While the world has changed quite significantly since the middle of the last decade (let’s not go there), Alfa Romeo’s line-up has not. In fact, its range has shrunk to just two models, the Stelvio SUV and Giulia saloon, and they’ve remained the maker’s freshest cars since 2016. That’s all about to change, however, with the launch of a handsome new arrival, the Alfa Romeo Tonale.
This mild hybrid crossover is arguably the brand’s most important model of recent times because it enters Europe’s fastest-growing car segment. That means it faces the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Jaguar E-Pace, plus many more, and if it’s a success, it could very well send Alfa’s sales skyrocketing. That’s the idea anyway – and we’ve driven a car on UK soil to test the theory. So, does the Tonale have what it takes to crash Alfa’s website?
Things get off to a very good start. To these eyes, the Tonale looks excellent, even more so in the metal than it does in pictures, with a mix of classic Alfa design cues (those headlights hark back to the SZ sports car of 1989) and modern body lines. Spec a Tonale up in top-grade Veloce trim (like our test car) and you’ll get gorgeous 20-inch Teledial wheels against metallic paint, and you arguably have the best-looking crossover of the class.
Compared with even the Jaguar E-Pace and BMW X1s dressed in M Sport trim, the Tonale looks more sporting, and it’s for good reason because Alfa Romeo wants this to be the best-handling car of the class. With wheels that are pushed out under the car’s slightly swelled arches and a pinched tailgate at the rear, the intent is clear. And handily, the look is backed up by some of the car’s character…
What's it like to drive?
It doesn’t matter what trim level you go for (we’ll get onto them in a sec’), you’re instantly aware of the Tonale’s sporting focus compared with rivals for one single reason. The steering system is super-responsive, with only a small turn of the wheel required to have the nose of the car darting in your direction of choice. It feels more comparable with a Ford Fiesta ST or a Toyota GT86 (two reactive, sporty cars) in this regard, and it’s not by accident. According to Alfa, the Tonale has the quickest ratio steering of its category.
Alfa Romeo makes other bold claims for its crossover’s handling. It quotes a perfect 50:50 split of weight across the car’s length, which is not normally a trait associated with crossovers and SUVs of this kind. We don’t have scales to test it, but the car certainly feels sweetly balanced on the road. Turn into a B-road bend or power up a slip road onto a motorway, and the car feels confident and composed. It corners smoothly, with little body roll, yet it rides nicely on British tarmac.
Admittedly, with the 20-inch wheels of our Veloce trim car (the car gets 19s as standard), some rougher sections of tarmac can get a little bit jiggly. Those wanting maximum comfort should not only opt for the smaller and still pretty lovely wheels, but they should also choose the adjustable suspension option. In fact, for Brits with the budget to do so (more on that in a mo’), it’s a no-brainer, because – as demonstrated by our test car – it allows you to soften the suspension off to soak up our nation’s lumps and bumps, even when the engine is set to its sportier modes. On that subject…
At launch, the only engine offered in the UK is a 1.5-litre petrol that’s paired with a mild hybrid system. Mild hybrid technology provides a small amount of electric power to help boost the Tonale’s muscle to 160hp and 240Nm of torque, which – if those numbers just went over your head – is decent for the class. On paper, the Tonale can sprint from 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds, and in reality, that means you can easily keep up with traffic and cruise at motorway speeds. It’s punchy, if not particularly thrilling.
What probably matters more here is the engine’s ability to sip fuel. Unlike most mild hybrids, which (unlike full-blown hybrids) always need the petrol engine to move the car, the Tonale and its 48-volt electrical architecture can creep in traffic and manoeuvre at low speed using battery power alone. Thanks to its assistance, the mild hybrid tech helps the Tonale achieve a claimed fuel economy of 49.56mpg, which is good going for a petrol model of this scale.
That said, those wanting even more efficiency will be offered a proper plug-in hybrid later this year, where 275hp will be on offer, albeit with a price likely to see that Tonale approaching the £50k mark.
Turn into a B-road bend or power up a slip road onto a motorway, and the car feels confident and composed
If you thought the exterior of the Tonale was nice, you’ll have much to like about the interior. With more flashes of Italian flair (including actual Italian flags) and soft-touch materials, it feels premium and comfy in equal measure. Sure, there are some scratchier plastics lower down in hard-to-reach places, but the contact points – including leather-wrapped seats in our Veloce trim level car – are all really very nice.
That’s true as well for the seating position, which can be adjusted to suit a wide range of bodies and place you in a commanding, yet sporty-feeling stance. All main controls – physical climate control buttons and driving mode dial included – are located within easy reach of your seat, which is telling for the driver-centric attitude of the cabin design. And we even like the new digital instrument cluster (a first for Alfa) that has retro-themed graphics that hark back to cars of the sixties.
As for the infotainment, a new 12.1-inch screen sits proud on the dash top, with sharp graphics and reactive menus. It’s smartphone-like in operation, with Apple Carplay and Android Auto as standard – and a big step forward over the last-gen Alfa stuff.
We really like the new digital instrument cluster that has retro-themed graphics
While some Tonale buyers will probably have been won over at first sight, the car does offer lots when it comes to functionality. Features like an automatic tailgate and electrically-adjusted seats give mid- and high-spec models the plush feel they need to compete with the likes of Land Rover’s Range Rover Evoque.
Still, whether you go for the limited-run entry model, the £38,595 Speciale, or the top-grade (at £42,495) Veloce, there’s plenty of space aboard. Up front, tall drivers will get comfy easily, while in the back, there’s good head and knee room across all three seats. We found room for all three of our family getaway suitcases in the car’s 500-litre boot, which is competitive, if not class-leading. There’s some room under the boot floor, too.
Whether you go for the entry-level Speciale or top-grade Veloce, there’s plenty of space aboard
Running costs and reliability
While we can’t comment on the reliability of a car that’s only just been launched, we can provide some input to the running costs when it comes to fuel usage. A near 50mpg economy should keep visits to the pump at a minimum, especially if you’re light-footed and manage to stay under electric power when possible in traffic. We won’t get the most frugal Tonale, however, until the plug-in hybrid arrives before 2022’s close.
What we love
The Alfa Romeo Tonale is a handsome, desirable new entrant that handles great and offers decent functionality. The best is yet to come with performance, but those wanting a premium-looking and -feeling crossover will find much to like in the Tonale.
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The Alfa Romeo Tonale injects some welcome Italian flair to an otherwise largely Germanic class. It could very quickly become Alfa’s best seller – and for far more than just its looks.
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