It looks like the SUV class just gained some serious driver appeal
Neither Alfa Romeo nor Jaguar has been building SUVs for long. Yet both want to be dining at the top table in that market, up alongside the German brands and that other British part of Jaguar, Land Rover. But which of these two competitors, powered by four-pot diesel engines, will sit at the table and who will get the scraps?
In theory they’re both aiming at the same place: the sporty driver end of the SUV spectrum, with that sportiness tempered slightly by the practicality of a four-cylinder diesel engine. This is the first time we’ve had a drive of the latest 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel in the Jaguar, although it’s not an engine that particularly covered itself in glory in the new Range Rover Velar.
Jaguar F-Pace 25d Portfolio AWD
Engine: 4 cyls, 1999cc, diesel
Torque: 369lb ft
Top speed: 135mph
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1810kg
CO2/tax band: 153g/km, 32%
It sounds muted and strong at tickover, better than the slight clatter from the Italian corner. But on the move you become aware this is the Ingenium engine. It’s good, but it’s not really that good on any measurable metric. It has enough power and torque but it delivers them in a way which definitely doesn’t murmur ‘premium’ at you.
The mild surprise is how strong the 2.2-litre four-pot in the Alfa feels. It’s very torquey and responsive, just like a driver would appreciate, and it’s pretty civilized too. Although it makes less outright power, the lighter weight of the Alfa conveys a clear performance advantage on the Stelvio. The Alfa feels quicker and more immediate everywhere, with none of the hesitation that JLR seems to be building into its engines when you demand some instant action. As a driver, you’ll like the Alfa more.
It’s also the firmer sprung of the pair. That means on a fairly well-surfaced road you can really get some pace on, with loads of grip and poise. There’s not much body roll, with movement well controlled, but when the road gets rough so does the experience in the Stelvio’s cabin.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2 TD 210 Speciale AWD
Engine: 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, diesel,
Torque: 347lb ft
Top speed: 130mph
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Kerb weight: 1659kg
CO2/tax band: 127g/km, 27%
Where the Stelvio starts to shimmy and shake as the road gets all British, the F-Pace starts to power ahead, with a delightfully oily, supple feeling to the handling that is very confidence-inspiring. Neither vehicle handles like a sports car but both handle far better than the main run of SUVs. It’s amazing how well they cope when you see those big bodies perched up high.
The Jaguar driver also benefits from a superior, more finely weighted steering that again gives you the confidence that the wheels are pointed exactly where you think. For a British car to out-handle an Italian one on normal roads is a real feather in the cap for Jaguar.
The Jaguar is the bigger, longer of the two, with more space inside, particularly in the rear and in the boot. There’s also that indefinable sense of British class and sophistication to the cabin, one that shows the confidence emanating from JLR these days. The leathers are glorious, the switchgear robust, the infotainment easily navigable and certainly on a par with the best. Jaguar has come a long way in its cabin design and delivery in the last few years.
The Stelvio has that Italian style in its favour, but really the quality isn’t to the same standard. It’s quite good, but it feels definitely inferior to the timeless grace of the Jaguar.
But we like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. It brings a new energy and attitude to the SUV sector, and it’s quick and nimble and would make sense as a company car. It has character and Italian brio by the bucket-full. And it’s affordable in this sector too.
However, compared to the Italian contestant, the British F-Pace feels a more premium offering, from handling to cabin, from space to ride quality. This definitely isn’t the definitive diesel engine though. However, since it wins every other sector in this test, it’s the clear winner. In fact we all are, as the SUV sector just got more interesting. Maybe Jaguar could let Alfa join it at the table.