Mention the words Alfa-Romeo, and for many the heartbeat rises- it is that sort of car. Did you know, though, that this highly respected brand was founded by a Frenchman, Alexandre Darracq, in 1906?
With sales in slow motion by 1909, Italian partners hired one Giuseppe Merosi to design new models and one year later a new company A.L.F.A. was formed and the rest, as they say, is history.
What a history, one of passion with motor racing becoming a key element when Franchini and Ronzoni competed in the 1911 Targa Florio. However it was not until 1920 for a further name change, as Alfa-Romeo had arrived on the scene with the 30bhp Torpedo.
One hundred and seven years and two hundred and eighty horsepower later I found myself behind the wheel of the stylish Stelvio two litre turbo Q4 AWD Speciale, the Stelvio the first SUV from the company.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before Alfa Romeo would join the ever growing band of SUVs, after all other Italian manufacturers were taking the same route, Maserati, Lamborghini and of course, we await something exciting from Ferrari.
When Alfa Romeo launched their new SUV, it was with an exclusive version the Milano Edizione and in keeping with other versions it had style aplenty.
One of the key elements of an Alfa has always been style, of course something which is special to other Italian brands particularly in the world of fashion and make no mistake the Stelvio is right up there in the fashion stakes.
Behind the wheel it is the sort of vehicle that gives you a real feel good factor, one that you are in command of something just that little bit special. Of course I must not forget the one factor that draws many in the direction of Alfa-Romeo, power. My test Stevio had the new two litre petrol engine with 280bhp, enough to take one effortlessly to 100kph (62mph) in a mere 5.7 seconds and on to a top speed of 230kph (143mph). With that familiar face what else colour could it be than Alfa Red with the interior finished in black leather, a real sporting combination.
Riding on nineteen inch alloys the Stelvio has on the road presence aplenty. I should add that the dual five spoke diamond cut alloys and the black sports leather are options. Other options on my test Stelvio included Alfa Dynamic Suspension which added to the sheer drive quality of the vehicle, and a superb sound system by Harman Kardon. However I was more interested in the sound coming from the engine bay. Other options, active cruise control, convenience pack and rear view cameras.
I must add that the standard package with the Speciale is good with such items as Bi-Xenon headlights, front parking sensors, dual zone automatic air con, power tailgate, ESC and so the list goes on.
Behind the wheel, and I had ample opportunity at the SMMT Test Day North to explore the handling and comfort qualities of the Stelvio over roads akin to what we have in Ireland.
For me, the blend of comfort, handling and performance is just about right and in a manner it felt more close to an executive saloon than an SUV. I would describe it for sure as an SUV but dressed in its Sunday best, it has that Armani feel.
With four wheel drive I just wonder how many would ever dare to take their Stelvio off road, it seems just that bit too stylish for such pursuits, but how true that is of the current crop of SUVs.
A passing thought will we see Kimi Raikkonen who has joined the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team for 2019 off track at the wheel of a Stelvio; somehow I think we will, it could be a good choice for Espoo when winter sets in.