First Drive: Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 UK Review
“Alfa Romeo launches a new car every week”, said no one, ever. You see, while Alfa Romeo does sell cars, there are only two of them, the Giulia saloon and the Stelvio SUV. And yes, the Quadrifoglio versions are superb, but fun, turbocharged V6 lunatics will not keep a company afloat when others are building cars to plug every conceivable automotive niche. That’s where the Tonale enters the frame.
To be utterly business-like and boring for just one second, the Alfa Romeo Tonale is a C-segment SUV. It’s a size down from the Stelvio and, as a market, Alfa says it accounts for one quarter of all UK car sales at the moment. Whether you love or hate SUVs, to not build a car like this would be insanity.
- Unmistakeably an Alfa Romeo
- Can drive in EV-only mode
- Classy interior
We don't like
- Uninspiring hybrid
- Lazy gearbox
- Steering is too light
My word, look at it – it’s an Alfa Romeo SZ! Well, not quite, but the lovely people at Alfa were keen to point out that there’s plenty of company history penned into the Tonale’s figure. The triple-light front lamps, for example, are reminiscent of the SZ, Brera and 159. The side windows are said to look not too dissimilar to the glass of the 8C. There’s the classic shield grille, too, and various telephone dial wheels, which have resided on various Alfa Romeos for more than half a century.
It's all subjective, but this is a good-looking car. It’s unmistakeably an Alfa Romeo, good news indeed when there are so many small SUVs around and plenty of them look far too similar…
Performance and Handling
The really big deal here is that the Tonale is a hybrid, the company’s first. Yes, you read that correctly, Alfa Romeo hasn’t made a hybrid so far, or any sort of electric vehicle. Very much late to the party, then, but it’s a sign of things to come with the company’s first EV due in 2024.
For now, there are two Tonales to choose from. The one we have here is a mild-hybrid with a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder paired to a 48V mild-hybrid system with a 20PS (15kW) electric motor and 0.77kWh lithium-ion battery. All in all you’ve got 160PS (118kW) and 240Nm (178lb ft). In early 2023 the plug-in version will arrive, with a 1.3-litre turbocharged engine driving the front wheels and a more powerful motor and larger battery powering the rears for a total of 275PS (202kW).
Sadly, despite its cleverness, this isn’t the most inspiring or engaging Alfa Romeo powertrain you might be hoping for. That’s OK, really, because we all have to come to terms with the idea of Alfa Romeo building normal cars with regular engines for people who have no idea what a Busso is. So, to write objectively and not subjectively, the turbocharger takes a while to wake up so there isn’t much low-down grunt, and whatever the electric motor is doing, it isn’t giving the Tonale a kick you can really feel. Accelerating, then, you’re waiting for the revs to rise to actually get going. The seven-speed double clutch gearbox is OK but not the fastest to kick down, or indeed answer calls from the paddles to shift down.
There are three drive modes as part of the ‘DNA’ system, which as usual stands for Dynamic, Natural and Advanced Efficient. If you’re trying to get a move on you need the car in Dynamic, as the throttle response in Natural and Advanced Efficient is very relaxed and the powertrain really needs some time to take up. One real positive is that electric motor. Not only will the engine switch off entirely if you’re rolling along down a hill for example, and it switching off and on is near enough seamless, but you can drive for very short distances on battery power alone. To be able to set off in silence with a mild-hybrid set-up, even if you can’t drive along like that forever or, it has to be said, up any kind of incline, is really impressive.
The steering is very quick indeed, which immediately gives the Tonale a more driver-orientated feel than any other similarly sized vehicle in the Stellantis line-up (think Peugeot, Vauxhall, Citroën, Jeep, Fiat). But even in Dynamic mode it’s very light indeed, and definitely too light in Natural or Advanced Efficient. The brakes meanwhile are actually really well calibrated and don’t leave you guessing when it comes to gauging braking performance, a relatively uncommon trait among hybrids and EVs.
The Tonale’s interior is really very nice indeed, with a good balance between functionality, technology and Alfa-ness, for want of a better phrase. There’s a lovely textured insert running across the dashboard, for example, and behind the gear selector you’ll find a little Italian flag, because why not? If you’ve spent any time in a Giulia or Stelvio you’ll have been treated to a lovely set of aluminium gear paddles behind the steering wheel, and joy of joys, you’ll find them in the Tonale as well. The steering wheel itself has plenty of adjustment and the driving position is pretty good, too. What’s more, Alfa hasn’t fallen into the trap of trying to cram every piece of technology into the infotainment system, so there are proper controls for the climate control.
Technology and Features
Jump into the Tonale and you’ll realise that unlike the Giulia and Stelvio it does not have physical dials with a dinky screen sandwiched between the two but instead a completely digital instrument display. A 12.3-inch TFT unit, it’ll give you everything from the engine’s revs and speed to your trip info, navigation, media info and more. It all works alongside a dash-mounted 10.25-inch central display that, as is the case in pretty much every car around, is the car’s tech hub. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, and with Alfa Connect Services and the My Alfa Connect app you can set up a navigation route before you get into your car, you can find your car if you can’t remember where you’ve parked it or shut the boot, and more. There’s even WiFi for up to eight devices, and you can integrate your car with Amazon Alexa. Every Tonale also comes with adaptive cruise, lane-keep assist, traffic sign recognition, plus plenty more, and there’s a 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system available as an option should you want it as well as a semi-autonomous parking system.
A world exclusive Alfa Romeo is very proud of is an NFT digital certificate. Essentially you get a digital record of your car’s life, service history, mileage and more, and it cannot be modified except by Alfa Romeo. It seems the days of wondering if your mileage clock has been fiddled with are coming to an end. We can’t admit to caring at all about regular NFTs, but this is actually pretty clever.
There are two Tonale trims to choose from, Ti and Veloce, the former for £39,995 and the latter £42,495. Pay the extra and you’ll get 19-inch wheels rather than 18s, privacy glass, red brake calipers and, crucially, electronically controlled dampers.
If you drive the Tonale expecting fun there’s every chance you’ll be let down. The car’s chassis is decent enough but the powertrain, while clever, isn’t at all exciting. That being said, if you put your historical Alfa Romeo preconceptions to one side for one moment and look at this car in the context of the wider small SUV market, it looks good inside and out, is well equipped and has a decent chassis. We don’t love it, but there’s enough good stuff to keep us curious about the more powerful plug-in hybrid coming in 2023.
|Engine||1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, 48V mild-hybrid|
|Torque||240Nm (178lb ft)|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual clutch, front-wheel-drive|
|Price||£39,995 (£45,795 as tested)|
Reviewed by Seán Ward