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Car group tests

Alfa Romeo Stelvio vs Volvo XC60 vs Mercedes GLC

We see if the new Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV can beat the Volvo XC60 and Mercedes GLC

Alfa Romeo is resurgent. The arresting-looking 4C sports car was first in its new-era line-up and was followed by the more mainstream Giulia, an efficient, sporty and stylish saloon that you could buy with your head as well as your heart. But with the market’s craving for SUVs increasing all the time, it was only a matter of time before the Italian brand built a 4x4 – and this is it.

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The Stelvio is the Alfa Romeo for the 21st century, combining the brand’s usual individual approach to design with sharp driving dynamics, family-friendly practicality and a premium image, plus aspirations to sell big in the mid-size SUV sector.

Best 4x4s abd SUVs on sale right now

However, there’s no shortage of contenders in this class, so the Stelvio will have to show what it’s got against our current champion, the Volvo XC60. As a family 4x4 the Alfa will also have to prove itself against one of the best in the business: the Mercedes GLC.

All three have four-cylinder diesels that offer decent performance and efficiency on paper, but is this true in the real world and which is the best mid-size SUV on sale today?

Alfa Romeo Stelvio 

Model: Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2 Turbo Diesel 210 Q4 AWD Milano Edizione
Price: £43,990
Engine: 2.2-litre 4cyl turbodiesel, 207bhp 
0-60mph: 6.5 seconds
Test economy: 37.9mpg/8.3mpl 
CO2: 127g/km 
Annual road tax: £450

We’re testing the top-spec Stelvio Milano Edizione here, priced from £43,990 with the 207bhp 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine. It’s on the more expensive side when looking at the range, but it matches its rivals in this shoot-out, so can the Alfa Romeo cut it in a competitive class?

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This might be a jacked-up SUV, but what strikes you first out on the road is the speed and response of the car’s steering. It’s becoming an Alfa trademark, and despite the Stelvio’s size you become accustomed to how fast it turns in. The steering is quick, and there’s enough grip that the chassis can cope with it, but it does make it feel a little nervous and not so relaxed.

It’s the most agile SUV here, but the trade-off is that the car feels jittery due to its more focused set-up. The ride isn’t as refined as either the Volvo or Mercedes, with an unsettled feeling over bumpy surfaces regardless of speed, although the more you push the chassis the better the dampers respond, showing the Stelvio’s impressive body control.

With 470Nm of torque, the 2.2-litre turbodiesel pulls sweetly, even though that’s the lowest figure of this trio. It’s helped by the smooth auto box when left to its own devices. However, engaging manual mode using the shift paddles makes changes jerkier.

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Engine refinement is okay, but it’s still the noisiest model on the move, with a diesel grumble evident in the cabin if you rev the motor hard. There’s more wind noise, too, compared with its rivals.

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However, keep your foot pinned off the line and acceleration is incredibly swift for a diesel SUV, helped by its low 1,659kg kerbweight. We recorded an impressive 0-60mph time of 6.5 seconds at our test track, while that low-down torque at 1,750rpm and a weight saving of around 200kg over its competitors helped the Stelvio deliver the strongest in-gear acceleration times of the trio. 

Testers' notes: “The Stelvio’s DNA drive mode selector doesn’t offer adaptive dampers yet. They’re likely to be paired with a limited-slip rear diff as part of a future Performance Pack option.”

Volvo XC60 

Model: Volvo XC60 D5 PowerPulse AWD R-Design
Price: £43,205
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel, 232bhp 
0-60mph: 7.4 seconds
Test economy: 40.1mpg/8.8mpl 
CO2: 152g/km
Annual road tax: £450

The Volvo XC60 is available with four-cylinder petrol and diesel engines, as well as a plug-in hybrid. Here we’re testing the most powerful 232bhp diesel, which is priced from £43,205 in R-Design trim.

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Where the Alfa feels like it was designed to deliver genuine driver engagement, the XC60 better balances agility and comfort. It’s not perfect, and on the R-Design model’s larger alloy wheels the Volvo can lose its composure when it hits a bump while cornering. But overall the car still plots a nice trajectory between involvement and ride comfort.

Most of the time it floats over rough ground, with only the occasional harsh intrusion felt inside the cabin. This was helped by our car’s adaptive suspension which features adjustable modes, although you don’t need anything more than the Comfort setting.

Next to the Stelvio’s quick set-up, the Volvo isn’t as responsive, but the steering is light and nicely geared given the size and weight of the car, so the XC60 feels agile enough, while it offers some of the GLC’s comfort.

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In terms of performance, it split the Alfa and Mercedes at the test track, sprinting from 0-60mph in a more-than-respectable 7.4 seconds, while its in-gear times of 4.8 and 5.9 seconds from 50 to 70mph in fifth and sixth were strong.

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The eight-speed auto does a decent job of shuffling the ratios if you want to make quicker progress, helping refinement by keeping engine revs relatively low. The D5 unit is noisy when revved. It’s smoother than the Alfa’s transmission, but not as refined and seamless as the GLC’s nine-speed box. R-Design models are fitted with shift paddles for manual control, too. 

Testers’ notes: “The XC60 D5 has an off-road mode, which optimises the drivetrain and stability control to improve traction on slippery surfaces, and activates hill descent control automatically.” 

Mercedes GLC

Model: Mercedes GLC 250 d 4MATIC AMG Line Premium Plus
Price: £44,465
Engine: 2.1-litre 4cyl turbodiesel, 201bhp 
0-60mph: 7.7 seconds
Test economy: 37.7mpg/8.3mpl 
CO2: 129g/km
Annual road tax: £450

Mercedes’ GLC majors on comfort – exactly what you want from a family SUV. However, buyers in this class are demanding, so in sporty AMG Line spec with the optional Premium Plus package added here, and combined with the firm’s 250 d diesel engine, the £44,465 GLC is on the money with its rivals. Can it compete with them?

If you’re after a comfortable SUV, the Mercedes is the car for you. The air suspension is supple and cosseting, cushioning blows from the road where the Alfa feels more edgy and the Volvo stiffer, too.

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This flowing ride quality is the GLC’s calling card and makes it the nicest, most comfortable car over rough surfaces. That’s backed up by a strong engine that delivers decent performance.

At our test track the Mercedes accelerated from 0-60mph in 7.7 seconds, and with lots of low-down torque and nine gears (meaning each one is shorter than its eight-speed rivals) it didn’t lack performance over our 30 to 50mph and 50 to 70mph tests, posting competitive times against even the rapid Alfa.

The box is a little sluggish to change, but it’s smooth, so when you’re driving around normally the Mercedes feels silky, while the engine is hushed at normal pace. Yet this refinement is shattered by the coarse growl from the old 2.1-litre engine when you put your foot down. It’s best to accelerate at a moderate pace and let the box shuffle through its ratios quickly to keep cruising relaxed and refined.

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The GLC feels more at home like this, because the soft set-up makes it the least agile choice here. The steering is heavy, too, and combined with the roll in corners – even in the firmer Sport+ mode, which corrupts the ride quality – it doesn’t like being hustled. Keep a lid on your pace and the GLC is nicely polished whether in town traffic or on a motorway.

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Testers’ notes: “Sportier AMG Line spec isn’t available with Mercedes’ £495 off-road pack. However, the 20mm increase in ride height and different driving modes are useful touches.”

Verdict 

First place: Volvo XC60

D5 trim isn’t the XC60’s sweet spot, but you get enough performance for your money, while the more advanced tech on offer puts clear ground between the Volvo and its rivals. It offers the best blend of practicality, performance, comfort and usability in a thoroughly modern package that’s good to drive, which is why it takes victory here. We’d go for the even more frugal D4, though.

Second place: Mercedes GLC

The GLC’s comfort and quality allied to its vast interior and practicality make it a great premium family SUV. However, it loses out to the XC60 on price, performance and agility – not to mention the Mercedes’ older in-car entertainment. This is still much better than the Alfa’s system, though; the GLC is a more complete package when compared with the Stelvio.

Third place: Alfa Romeo Stelvio

While the Stelvio is quick and responsive, it loses out on comfort, interior quality and tech. Low CO2 given the pace plus an affordable price relative to competitors make it a cost-effective company car, but private buyers will lose too much money. The Alfa isn’t as well built or trimmed as its rivals, but the lack of infotainment tech and ride refinement seals its fate here. 

Other options for similar money...

New: Jaguar F-Pace 2.0d 240 R-Sport

Jaguar F-Pace 25t - front

Price: £44,060Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 237bhp

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For around the same price as our three rivals, you could get into a high-spec Jaguar F-Pace R-Sport with a 237bhp diesel. It’s more than a match when it comes to handling and practicality; the Jag’s great to drive and is comfortable.

Used: Porsche Macan S Diesel

Porsche Macan - front

Price: £42,500Engine: 3.0-litre V6, 254bhp

Choosing a used model means you can have a superb Porsche Macan. It’s the best driver’s car in this class, and has a powerful and smooth V6 diesel engine. We found one with 22,000 miles at a lower price than new rivals in this test. 

Figures

 Volvo XC60 D5 PowerPulse AWD R-DesignMercedes GLC 250 d AMG Line Premium PlusAlfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2 210 Q4 AWD Milano Edizione
On the road price/total as tested£43,205/£55,980£44,465/£49,815£43,990/£45,535
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£22,773/52.7%£23,526/52.9%£21,124/48.0%
Depreciation£20,432£20,939£22,866
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£2,749/£5,948£2,368/£4,736£2,364/£4,728
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,635/£2,725£1,739/£2,899£1,730/£2,884
Insurance group/quote/road tax35/£736/£45035/£1,038/£45033/£913/£450
Servicing costs£970 (3yrs)£35 per month (3yrs)TBC
    
Length/wheelbase4,688/2,865mm4,656/2,873mm4,687/2,818mm
Height/width1,658/1,999mm1,639/1,890mm1,671/1,903mm
Engine4cyl in-line/1,969cc4cyl in-line/2,143cc4cyl in-line/2,143cc
Peak power/revs 232/4,000 bhp/rpm201/3,800 bhp/rpm207/3,750 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs 480/1,750 Nm/rpm500/1,600 Nm/rpm470/1,750 Nm/rpm
Transmission 8-spd auto/4wd9-spd auto/4wd8-spd auto/4wd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel71 litres/£15050 litres/sealant kit58 litres/£275
Boot capacity (seats up/down)505/1,432 litres550/1,600 litres525/1,600 litres
Kerbweight/payload/towing weight1,869/569/2,400kg1,845/655/2,500kg1,659/671/2,300kg
Turning circle/drag coefficient11.4 metres/0.32Cd11.8 metres/0.32Cd11.7 metres/N/A
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/3yrs3yrs (unltd)/3yrs3yrs (unltd)/3yrs
Service intervals/UK dealers18,000 (1yr)/19215,500 (1yr)/14712,000 (1yr)/55
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.7th/16th21st/12thN/A
NCAP: Adult/child/ped./assist/starsN/A95/89/82/71/5 (2015)97/84/71/60/5 (2017)
    
0-60/30-70mph7.4/6.7 secs7.7/7.3 secs6.5/6.5 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th2.9/3.7 secs2.7/3.3 secs2.4/2.9 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th/7th/8th4.8/5.9/8.0/10.9 secs5.5/5.9/7.1/10.1 secs4.3/5.2/6.7 secs/N/A
Top speed/rpm at 70mph 137mph/1,800rpm138mph/1,500rpm134mph/1,700rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph 44.1/34.1/8.6m47.8/36.6/9.7m40.8/31.3/8.9m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph52/69/62/69dB74/52/59/69dB54/78/62/71dB 
Auto Express econ. (mpg/mpl)/range40.1/8.8/626 miles37.7/8.3/415 miles37.9/8.3/484 miles
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 44.1/53.3/48.7mpg51.4/60.1/56.5mpg51.4/64.2/58.9mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined 9.7/11.7/10.7mpl11.3/13.2/12.4mpl11.3/14.1/13.0mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket189/152g/km/32%201/129g/km/27%200/127g/km/27%
    
Airbags/Isofix/park sensors/cameraSeven/yes/yes/£375Seven/yes/yes/yesSeven/yes/yes/yes
Auto box/stability/cruise control/AEBYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes
Climate control/leather/heated seatsYes/yes/yesYes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes
Metallic paint/LED lights/keyless go£650/yes/yes£685/yes/yes£770/xenon/yes
Sat-nav/USB/DAB radio/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yesYes/yes/yes/yes
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