Alfa Romeo Tonale overview
There's been a lot said about the Alfa Romeo Tonale being the dawn of a new era for the Italian firm, and in many ways it sets the company on its course towards electrification. It's not fully electric, but it uses mild-hybrid or plug-in hybrid powertrains exclusively and offers an insight into how Alfa Romeo is approaching the electrified era, before it launches its first all-electric car in 2024.
For now, though, the Tonale is the second SUV in the company line-up and slots in beneath the Stelvio, while it shares its platform and running gear with the Jeep Compass. It has a host of talented rivals to compete against. The German 'big-three' comprise the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes GLA, while other options include the Lexus NX and Volvo XC40. All of these are available as plug-in hybrids like the Tonale, while diesel power is also on offer in the German trio.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale model range
Prices for the Alfa Romeo Tonale start from €49,995 for the mild-hybrid model. This features a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that makes 160hp and 240Nm of torque. It comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox that sends drive to the front wheels, and delivers a 0-100km/h time of 8.8 seconds.
The engine is assisted by a 48-volt 'mild-hybrid' system that is charged by the engine and provides extra power when needed. It also acts as a fuel-saving stop-start system. As a result, the Tonale MHEV (Mild Hybrid Electric Vehicle) has WLTP-tested combined fuel consumption of 5.9-6.0 litres/100km, depending on which trim level you choose.
If you want to get behind the wheel of a Tonale PHEV, then prices start from €55,495. Surprisingly, the plug-in hybrid has a smaller engine than the mild-hybrid, with a 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder unit. However, this is accompanied by a 90kW electric motor for a combined maximum output of 280hp. The electric motor drives the rear wheels, giving the PHEV four-wheel drive, and the set-up provides the car with an impressive 0-100km/h time of 6.2 seconds.
A 15.5kWh battery is included in the PHEV, and this offers an official all-electric driving range of 60km, while the car can drive in all-electric mode at speeds of up to 135km/h. This zero-emissions ability helps the Tonale PHEV return an official consumption figure of 1.3-1.5 litres/100km.
The entry point to Tonale ownership, whether you choose the mild hybrid or the PHEV, is Ti trim. However, it's generously equipped, since the Tonale is designed to compete against other premium compact SUVs. Standard equipment includes 18-inch 'teledial' style wheels, matrix LED adaptive headlights, LED taillights, heated and electrically folding door mirrors, front and rear parking sensors and a rear camera, keyless entry and starting, dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, part synthetic leather seat upholstery and Alfa's 'DNA' drive mode selector.
Infotainment is handled by a 10.25-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and wireless smartphone charging, while connectivity includes four USB sockets - two USB-A and two USB-C - and online services. This central screen is accompanied by a large and configurable 12.3-inch driver's display.
There's a generous amount of safety equipment as standard, too, as all models feature adaptive cruise control with intelligent speed assist, six airbags, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, forward collision warning, lane assist, driver tiredness detection and traffic sign recognition.
Moving up the range, Veloce trim adds what Alfa calls its dual-stage valve suspension, 19-inch alloys and a subtly beefier body kit. Paddle shifters are added to the steering column, while Alcantara trim is added to the upholstery, too.
That's the top spec for mild-hybrid power, but the PHEV is also available in Speciale trim. This adds 20-inch wheels and a different colour for the body kit, while privacy glass is included, too.
Options for the Tonale are limited, and apart from different colours and larger wheels for the lower-spec models, there is a panoramic sunroof, the Winter Pack (which features heated seats, steering wheel and washer jets), the Premium Pack (which adds full leather trim, a Harman Kardon stereo and the Winter Pack) and the Autonomous Driving Pack, which includes 360-degree cameras, blind-spot detection, park assist, exit assist and level-two cruise control that adjusts speed and steering autonomously.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale interior
From the outside, the Tonale looks quite compact, but the design is neat courtesy of Alfa Romeo's detailing. The lights front and rear are gorgeous, the twin exhaust tips and distinctive alloy wheels add a sporty touch, while the Italian tricolore on the door mirrors, and the electric version of the Alfa badge that's etched into the window that's the same side as the charging flap are neat additions.
Step inside, and the Alfa Romeo Tonale's front cabin is clearly driver-focused, but it doesn't feel spacious. It's probably more to do with the sporty, cocooning design of the interior and the high-set centre console, though, because there's lots of adjustment in the driving position and visibility is fine, while the gear shifter and DNA drive mode selector are located high and close to the steering wheel - they feel like high-quality items, too. The test car's electric seats meant it was easy to find a comfortable position, while the Alfa logos embossed into the headrests of our Veloce-spec car was a classy touch.
The digital instruments are good looking and change appearance depending on which of the DNA driving modes you have selected. For example, in Dynamic mode, the battery's EV range isn't shown, but oil temperature is. Elsewhere, the distance-to-empty graphics are designed to look like old-fashioned counters, while the start-up and shutdown graphics show those cool exterior lights front and rear of the car.
Storage up front is reasonable. There are two decent cupholders that are joined by USB-A and USB-C sockets and a usefully angled wireless charging pad ahead of it, while further back, the centre armrest includes a lidded cubby that's of a good size. The glovebox is notably large, but this is offset by the Tonale's small door pockets.
Access to the back seats is fine via the wide-opening rear doors, and there's good legroom, kneeroom and foot space under the front seats, so two six-footers can get comfortable in the outer seats, although anybody much taller might find it a bit tight. The seats themselves are beautifully sculpted, but the downside to this is that the centre seat is narrow, and there's a transmission tunnel that cuts foot space, too.
At least back-seat passengers get air vents and there are two USB sockets - one USB-A, one a newer USB-C port - and the usual pockets in the backs of the front seats, which are handy since the door pockets in the back are small like the ones up front. If you're travelling two-up in the back, then the middle seat back folds down to reveal an armrest with cupholders.
Further back, the Tonale PHEV has a powered tailgate, which opens to reveal 385 litres of boot space, but that's 115 litres down on what's available in the mild-hybrid version - if still more than many C-segment hatchbacks fit in. There's a similar deficit when the 60:40 split folding seats are stowed, with 1,430 litres to the mild-hybrid's 1,550 litres. At least there's a virtually flat floor in this layout.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale PHEV driving experience
That driver-focused cockpit offers a sporty feel, and it's helped by the three-spoke steering wheel. It's chunky, sporty and of a high quality with a silver Alfa badge in the centre and a prominent engine start/stop button located on it. The solid metal gearchange paddles behind it are large, but almost too large, because they block access to the column stalks, although it's something owners will likely get used to. However, the wiper stalk has a strange operating logic. Again, that's something that an owner will get used to it.
The DNA drive mode selector has Dynamic, Normal and Advanced Efficiency settings, and these alter the car's driving characteristics. Choose Dynamic, and the central damper icon lights up red for firmer damping, but you can press it to choose the soft setting instead. It doesn't appear that you can choose firm damping with the other driving modes, although you can disable the stability control completely using the same rotary control.
The suspension set-up is very well judged, too. There's decent control even when the softer damping is selected, yet the Tonale is also very good for comfort and bump absorption - it's compliant without feeling floaty. Switch to the firmer damping and there's notably more control, but it's still not undrivable on bumpy roads.
As well as good damping, the Tonale offers super-sharp steering that further emphasises the car's sporty edge. It takes a little bit of time to get used to, but once you're in tune with its response, it's great. And while it's direct, there doesn't seem to be a huge turning circle, because the Alfa is perfectly fine to manoeuvre. Pick up speed and the steering comes alive, and the car feels seriously agile.
Comfort is further boosted by the lack of engine noise inside. It's well isolated when cruising, as are road roar and wind noise, but the engine note does become sportier as you press on, with a burble coming from the twin exhausts that's more audible outside than it is in the cabin.
In terms of efficiency, the PHEV's full-charged battery showed 60km of range, and that seems entirely achievable in the real world, too. However, owners need to watch out for the smaller fuel tank - 42.5 litres, compared with 55 litres for the mild-hybrid. The idea is that the tank's smaller capacity is compensated for by using the car in EV mode as often as possible, so you shouldn't need to fill up as frequently.
It's very good at being a regular premium SUV in most situations - up to around 60 per cent throttle, even in Dynamic mode, the Tonale feels smooth, comfortable and composed. However, if you put your foot all the way down, the Tonale delivers the kind of performance we've come to expect from Alfas of old. You can really feel the rear-mounted electric motor deliver its torque, and traction is tremendous - you begin to wonder if the 280hp that Alfa quotes for the powertrain is pessimistic.
Our verdict on the Alfa Romeo Tonale PHEV
The Alfa Romeo Tonale PHEV is a strong first effort at electrification by the Italian firm and we came away really liking it. It looks great outside and in and it drives with real enthusiasm, ticking all the Alfa Romeo brand must-haves, while also playing the part of sensible premium hybrid SUV when required.