When it comes to SUVs, I’m like a stuck record. No matter how good one of these high-riders is going to be, you will almost always be better off with the estate equivalent. Going the way of the wagon means you’ll have something significantly lighter and quite a bit cheaper with a better aero profile. Oh, and the chances are it’ll look better too.
Alfa Romeo, however, does not currently make an estate car. FCA execs have said before this role is played by the Stelvio, so for a relatively small brand like Alfa that can’t fill every niche, it’s best the Giulia remains a saloon only. And in any case, after eight months in ‘our’ Stelvio Q, my sadness for the lack of a big-booted Giulia began to wane.
In Quadrifoglio form, the Stelvio is an incredible car. You get pretty much the same wickedly quick steering as the Giulia (the ratio is slower but only very slightly), and a chassis that can keep up. Plenty of enormously fast and spectacularly capable SUVs have come along since the Stelvio Q was launched a few years ago, but this remains the most exciting to drive.
The all-wheel drive system rarely seems to be bothered about actually powering the front wheels, making for plenty of entertaining moments. And yes, there’s the same delicious centrepiece here - a 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6. Except it’s tied up in a practical package with a decent-size boot and a high ceiling providing loads of practicality. I was completely sold on the Stelvio Q. Until, that is, Alfa swapped it for a Giulia for us to test.
This is a car I’ve driven before, but never in close proximity to a Stelvio Q. Shorn of several hundred kilograms and hunkering lower to the tarmac, it feels significantly faster. The Stelvio feels fast too, but not in a swear-inducing way as with the Giulia.
You do, though, have to wait for the traction control to stop holding back the V6, which it does so aggressively in first and second gears. There is the option of disengaging the electronic aids by switching to Race mode, although this brings with it a lot of wheel spin (also fun). That’ll be why the Stelvio is 0.1sec quicker to 62mph despite feeling slower overall.
Reach a corner, and the Giulia reveals itself to be far keener to change direction, not to mention more playful. There’s a sense of rightness to the way it drives - there’s a reason this is by far and away our favourite super saloon. When you’re not in the mood, it’s more comfortable, with a noticeably smoother ride. Best of all, it’s gorgeous. In Quadrifoglio form the Giulia is one of the best-looking cars currently on sale, and while the Stelvio is handsome, one must tack the ‘for an SUV’ caveat on the end of that description.
I suspect some of you are now thinking “well, duh,” and to an extent, you have a point, but the gulf between these two cars in terms of driving fun is a lot bigger than I’d previously thought. The practicality divide is pretty big too, though. The Giulia has a much more compact cabin and with the rear seats folded flat, bigger bits of cargo need to be slotted through a much shorter, narrower opening than I’ve experienced on other saloons. I can’t even get my mountain bike through there without removing a pedal first. For shame!
I’m perfectly OK with all of that. The Stelvio’s additional practicality and light off-road capability (something most owners will never, ever experience) are things I’d happily miss out on for the sake of better dynamics and a prettier body. The Giulia is also around 10 per cent more fuel-efficient, and the starting price is a handy £6,000 cheaper. We’ll just gloss over the fact the more generous spec of ‘ours’ has made it over £4k more expensive than the Stelvio we ran, with a whopping on-the-road figure of £83,295.
Having double-checked (I looked under the sofa cushions for loose change just to be sure), I can confirm I can’t personally afford to spend that much on a car. The Giulia Q is, however, on my ‘depreciation watch list,’ and already, you can get one for under £35,000. And once both the Giulia and the Stelvio Qs have dropped further, I know what I’ll be having.