We have travelled to Northern Ireland to drive the Stelvio. The setting, beautiful yet solemn, amplified by the dark skies, heavy rain and thunder, feels a little at odds with the product. Alfa Romeo’s latest car is a chirpy premium medium-size SUV, named in honour of Italy’s most famous mountain pass, and created in Modena, the city of Ferrari and Maserati, of fast cars and slow food as the locals like saying. The car allocated to us is painted in that bold Alfa red. We really do stand out like a lost tourist here.

The few people we encounter in this rural setting seem to appreciate its Italian flair though, eagerly smiling and giving way as we head east from Belfast driving through country roads that have seen better days. The Stelvio’s firm suspension makes for some interesting sporty and quick steering especially on the twisty lanes, but the ride can be a little bumpy on some of the rougher roads. In the real world, the Stelvio is unlikely to ever veer off tarmac and so the lack of terrain setting – apart from a hill-descent facility which we don’t need to use – feels like a sensible decision.

Equally it seems odd for Alfa Romeo, a marque generally associated with crafting sporty, sexy little cars, to venture down the more sedate sports-utility path. This, however, isn’t technically Alfa’s first 4x4 for it conceived the Matta in the early 1950s, a rugged Jeep-like utility vehicle that was made for military and civilian purposes and ran for only three years.

The leather-wrapped steering wheel is easy to handle, and there are plenty of spaces and areas for storage

Alfa Romeo cars have a very distinctive look. Here the team have adapted the new design theme as introduced on the Giulia for SUV proportions, which as any car designer will confess isn’t always an easy task. The larger volume and big surfaces can be intimidating and too much sculpting can look decorative. The Stelvio exterior design is bold with a great deal of surface movement, the prominent body lines directing the eye firmly to the Alfa grille up-front.

Four adults or two adults and three kids can ride easily in the Stelvio. Depending on the trim – there are four options including the special launch edition Milano Edizione – the inside comes with a choice of leather and fabric upholstery, plus wood and carbon-fibre elements on the dashboard can be specified. The cabin offers a subtly driver-focused environment where the functions are all in the right order, requiring little effort to detect and manoeuvre. The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels nice to handle, and to make up for the tiny glove compartment, the Stelvio has plenty of spaces to hold clutter – practical little areas to store phones and gadgets with large bottle holders placed in the doors. The boot is a decent size too and a neat square shape with the floor at bumper height, which makes for easy loading.

Two engines are available at this stage – a 2.2 litre 210hp diesel and 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol engine that delivers a generous 276bhp and 295lb ft of torque. A sportier Quadrifoglio version will arrive next year. Stelvio is fitted with Alfa’s Q4 all-wheel drive, which in normal conditions operates as a rear-wheel drive, then when necessary allows up to 50 per cent of the torque to the front axle. The car is relatively nimble at 1,659kg, thanks to a great deal of aluminium used in the body structure. Finally, Stelvio has scored extremely well in Euro NCAP gaining five-star rating and best in category for adult occupant protection.

The Stelvio is relatively nimble at 1,659kg, thanks to the aluminium in the body structure

Nowadays, no carmaker can risk not investing in the incredibly popular SUV segment and the Stelvio makes simple business sense. It will, however, compete with some very popular products for the BMW X3, Mercedes GLC, Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace the Porsche Macan all live here.

Much like its sister brand Maserati, Alfa Romeo cars aren’t necessarily a rational purchase. Buying one requires a degree of emotional connection to the marque, perhaps to Italy and (a slightly cliché) image of cruising through the Italian Riviera in a red Alfa Spider, sun shinning, roof lowered, wind in the hair. The Stelvio may not conjure up quite the same cinematic vision, especially through the Irish thunderstorms, but it really is fun to drive, comfortable to occupy, reasonably roomy and different enough to be the perfect pitch for Alfa’s first SUV in the 21st century.