I borrowed had deep Visconti green paintwork and looked all the more striking for it.
The feel-good factor continues after opening the driver's door - recessed, driver orientated dials, a big sat nav screen and plush leather sports seats. A glimpse of steering wheel paddles adds to the impression that this is very much a driver-oriented car.
You will, however, find some less classy and rather scratchy surfaces below dash level.
There's a decent range of engines ...two diesels, a 2.0-litre turbo petrol and a thumping V6 510bhp Ferrari based power pack that tops the line up.
It was the 210bhp oil burner we opted to sample, a model which marries relatively low running costs with lusty acceleration.
Like most diesels, there's a distinct gruffness about it, but plenty of soundproofing and a good installation insures the intrusion is reasonably muted and distant.
The big gain over petrol power is felt at the pumps when you realise the 41mpg average is around 10mpg better than the 2.0-litre petrol, yet performance is closely matched.
Few SUVs handle with the precision of the Stelvio or have a steering system that offers as much feedback. Sure, the ride can be a bit over-firm at times, but the benefit is certainly felt in roll-free cornering and a dynamism that's hard to come by.
The automatic gearbox works well with slick changes and smart metal steering wheel paddles to keep keener drivers amused.
Full time Q4 four-wheel-drive is employed and does a decent enough job at clawing the car out of sticky mud or traversing slippery surfaces. It's no mountaineer, but that's not really the reason people buy stylish SUVs.
Despite the raised height, the Alfa feels more car-like than most rivals, possibly because the seating position is set relatively low. The seats themselves are leather covered, figure hugging and hold you in place well as cornering speeds mount.
The rakish styling - by SUV standards - has does nothing to limit the car's practicality or roominess. Front and rear passengers are generously catered for and the boot swallows up 525 litres which is just short of the main rivals - Audi Q5, Merc GLC and BMW X3.
The rear seats splits and folds 40-20-40 in usual fashion, making it the most practical Alfa you can buy.