Looks good, handles with uncommon keenness, sets a new ergonomics standard, too
Requires effort to drive smoothly, the ride can be a little firm
What is it?
It’s an Alfa Romeo you might actually buy. Oh, we’ve all dreamed of the idea of an Alfa; a pretty little Duetto Spider on a glorious day on the Amalfi coast sounds just about perfect, doesn’t it? Well not to shatter the illusion, but the Tonale (Toh-nar-lee, before you splutter your coffee all over the screen) is far more pragmatic than that. A car that's not for dreamers, but for actual buyers: a compact crossover of thoroughly sensible performance. Don’t expect a Quadrifoglio version, in other words.
It's entirely hybrid for UK buyers, a major stepping stone on Alfa Romeo’s path to full electrification in 2027. It’s a move that also places the Tonale firmly back on the radar of fleet buyers, with much lower taxation than the Giulia and Stelvio. Both remain purely petrol or diesel in their 2023 update and only the most passionate of business car users will be pondering either.
Do we need another crossover?
Well, the Tonale is certainly among the more interesting. But it can’t just rely on looks alone, and luckily it has some talents that put it fair and square against some firm opposition including the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes GLA and many (many…) more. But it wants to be sporty and our favourite cars in that category are the ones that lean more towards relaxation, namely the Evoque and Volvo XC40.
When it emerged as a concept car in 2019, the Tonale's shape was widely liked. Commendably, not much was changed for production. It still has lush curves and Alfa motifs, among them the slim triple-barrel 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.
Hopefully you like what you see: the triple front light treatment is descended straight from the Il Mostro – the brutalist Alfa Romeo SZ sports car – and has already been worked into the facelifted Giulia and Stelvio. Expect it to continue on future Alfa products. As the big Stellantis mothership resuscitates fellow Italian brand Lancia, such instantly recognisable styling flourishes are going to be key.
What’s under the skin?
Alfa’s first fully electric car lands in 2024, and the whole range will take its power purely from a plug by 2027, meaning the fully hybrid Tonale range kicks off this new electrified era. The top Tonale Q4 has a plug, 275bhp and AWD courtesy of an electrically driven rear axle, and with CO2 as low as 29g/km and around 40 miles of emissions-free range, it’s likely to woo most business car buyers. But it also comes at a price, kicking off at £45,000 and easily tipping past £50,000 if you want the highest spec (most buyers do) with leather seats or the more luscious paint options.
Starting below £40,000, as you might reasonably hope a small SUV still does, is a front-wheel-drive Tonale with 158bhp and no plug-in ability. 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). Even though its motor is the ‘mild’ 48V kind, it can get the car moving from rest and you can park, manoeuvre and crawl through walking-pace traffic without the engine interfering. The engine can also drop away at a cruise or downhill when 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. And even more so with the extra 120-or-so horsepower of the PHEV…
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 carries off abundant retro styling cues remarkably well, while the handling balance is fun even if the hyperactive steering and occasionally clumsy powertrain mapping take a little adjustment. There’s enough going on here to deservedly distract you from a swathe of duller rivals. And if it pops up at an affordable price on your business car scheme, all the better.