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March 15, 2017updated 18 May 2017 3:58pm

Alfa Romeo launches into the fleet SUV market for the first time

The rejuvenation of the Alfa brand by its parent FCA Group continues as the motor manufacturer launches its first ever Sports Utility Vehicle offering, the Stelvio, into European fleet markets.

By Brian Cantwell

The rejuvenation of the Alfa brand by its parent FCA Group continues as the motor manufacturer launches its first ever Sports Utility Vehicle offering, the Stelvio, into European fleet markets.

The global SUV market now accounts for 25% of all new vehicle sales, and FCA Group is keen to grow its share of this luxury market – the group already has several products in the segment, including the Jeep brand and Fiat 500X.

The Stelvio, named after a remote and curling mountain pass near St Moritz, Switzerland, is marketed as a luxury 4×4 vehicle, and is roughly benchmarked against the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace in terms of size and competitor market placing.

The pricing options for the vehicle have not yet been released, although sources from FCA Group told Leasing Life that £40k was being considered for the 210bhp diesel model as a minimum price point.

Alfa Romeo launched at the LA Motor Show with a 503bhp Stelvio quadrifoglio model, capable of 0-62mph in a terrifying 3.9 seconds, but as the quadrifoglio Giulia version is priced at around double the standard model, expect to see these monster-engined versions less frequently.

The car is yet to get its residual valuations, which will be key for fleet decision makers. Early indications from bloggers appear positive, and good consumer reviews so far will reflect kindly on the perceived desirability of the car and the nostalgia many will have for the Italian brand. A source close to the RV process working with FCA Group said they were “impressed” with the car which would result in “strong” residual values, but full specifications are not available at the time of going to press.

The car

Alfa has aimed to make the Stelvio fit with the sporting feel of the rest of its models, with the lowest weight possible for the SUV at 1660kg (when fully loaded with fuel), which FCA claims is the lowest weight compared to its brand competitors.

The car will also come in a 276bhp 2.0 litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine version, although FCA expects to sell more of its 2.2 litre diesel variant.

The Stelvio shares the same drive train and chassis as the Italian brand’s new sedan, the Giulia, meaning that the wheel span is longer than its competitors in the class and reduces the amount of roll when going round sharp corners.

The steering is close and accurate for such a large vehicle (it is over two metres wide, which means the parking assist sensors are vital), with a 2x steering gauge – you can ratchet the steering completely with two turns of the wheel.

On driving

On the test drive the 8-speed petrol variant, which the figures say can manage 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds, gave a genuine kick thanks to its turbo charged engine. The diesel engine pulled away from full stop quickly, although it did not have the same acceleration as the petrol engine further up the gears.

The designers have gone for the ‘flattened’ steering wheel, derived from Formula 1. As with F1, the car has integrated gear shift paddles behind the steering wheel which gave better control over the auto transmission, but this took a little practice to avoid triggering the wipers or indicators.

The rest of the dash is expansive and flush, with a good central console that integrates sat-nav and AV entertainment, although at this level these specifications are somewhat expected.

The seats gave good support and the contours of the backrest were useful for holding the driver around fast corners, yet after a good six hours in the driving seat the firmness of the seat left for a slightly numbing effect.

The Stelvio dealt extremely well with some treacherous road conditions during the test drive in the Alps – perhaps tellingly, the Stelvio pass which the car is named after was closed because of heavy snowfall. Patches of snow and ice were handled safely by the alternate rear-wheel drive, four wheel drive system, which transfers half the power into the front wheels when the on-board computer detects the back end slipping.

The effect is the sense that the car is fun to drive but will insure the majority of non-professional drivers (like me) who get caught out throwing the car too aggressively round a corner on a mountain pass do not end up at the bottom of the slopes.

The Stelvio sat well at speed, but I did notice that at very high speeds there was more cabin noise which might point to seal issues around the doors.

On balance, the Stelvio is a successful first venture into the market, and FCA Group has done well to give the car a racing feel, which pays its dues to both driver expectations of the marque and the lineage – there is no filler here. 

As for FCA Group, the next year will be crucial for fleet managers and business car rentals decision makers.  Weekly pricing for leases against the Stelvio’s rivals, based on RV’s and demand, will prove decisive in the staying power of the vehicle in the fleet market. But given the fact that many upwardly mobile senior managers with families are misty-eyed about the brand, there could be surprising demand for the biggest new addition to the Alfa stable.

 

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