Take an Alfa Romeo Stelvio, shrink it a bit, and then give it a bit of a squeeze in a vice and you get the Tonale. In reality the front wheel drive Tonale is only related by badge to its larger sibling as it uses FIAT’s small car platform last used in the Jeep Compass for its underpinnings. The world is crying out for interesting compact SUVs and the Tonale certainly stands out in a sea of sameness – but is that a good enough reason to buy one?
It’s a handsome machine with interesting design detail as you’d expect. Styling on the outside and inside will consistently raise a smile. Gorgeous telephone dial (under 40s: “youwhatnow?”) 18-inch alloys are standard, with 19s and 20s available. Powered by electrified petrol engines Tonale is at the end and also the beginning of significant chapters for the famous Italian brand. The firm has declared it will be 100% electric by 2027 (and a carbon neutral manufacturer too). The Tonale has five doors and seats up to five. It is tall and narrow at 1840mm. Its elevated driving position and stance makes navigating city streets and back roads a relatively stress free experience. Car parking is a doddle too, although Tonale is long in its class at 4530mm – a Nissan Qahqai is 105mm shorter.
The cabin is not a sea of digital displays, or at least it doesn’t feel like it. The ambiance feels familiar and in keeping with Alfa’s DNA. There are analog dials and switches and a nice steering wheel. Seating is supportive with a sporty feel. All versions are automatic and the only complaint with this is that the go and stop pedals are a little close to each other – but show me any Alfa where the pedals are designed for size 10s! Actually the autos could do with a bit more work in terms of smoothness of gearshift. The Alfa Romeo Tonale underpinnings are not the freshest but the ride quality is good. One thing that is unavoidable with Alfa Romeo reliability jokes are slowly becoming a thing of the past as the more exacting requirements placed on the firm as part of th huge Stellantis motor group take hold.
Powertrains include a powerful plug in hybrid version, the firm’s first PHEV, (from €55,495) and a more affordable (from €49,995) mild hybrid (MHEV) with a 1.5-litre and 160hp/240nm. TI, Speciale and Veloce grades feature – Alfa has the best names for grades doesn’t it! The Plug-In Hybrid Q4 system is powerful and offers excellent battery efficiency. A 280hp, 1.3-litre (yes 1.3) turbocharged, MultiAir, 4-cylinder is coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. Engine power goes to the front wheels with the rear wheels powered by an electric motor (120hp/250nm). The PHEV has a 15.5kWh rechargeable battery that can run in EV only mode for up to 80km (city use) with 56km (combined) – CO2 is rated at just 29g/km.
On the road the Tonale, as a tall crossover has a surprisingly spirited and dynamic character that is very much in keeping with the Italian brand’s heritage. Sadly very few crossovers/SUVs demand that they are taken out for a Sunday drive for the sake of driving like classic Alfas of old… sadly that’s just the way it is with most cars today. The familiar ‘d, n, a’ rotary dial that allows users to select the drive mode features, with a centre button to control its active dampers. Dynamic mode will deliver the sportiest experience and I only dipped in to this occasionally. Most of the time I simply felt the car was better with dynamic off and in day to day driving the very light steering and automatic gearbox makes life relatively easy. The PHEV via its AT6 gearbox can sprint from 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds, while the MHEV via its DCT7 auto gearbox can do it in 8.8 seconds. Despite weighing 310kgs more (1910kgs) fuel consumption is vastly superior in the plug in hybrid at 1.5l/100km (when used properly) and a respectable 6l/100km in the mild hybrid. The PHEV comes with a smaller petrol tank (42.5 litres v 55).
A host of ADAS safety systems are available and grade dependent. Alfa Romeo is bringing a smaller all-electric crossover to the market soon and it will share underpinnings with the Jeep Avenger – every car fan is looking forward to its arrival. John Saunders, Managing Director of Alfa Romeo in Ireland: “With a redefined look, Alfa Romeo continues to embrace a long-standing sporty heritage which spans more than a century, but keeps an eye on the future, with the Tonale representing the vision of sustainable technology and efficiency. We look to the future of the Alfa Romeo brand with immense excitement.”
The Alfa Romeo Tonale is proving a hit in Europe and Irish customers can expect it to rack up a quite a few sales. Is it great? No, but it is good and and interesting alternative to the usual premium suspects.