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The Stelvio is Alfa's most accomplished product to date but its failure to keep pace with the latest hybrid powertrain developments could be its undoing.
We tried the 210hp diesel Stelvio just over a year ago, but we hadn't the entry-level 190hp diesel until now.
18in alloy wheels Alfa Connect 3D Nav 8.8in infotainment screen, Alfa connected services, Apple Carplay and Android Auto, automatic headlamps and wipers, leather steering wheel, cloth seats with leather edging, cruise control, DAB radio, dual-zone climate control, electric parking brake, forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, front and rear parking sensors, hill descent control, lane departure warning, front and rear parking sensors, rear view camera, power tailgate, and rear USB ports.
The motor industry is renowned for its cut-throat tactics and woe betide those who don't keep pace with the latest developments.
Back in 2017, when the Stelvio SUV was launched, Alfa Romeo must have been pretty chuffed with how it was received. Garnering critical acclaim for its driving dynamics and tapping into the soar-away demand for sports orientated SUV's, the Stelvio quickly became the company's best-selling model.
Three-years on and Alfa is still banking on those same elements for continued success, and therein lies the problem. As the industry moves increasingly towards petrol hybrids, the Stelvio's power line-up is beginning to look increasingly behind the curve.
With petrol engine emissions way beyond the 200g/km mark and the diesels producing 159g/km from the rear-wheel-driven variant, and 169 g/km from the more popular four-wheel-drive model, every Stelvio falls into the highest 37% BIK class. To put that in context, a Toyota petrol Plug-in RAV 4 and the soon to be launched BMW X3 xDrive 30e each carry a 7% BIK implication from April 2021.
Although the Stelvio is justifiably praised for its sharp steering and grippy handling, it also produces quite a lot of road noise and is very reactive to road surface imperfections. This is most noticeable when encountering drain covers, potholes and sudden changes in road camber, all of which can pitch the Stelvio's body laterally, causing its inhabitants to rock side-to-side in unison.
Low-speed manoeuvres and three-point-turns are decidedly suboptimal too, as any steering input closing in on full lock causes an unseemly amount of graunching and kicking from the front tyres as they skip sideways across the road surface.
All Stelvios come with an eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard, but the transmission's relationship with the 2.2-litre diesel engine is not the most harmonious. With a penchant for some properly abrupt downshifts when reducing speed and an ill-judged determination to hang on to gears too long under acceleration, rather than selecting a higher ratio and relying on the engine's strong mid-range torque, there are some poorly resolved software integration shenanigans going on somewhere.
The Stelvio's interior retains its retro-themed feel and appearance, with masses of black, rubberised plastic trim, a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, complete with gob-stopper-sized starter button and a pair of Clydesdale-sized half horseshoe gearshift paddles - providing you're prepared to pay £295 for them.
Infotainment is taken care of by an 8.8in central screen wedged in the middle of the dashboard, but it is extremely narrow from top to bottom, so the icons for the satnav, phone book and audio settings appear quite scrunched up. Thankfully, the rotary controller located just behind the gear shifter makes scrolling through the various menus and functions a pretty straightforward affair.
The Stelvio achieved a five-star EuroNCAP rating when it was first tested in 2017 and more safety kits have now been added in a response to stricter requirements. These include forward collision and lane departure warning. You will need to pay an additional £1,500, however, for a pack that includes a suite of more advance features, such as active blindspot alert, driver attention alert, lane keep assist and active cruise control, which aids traffic jam assist and motorway distance control.
Like almost every SUV's at this end of the market, the Stelvio provide plenty of head, leg and elbow room up-front, although, the seats cushions are quite flat and a wee bit short, so they can create under-thigh numbness after an hour or so behind the wheel.
That rakish roofline can also make travelling in the back seats seem a little dingy, but overall, the Stelvio is a spacious and practical family hauler. While the electrically powered tailgate is a welcome convenience, most folks will be just as enamoured by the substantial 525 litres of boot space.
This can be boosted further by rear seatbacks that split fold and can be released from their moorings by a couple of levers, located at the outward edges of the base or by two similar devices mounted in the boot walls. Unfortunately, they don't encourage the seatbacks to collapse under their own weight, so the risk of a manicure fracture when tugging at the top of the seats is always a possibility.
Although we're not oblivious to the Stelvio's charms, it is undoubtedly a sharp-looking SUV offering a lofty driving position, plenty of space and practicality and the fun factor of hot-hatch. Unfortunately, the financial implications of its ageing powertrains look increasingly hard to justify.