By Breda Corrigan
Alfa Romeo, the Italian luxury brand, has introduced its first compact SUV, the ‘Tonale’, which slots in below the larger ‘Stelvio’ SUV and alongside the ‘Giulia’ saloon as the third model in the Alfa Romeo model line-up. The Tonale is a crucial addition as the Italian car manufacturer works to rebuild its brand worldwide, and move toward a fully-electric future from 2027. The Tonale is the first model in the Alfa Romeo range to embrace electrification, available exclusively with mild hybrid (MHEV) or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) powertrains. The compact SUV market is booming, which means rivals for the Tonale are plentiful. Mild hybrid models square up against the likes of the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, while the plug-in version will compete with everything from the Volvo XC40 to the Audi Q3.
Mild Hybrid & PHEV Powertrains.
The entry-level 160hp model relies on a 48v mild-hybrid system and is front-wheel drive only. The top model is a four-wheel drive plug-in hybrid (PHEV) which offers best-in-class performance and efficiency. The PHEV combines a turbocharged 1.3-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a 120hp electric motor and 15.5kWh battery pack for a total system power output of 277bhp (280hp), making it the sportiest offering in its class, with a 0-100km/h sprint time of just 6.2-seconds. The Tonale PHEV has an electric range of up to 80km (city cycle) and over 60km on a combined cycle. In the name of maximum efficiency, a full battery charge takes just 2.5 hours when using a 7.4kW charger. The Tonale is available in six exterior colours and three trim levels – Ti, Speciale and Veloce. Key standard equipment includes forward collision warning, front and rear parking sensors intelligent adaptive cruise control, intelligent speed assist (ISA), interior puddle lights, keyless-go, and a lane support system.
Trademark Italian Design.
Alfa Romeo’s have always had attractive and well-crafted interiors, but inside the cabin of the Tonale the quality over previous Alfa Romeo’s is instantly obvious, with a new 10.25-inch touchscreen and widespread use of soft-touch materials giving the car a more expensive feel. Headroom is good in the back of the car, and legroom is on par with others in its class. There are lots of Alfa’s trademark Italian design flair to be found throughout the cabin, from the backlit panel on the passenger side of the dashboard to the wheel-mounted starter button. Boot capacity for the PHEV is 385-litres, compared to 500-litres in the MHEV, but with the rear seats folded, capacity increases to 1,430-litres. The new infotainment system looks good, responds quickly and has Amazon Alexa voice control too. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard and work seamlessly, while system updates happen remotely. The 10.25-inch touchscreen is accompanied by a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. It can be configured with a choice of dial displays, including one option that’s a neat retro design that pays homage to Alfa’s racing heritage. It can also be customised to show the information most important to the driver.
My test car was a Tonale Veloce PHEV Q4, which was finished in striking Alfa Red paintwork with contrasting 19-inch dark-finish diamond-cut alloy wheels with red painted brake calipers. Exclusive Veloce specification includes black window surrounds, rear privacy glass, Veloce badge in dark trim and dual chrome exhaust tips, along with many more striking features. The PHEV has an ideal power-to-weight ratio, so it pulls away from a standstill in a compased and confident manner. The hybrid system makes intelligent decisions as to when to cut the engine in and out, with the transition between power sources only becoming noticeable upon harsh acceleration. The steering is light and responsive, providing the sort of sharp turn-in that sets the Tonale apart from many of its rivals in its segment. Thanks to Alfa Romeo’s Q4 all-wheel drive system, the car feels secure on all road surfaces and it offers commendable body control through tight corners, while bumpy roads do little to upset the overall refinement within the cabin. The excellent balance of weight between the front and rear axles, specific to the Alfa Romeo tradition of construction, ensure Tonale drivers experience an unparalleled level of driving pleasure. The overall driving experience is truly enhanced by the all-aluminium, mono-block steering column-mounted paddle shifters that are a joy to use, and a sight to behold. The Tonale is the only model in its segment to be equipped with a cutting-edge “brake by wire” system that provides increased brake responsiveness on the road and an impressive brake pedal feel. Overall braking performance is boosted by the adoption of fixed calipers by Brembo, with 4 pistons and self-ventilated discs at the front, and full discs at the rear. Drivers can choose between Comfort or Sport modes in order to independently regulate the electronic shock absorbers and dampers, while three (DNA) driving modes (Dynamic, Normal and Advanced Efficiency) are also offered. The Tonale drives every bit as spectacular as it looks. It uses the same basic underpinnings, and some of the same powertrain tech, from the Jeep Compass, but the Tonale gets a bespoke suspension set-up with frequency-selective dampers that provide a great ride and handling balance that works well on twisty roads, yet comfortable enough when cruising.
Verdict, Pricing & Warranty.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale is practical and well built. It is loaded with cutting-edge driver assistance tech and an infotainment setup that is as good as that found in premium rivals. In true Alfa Romeo tradition, it is great to drive, with the PHEV proving itself to be smooth and powerful. With a five star Euro NCAP rating, and a 5 year /100,000km warranty, peace-of-mind comes as standard. Prices start at €49,995 for the Mild Hybrid version and €55,495 for the PHEV variant.