Meet the Stelvio, Alfa Romeo’s new entrant in the crowded market for premium SUVs. A few years ago, the idea of an Alfa 4x4 would have been a preposterous one, but now most of the competition is already – profitably – active in this area. Among the rivals are the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, as well as the Jaguar F-Pace and upcoming Range Rover Velar. But the name the Italians themselves keep mentioning is the Porsche Macan. That’s an ambitious comparison and an indication that Alfa is positioning the Stelvio as a sporty road-biased machine rather than a rugged off-roader.

Adopting the name of one of the most altitudinous and challenging Alpine passes for the new car also shows Alfa is aiming high, even if it has a mountain to climb in terms of muscling aside that competition. But Alfa’s challenge is based on more than just talk and name badges. Unlike many recent Alfas, which shared parts with cheaper frontwheel drive Fiats, the Stelvio uses the same premium Giorgio platform and sophisticated Alfa Link rear suspension as the Giulia saloon. Add in a a totally new all-aluminium four-cylinder turbodiesel engine and on paper at least, the Stelvio has exactly what it takes to succeed.

And that promise is largely fulfilled out on the road. While it was never going to be possible to make a diesel four sound as gloriously sporty as some of Alfa’s past engines, the engineers have nevertheless given the Stelvio a rich and purposeful note. The engine itself provides plenty of power and pairs well with the quick-shifting standard eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox. Alfa has provided strong fundamentals for nimble handling with 50/50 weight distribution, a low centre of gravity and slimming features such as a carbon fibre prop shaft and extensive use of aluminium. Very direct highgeared steering and minimal body roll also contribute to this Alfa’s agility. The brakes provide plenty of stopping power, but are a bit sharp for lighter use. Ride comfort, while playing second fiddle to the Stelvio’s handling, was acceptable on our test car, which was fitted with ground-hugging winter tyres. Alfa’s usual DNA system also allows the driver to alter the car’s set-up according to mood.

Inside, Alfa has made another decent step towards balancing distinctive Italian flair with the sort of fit, finish, quality and materials that the Germans customarily deliver. The passenger cabin is roomy for five, more so than the Giulia saloon, although there is no provision for a seven-seat version. Stowage, and seats-up luggage space at 525 litres, is comparatively generous too.

Alfa Romeo says the Stelvio will cost about the same as the BMW X3 when it comes to the UK later this year. That probably means a price beyond £40,000 for the Q4-badged all-wheel drive models available at launch, although the less powerful 177bhp rear-wheel drive diesel version expected later may cost less. Alfa Romeo is a latecomer to the luxury SUV game, but the Stelvio is a convincing effort. Long term success will probably depend on whether the depreciation, reliability and dealer back-up match its considerable on-road ability.

Prices From £40,000 (approximately)
Bodystyles 5-door SUV
Engines 2.2 (207bhp)
Trim levels Stelvio, Super, Tecnica
Also consider Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Macan
Model tested 2.2 Super AWD automatic
Price £ to be announced
Made in Cassino, Italy
Bodystyle 5-door SUV, 5-seats
Engine 2143cc, 4-cylinder, 16-valve, turbo diesel with stop-start
Transmission 8-speed automatic
Layout Four-wheel-drive
Maximum power 207bhp @ 3,750rpm
Maximum torque 347lb ft @ 1,750rpm
Top speed 134mph 0-62mph 6.6secs
CO2 emissions 127g/km
Official fuel economy (urban/extra urban/combined)
51.4/64.2/58.9mpg Fuel tank size 58 litres Range 752 miles
Insurance group tba
BIK rate 27%
Size (length/width without mirrors) 4,687/1,903mm
Boot space (minimum/maximum) 525/1,600 litres
Kerb/maximum towing weight 1,659/2,300kg
Euro NCAP crash test rating Not yet tested
Verdict An Alfa Romeo first and an SUV second, the Stelvio is a stylish and capable late entrant in a crowded field that deserves to do well.