The words diesel and SUV aren’t usually synonymous with driving joy, but no one seems to have told the folks at Alfa Romeo given the perkiness of the 2.1-litre diesel version the Stelvio.
The Stelvio is based on the Giulia, which was built to take on the German sports sedans and by many accounts has largely succeeded. So how does the entry-level Stelvio Diesel, with its 154kW/470Nm turbodiesel stack up against a similarly priced, equipped and powered German mid-sized premium SUV ? We put it up against the 2.0-litre BMW X3 xDrive20d to find out.
HOW AFFORABLE ARE THEY?
Priced at $67,900, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio Diesel holds up the bottom of the range along with the $65,900 Stelvio Petrol.
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However spending just $6000 on the First Edition Pack, which equipped our test car, thrusts the base Stelvio into premium territory by adding more than $10,000 worth of desirable features. The addition of Vesuvio Grey metallic paint ($1300), helped push the as-tested retail price to $75,200 all-up.
The 2.1-litre diesel is very economical, with an official combined fuel-consumption rating of 4.8L/100km. In real-world conditions during our week-long test that figure crept up to about 7.5L/100km – still an admirable result for an SUV.
You’ll only have to trouble the service department every 20,000km or once every 12 months, with capped-priced servicing setting you back $395, $695, $1295, $695 and $1395 for the 20,000km, 40,000km, 60,000km, 80,000km, 100,000km services respectively. Meanwhile, warranty coverage lasts for three-years or 150,000km .
At $69,900 BMW X3 xDrive20d will set you back $2000 more than Stelvio, but comes with a few additional standard features.
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It’s $15,000 cheaper than the more powerful xDrive30d diesel, which gains a host of additional features on top of the power boost, many of which are available to the xDrive20d as extra-cost options.
Much of these found their way in to the xDrive20d we tested, which sent its retail price soaring to $88,650.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine has a frugal official combined fuel consumption rating of 5.7L/100km.
BMWs don’t have a set servicing schedule based on kilometres or time. Instead they work on ‘condition based servicing’ which lets the car’s systems decide when a service is required based on oil levels and wear and tear on individual components. Drivers are alerted that a service is due via a dashboard notification.
BMW owners can take out a prepaid Inclusive Service package which covers basic service costs, including filter replacements and fluid top-ups for the first five years or $80,000km. This costs $1495 for the X3. There’s also a $4400 Service Plus package that includes the replacement of brake pads and discs, wiper blade rubbers and clutch and disc plates.
WHAT FEATURES DO THEY HAVE?
The all-wheel-drive Stelvio Diesel comes with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, front- and rear-parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing, bi-Xenon headlights, hill descent control, and DNA (dynamic, natural and all-weather) drive modes. A puncture repair kit sits under the boot floor in place of a spare tyre as standard, though a space-saver is available at extra cost.
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Creature comforts include a 7.0-inch infotainment screen, satellite navigation, dual-zone climate control, leather seats, power adjustable front seats, push-button start, paddle shifters, keyless entry, powered tailgate, eight-speaker sound system, and digital radio (DAB+).
The satellite navigation display is also relatively basic, with a less-than-intuitive control interface that proves clunkier to use than systems like BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI.
For an extra $6000, the First Edition Pack brings some much-needed wow factor to the entry-level Stelvio spec, by adding:
- Bespoke 19-inch alloy wheels
- Two-piece panoramic sunroof
- 14-speaker 900W Harman/Kardon sound system
- Ambient interior lighting
- Heated leather front sports seats
- Heated leather sports steering wheel
- Aluminium interior trim accents
- Aluminium sports pedals, red brake calipers
- Gloss black window surrounds.
- Koni adaptive rear suspension, versus the non-adaptive dampers in the standard Stelvio Diesel.
That’s a lot of kit for six grand, especially when you consider the panoramic sunroof and Harman/Kardon sound system alone are worth $2400 and $2200 on their own.
The BMW X3 xDrive20d comes with a broad list of features that you’d expect from a $70,000 SUV, including automatic tailgate, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, head-up display, speed-limit info, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, digital radio (DAB+), six-speaker sound system, satellite navigation, park assist, sports seats and internet-connected features in its infotainment system.
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However, the vehicle we tested had almost $10,000 worth of optional extras, including:
- M-Sport Package that added sporty exterior embellishments, adaptive suspension, LED fog-lights and leather sports steering wheel with paddle shifters ($4550)
- Metallic paint ($1950)
- ‘Vernasca’ leather upholstery with decorative stitching ($2500)
- Panorama sunroof ($3000)
- Ambient interior lighting ($700)
- Driver Assist Plus, with active cruise control with stop and go function, front cross traffic alert, lane keeping assist, and side collision warning ($2800)
- Innovations Package, which includes a 12.3-inch touchscreen, 3D surround view parking camera, adaptive LED headlights, and multifunction digital instrument display ($3250).
HOW PRACTICAL ARE THEY?
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio and BMW xDrive20D are five-seater medium SUVs.
The Stelvio measures 4.69m long by 1.9m wide, and weighs in at 1660kg. Its more hatchback-like body, which ends at the C-pillar rather than boasting extra glass and an additional pillar behind the rear doors, disguises its size fairly well.
Boot volume behind the Stelvio’s second row is a reasonable 525 litres with good depth between the tailgate and seats. Tick the box for the space-saver spare and seats-up capacity drops to a still-decent 499 litres, while folding the rear seats down expands capacity to a handy 1600 litres.
The BMW X3 is roughly the same size as the Stelvio. At 4.71m long it’s 54mm longer than the previous generation X3 and is actually bigger than the original X5 large SUV. Overall width comes in at 1.89 metres.
The X3 can swallow 550 litres of luggage behind the back seats, extending to 1600 litres with the 40:20:40 split-folding backrests folded down.
HOW SAFE ARE THEY?
The Stelvio Diesel was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating in March 2018 thanks in part to its active safety features, including autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane departure warning, and blind-sport monitoring.
It’s also equipped with six airbags, seatbelt reminders and ISOFIX child seat anchors for each of the three rear seats.
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One downside is its reversing camera display, which is basic and only takes up half of the 7.0-inch screen’s real estate, thus making it difficult to spot smaller obstacles. When many competitors now sport 360-degree surround view cameras on far larger screens, it makes the Stelvio look somewhat behind the times.
The BMW X3 also earned a five-star ANCAP rating, in November 2017.
The X3 xDrive20d is equipped with seven airbags: two directly in front of the driver and passenger; one on the outer side of each front occupant to protect the upper body; driver’s knee airbag, and two airbags on each side to protect the heads and chests of front and outer-rear occupants.
It also comes standard with BMW’s Driving Assistant which includes a camera-based autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring.
HOW COMFORTABLE ARE THEY?
The interior of the Stelvio Diesel First Edition is typically Alfa Romeo, with attractive leather sports seats and an elegant and uncluttered dash design.
Alfa has gone for a minimalist approach, with analogue gauges and old-school air-conditioning controls, but while it would look great in a hatchback it seems a little too basic for a premium SUV.
That said everything is sensibly laid out, including the steering-wheel buttons that include a simple cruise control interface. The sports steering wheel itself looks great, with the long metallic paddle shifters adding further visual and tactile appeal.
The front sports seats are very comfortable with great back support, soft headrests and adjustable lumbar, side bolstering and under-thigh support.
The rear-seats aren’t quite as plush. Legroom is tight for a medium SUV, and the swept-back roofline and panoramic sunroof won’t do taller passengers any favours. The window line also sweeps high, which might make it difficult for smaller passengers to see outside. It’s adequate for shorter trips, but it would start feeling a little claustrophobic for a couple of adults for anything longer than an hour.
The rear door opening is also tight, which makes entry and egress a tad difficult for less abled people and can make installing child seats a chore.
Read next: 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio pricing and features
One the plus side, rear-seat passengers get their own air vents and two USB ports mounted at the rear of the centre console.
The BMW X3 xDrive20d’s cabin quality is excellent even before you start ticking option boxes. Buttons and controls are intuitively placed, easy to use and pleasant to touch thanks to their metallic coating.
The driving position is good and comfortable over long distances, and the instrument panel is neat and clearly presented - as is the head-up display.
The cabin is practical and spacious with plenty of headroom across both rows, even with the optional panoramic sunroof.
The rear compartment offers good legroom even behind taller drivers and comfortably seats three adults. The rear seat is low, which helps with headroom but hampers forward vision, though the low rear window line nevertheless affords good side vision even for kids. Rear seat passengers have their own air-conditioning vents and controls and a 12-volt socket to charge their devices.
Cabin noise is refined with barely perceptible engine noise – an achievement for a diesel - with the din from 19-inch tyres only becoming noticeable beyond 80km/h.
WHAT ARE THEY LIKE TO DRIVE?
This is where the Stelvio Diesel provides bang for your buck. Its 1671mm height is pretty low for an SUV resulting in a low centre of gravity that allows for car-like cornering.
The Koni adaptive suspension that comes with the First Edition pack offers a more composed ride than the standard kit, and though slightly firm in its initial bump response it gives way to a compliant ride over road imperfections with minimal secondary bounce when recovering from truly big lumps.
The 154kW/470Nm 2.1-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine is lively and works harmoniously with the eight-speed automatic gearbox. Power is sent to all four wheels when extra traction is required, but in ordinary driving the drivetrain is biased toward the rear wheels for a more dynamically engaging drive.
It’s a little sluggish when the drive mode selector is set to its default Natural mode and it can feel like you’re driving through honey when the dial is flicked to All-Terrain mode, but switching to Dynamic tautens the Stelvio’s powertrain to deliver a respectable 0-100km time of 6.6 seconds. That responsiveness is maintained at higher speeds, which inspires confidence when overtaking.
The steering is also very sharp, as is the electronic braking – perhaps a little too much at first, though you learn to adjust to the left pedal’s grabby nature. Their responsiveness is certainly in harmony with the athletic persona of the Stelvio’s suspension, steering and powertrain though, which feels great when you find yourself on a twisting road.
The BMW X3 xDrive20d’s tamer 140kW/400Nm turbodiesel engine on the other hand is no bolter, but provides enough thrust for urban and highway driving, It has adequate power reserves to keep up with most traffic when asked to climb hills, though there can be a moment’s hesitation when you put the foot down.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox does a good job keeping up with pedal inputs, and if you feel like contributing to the shifting you can flick the gear selector into manual mode (or use paddle shifters if you have the M-Sport Package fitted).
With the adaptive dampers the ride feels composed even on rougher surfaces. It rides particularly well in Comfort mode, and while switching to Sport makes for a firmer ride, it still absorbs bumps well with minimal jarring.
The steering has a nice fluid feel to it in Comfort mode, but in Sport mode it’s unexpectedly inconsistent meaning you lose feedback on sharper turns. Fortunately you can tailor the driving settings to come to a compromise between Sport’s sharper handling and Comfort’s direct steering.
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The xDrive20d is also handy on rougher tracks, with effective all-wheel-drive and a hill-descent control system as standard.
Choosing a winner here depends on what you want most from your premium diesel SUV. If it’s driver enjoyment and engagement, the Stelvio Diesel First Edition offers it in spades, however with the diesel derivative Alfa Romeo seems to have created a car with something of an identity crisis.
As an SUV it’s adequate when it comes to practicality, though the BMW X3 provides more in terms of rear-seat comfort and boot space. Its real reason for being is to be an SUV for driving enthusiasts – people who you’d ordinarily think would prefer the punchier, rev-happy petrol version or the similarly-priced Giulia Super.
That said, if you consider yourself a keen driver you’ll still have plenty of fun, just be sure to get in while the First Edition Pack is still available, or look at adding the Veloce Pack which brings similar features, but for $8000. And maybe save yourself $2000 and opt for the base petrol instead of the oil-burner – the diesel, though perky, simply seems at odds with the rest of the Stelvio’s ultra-sharp character.
The BMW’s superior space, equipment and comfort levels make it the better all-rounder. It’s not as racy as the Stelvio, but is still enjoyable to drive and offers more than enough power for everyday driving.
As with the Stelvio, you won’t regret spending a little more to get adaptive dampers – available separately or as part of the M-Sport Package – which bring an enhanced ride quality that approaches that of the best alternative premium SUVs. The Stelvio deserves credit for injecting some genuine dynamic fun into a segment that’s not traditionally known for it, but it’s the BMW that ultimately ticks more boxes.