The first product of Alfa Romeo’s latest reinvention, the Tonale aims to make sense of this proud brand’s sporting history in a world more interested in electrification and SUVs. In short, if Alfa Romeo is to survive it needs cars like the Tonale to succeed, the hope being it can follow the lead of its Stelvio big brother and inject a bit of Italian passion into the otherwise generic SUV market. It certainly has the looks, the hybrid system is effective and it drives nicely but rivals like the Volvo XC40, Mercedes GLA and Audi Q3 feel more premium while a Cupra Formentor looks just as flash and is considerably faster. A full plug-in Tonale will join the range in due course, hopefully bringing with it more performance and cheaper running costs.
“If you’re buying as a company driver the plug-in will be worth the wait for the tax incentives”
As Alfa Romeo’s first step into electrification the Tonale will be available in two levels of hybridisation, up to and including a full plug-in version capable of travelling meaningful distances on battery power alone. This will join the range later, the one we’ve driven here the ‘regular’ hybrid capable of short bursts of electric drive for improved fuel efficiency but still powered mainly by the petrol engine. If you’re buying as a company driver the plug-in will be worth the wait for the tax incentives. Private buyers may meanwhile find the regular hybrid more cost effective to buy and easier to run, without the hassle of needing to plug it in. In an interesting move Alfa Romeo is also giving owners the option to create a Non-Fungible Token as a certificate to record things like mileage, usage and servicing history. More usually traded as digital assets in the art and crypto world, this innovative use of NFTs in an automotive context could, in theory, help protect the equity in your Tonale and reassure future buyers you’ve looked after it properly, helping resale values.
Reliability of a Alfa Romeo Tonale
“The Tonale has been developed under ownership by the group that also runs Peugeot, Citroën and Vauxhall”
Stereotypes aren’t always fair but there’s no escaping Alfa Romeo’s historic reputation for reliability isn’t great. More recently that seems to have improved with models like the Giulia saloon and related Stelvio SUV, and the Tonale has been developed under ownership by the group that also runs Peugeot, Citroën and Vauxhall. These partner brands have all prospered as part of this wider family and do well on reliability surveys, so let’s hope Alfa Romeo benefits from this shared expertise and does the same.
Safety for a Alfa Romeo Tonale
“We found the blind-spot warning over-sensitive and intrusive while the lane-keeping didn’t always do what it promised”
Alfa Romeo isn’t shy claiming Level 2 ‘autonomy’ in the new Tonale, this meaning the driver still needs a hand on the wheel but gets assistance with staying in lane and maintaining a set distance to the car in front, even in stop-start traffic. It’s familiar tech seen in many modern cars and powered by radar-monitored cruise control and camera-powered lane keeping tech, supported by sign recognition and ‘intelligent’ speed monitoring to help keep you within the white lines and posted limit. All good in theory but we found the blind-spot warning over-sensitive and intrusive while the lane-keeping didn’t always do what it promised, drifting wide enough on one occasion that we’d hesitate trusting it completely.
How comfortable is the Alfa Romeo Tonale
“You get both a sporty feeling driving position and the commanding height SUV fans love”
The Tonale puts a stylish and distinctively Alfa Romeo spin on the familiar SUV format inside and out. The instrument cluster may be digital but the big hood over it successfully harks back to Alfas of old and you get both a sporty feeling driving position and the commanding height SUV fans love. It feels a good size too – imposing without being cumbersome in busy traffic and roomy enough in the back to work as a family car. Even the central seat on the rear bench isn’t too bad, which is a rarity in modern cars. The boot is a decent size and has a double level floor you can either use as additional storage or in a lower setting for more space. We’d worry about the polystyrene trim on the rear edge in this setting, though, and could see pushchairs and the like taking chunks out of it. We also struggled with the power tailgate, which refused to close despite repeated stabbing at the button. In the more experienced hands of one of the Alfa Romeo staff it worked perfectly, though, so maybe there’s just a knack to it.
Out on the road the challenge for Alfa Romeo has translating the sporty feel fans of the brand love into the taller stance of an SUV. To that end it offers two different suspension systems, the Veloce getting adjustable dampers that stiffen up as you go up the driver modes, though you can default to the softer setting at the touch of a button if you want. That was our preferred setting, and on the big wheels of our test cars took the edge off some harshness over bumpy urban streets. The latter was borderline uncomfortable on the Ti version’s standard suspension, though it’s worth noting UK cars will come with 18-inch wheels, which should help a bit. The bigger ones look cooler but think carefully before upgrading if comfort is important.
Features of the Alfa Romeo Tonale
“The digital instrument customer is paired with a large central screen in a combined display packed with functionality”
Style will be an important part of the buying decision for Alfa Romeo’s target audience but tech is also vital, the Tonale equipped with a fully connected, Android-powered operating system with full Alexa integration. Don’t panic if you’re an Apple user though - your iPhone can still connect and run its apps wirelessly through CarPlay if that’s your comfort zone. And whether you go through your phone or the car’s own interface the digital instrument customer is paired with a large central screen in a combined display packed with functionality and supported by over the air updates and a dedicated app. We liked the easy, tile-based interface and the fact, unlike the Formentor and others, Alfa Romeo has kept physical switches for things like heating and ventilation so you’re not totally dependent on the screen. A pity that they, like some other cabin trim parts, feel a bit cheap and plasticky.
With just two main trim levels to choose from the Tonale is well equipped and makes things simple for buyers, Ti including goodies such as Matrix LED headlights, rear view camera, powered tailgate and ‘vegan leather’ upholstery. Veloce adds bigger wheels, black trim elements, privacy glass, aluminium trim elements inside and big shifter paddles behind the steering wheel. A limited run of Speciale models with bigger 20-inch wheels will also be available at launch.
Power for a Alfa Romeo Tonale
“That initial urge tails off quickly and the mere 160 horsepower means it runs out of puff on the motorway”
Appreciation of the Tonale’s clever combination of traditional internal-combustion engine (ICE) tech and battery power is probably best left to the engineering nerds, though at the wheel it feels decidedly electrified in the way it pulls away from the line. Although the battery is relatively small it can still ‘creep’ and perform low-speed manoeuvres on the electric motor alone, which is impressive and helps save fuel. Sadly, that initial urge tails off quickly and the mere 160 horsepower means it runs out of puff on the motorway, while the automatic gearbox can get a bit ‘busy’ at the cost of refinement. Even in Dynamic mode the throttle feels a bit mushy and, if we were shopping for a sporty SUV, the Cupra Formentor would get our vote over the Alfa Romeo based on this showing. We’ve not driven the plug-in hybrid version yet but, with a combined 275 horsepower, it should deliver more on Alfa Romeo’s sporting image, while also giving better fuel consumption and emissions stats.