- Car Reviews
- Alfa Romeo
Looks good and handles with uncommon keenness for its class. Alfa’s setting a new ergonomics standard, too
Annoyingly hard to drive smoothly in town. Ride a little disturbed
What is it?
Alfa Romeo has a history of wilful neglect of the realities of the car market. The Tonale (Toh-nar-lee, before you splutter your coffee all over the screen) is far more pragmatic than most Alfas that have gone before. A car that's not for dreamers, but for actual buyers: a compact crossover of thoroughly moderate performance.
It has some talents that put it fair and square against some firm opposition including the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes GLA and many more. But it wants to be sporty and our favourite cars in that category are the ones that lean more towards relaxation: the Evoque and Volvo XC40.
When it emerged as a concept car in 2019, the Tonale's shape was widely liked. Commendably, not much has changed for production. It still has lush curves and Alfa motifs, among them the slim triple-barrel front and rear LEDs, and five-hole wheels. The elegant shield grille makes you wonder why rivals are making such a horlicks of their increasingly pugnacious frontal styling. Though it can be spec dependent: go for the higher specs of Tonale, as most buyers will, and that shield morphs from elegant chrome to slightly bullying black. Such is the trend of the SUV buyer, of course.
What’s under the skin?
The European petrol range is all hybrid. Alfa needed that: at the moment it's constrained by having nothing electrified so its fleet CO2 average is too high. There’s a new model annually for the next five years, and its range will be all-electric by 2027 we’re told. This is the car that kicks off the firm’s electrified movement.
The top Tonale has a plug, 271bhp and AWD courtesy of an electrically driven rear axle. But it isn't available for test yet, even though it’ll likely account for a smidge over half of sales owing to its low BIK rate for fleet buyers.
The other – and the car you see here – is a front-driver with a 160bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine. It's turbocharged (not a given with hybrids) and efficiency at light effort is improved by its ability to run in the Miller cycle (Google it). The hybrid system is the non-plug kind, with an electric motor built into a standard seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Even though it's just a 48V motor, it can get the car moving from rest and you can park, manoeuvre and crawl through really low-speed traffic without the engine interfering. Lovely. The engine can also drop away at a cruise or downhill – instances where it’s loaded up against the motor/generator and the wheels don't need much torque.
Does that happen a lot?
It does. In the WLTP test cycle the engine is silent for half the time, though obviously much less than half the distance. But you’ll get very few – if any – EV-mode miles if you’ve notched Alfa’s famed DNA drive mode selector into its top Dynamic mode. Which there’s a good chance you frequently will. Buried well underneath are some platform and suspension parts shared with the Jeep Compass. But Alfa has done a thorough re-work to turn it from an off-roader into a sharpish road-biased crossover. Which can make it a little bit of a chore in town, but it drives with some real zest on more open roads. More of which on the next tab…
What's the verdict?
Welcome to a different kind of Alfa Romeo. One that puts rationality a little further up its priority list with a surprisingly logical interior layout and bags of room to match. Its cabin beauty is more than skin-deep, being well-made and practical with electronics work properly.
But it also looks – and broadly drives – like an Alfa Romeo should. It’s at risk of Buckaroo-ing under the weight of all its styling influences (see the ghost of the Alfa SZ in its front lights?) yet carries them off well, while the handling balance is fun even if the hyperactive steering and occasionally clumsy powertrain take a little adjustment. There’s enough going on here to deservedly distract you from a swathe of duller rivals. Hopefully the ownership experience will match.