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Alfa Romeo Tonale Review

Introduction

A medium-sized SUV might not be what you think of as a traditional Alfa Romeo, but it’s vital to the brand’s future success. Of course, Alfa’s had more than one previous effort at whatever its ‘most important car ever’ happens to be at the time, and it’s tried the SUV route before, too - the larger Stelvio is respected but sells just 10% of the Q5s that Audi can shift. Moving into a more mainstream sector, there’s a sense this is finally make or break. Again.

While there’s money to be made with SUVs, does this Qashqai-alike really have what it takes to wear the Alfa Romeo badge? The Italians certainly think so, with the word ‘sporty’ being thrown around with abandon. We drive it on their home turf to find out.

Select's rating score* - 3.4 / 5

At a Glance

The Tonale has taken some time to reach the market, first being revealed at the Geneva Motorshow before Stellantis - the company behind Citroen and Peugeot - bought the company. It’s been compromised a little because of that, sitting on (more or less) the same chassis as the Jeep Compass with an engine developed by Fiat.

Still, the result is, visually at least, impressive. There’s a distinctive style to the Tonale that is clearly Alfa Romeo, with an aggressively squinty front end and an angular profile. Under the bonnet sits a 1.5-litre, 160hp, petrol engine, boosted by hybrid technology to improve both performance and economy - a more powerful plug-in hybrid is coming - and there are three trim levels to choose from for now.

But, on paper, it’s all a little underwhelming. The engine specs don’t read as ‘sporty’ and the family-friendly SUV style is a far cry from Alfa Romeo’s glorious sports cars of days gone by. That, ultimately, doesn’t matter. What matters to the Italian firm is sales, and it’s hoping this will be the car to kick start Alfa’s revival.


Key Features

If you’re looking for that Alfa Romeo styling, but need to take the kids to football practice and carry all the gumph they need too, then Tonale offers enough space, both in terms of passenger space and boot capacity (there are 500 litres of storage in the back) with decent but not exceptional head and leg room.

The ride and handling aren’t too shabby either, with sharp, direct steering that leaves you feeling in control. Still, if you’re looking for that renowned Alfa Romeo sports car feeling, then Tonale isn’t for you, no matter how much the Italian marque tries to convince you otherwise.


Performance & Drive

Tonale is the first proper hybrid model that Alfa Romeo has produced, and it hasn’t done too bad of a job. There are three engine variants, but the UK will, for now, be limited to the 156hp 1.5-litre petrol-engined model backed up by a 20hp electric motor. There are plans for a plug-in hybrid to arrive later in the year, which will be a more powerful option for UK customers. You can read more about plug-in hybrids in our guide.

For now, though, the 1.5 petrol does a decent job, with a 0-62 mph time of around 8.8 seconds; respectable for an SUV and more than enough for everyday driving needs. The 0.8kWh battery pack is small but allows the Tonale to edge along in urban traffic without using the engine, at least for a mile or so. It also steps in frequently under other conditions to aid efficiency and, when you put your foot down, gives a helpful boost to the engine to improve acceleration.


What lets the performance down, however, is the automatic gearbox. Changes within the seven-speed box are laboured as the gearbox has an internal debate over the most appropriate gear to use, destroying any hopes of making the Tonale a driver-focussed sports model. You’re frequently left without power as the car decides you need one gear (quite often the wrong one) before changing its mind and taking an age to move the cogs around again.

The handover between electric, petrol or hybrid power is also a bit clunky, but the car won't arrive here for another couple of months so there’s still time to fiddle with the software and improve matters.

The Tonale offers the ride and handling you’d want from a crossover SUV, although perhaps not the ride and handling you want from an Alfa Romeo. Despite that, the direct feel of the steering makes it quite enjoyable to drive on the open road, remaining controlled on the twisty sections, if unengaging. Push on and there’s understeer when entering a corner, and wheelspin from the front as you accelerate out, even with the electronic safety aids turned on.


On urban roads, it remains unsettled over the roughest surfaces, but that could have been due to the 20-inch alloy wheels on our test model. Only top-spec Speciale cars will get those in the UK, with other models riding on smaller 18 or 19-inch options, which could make the Tonalean appealing option for UK roads.

At low speeds, the Tonale is surprisingly quiet and refined. Once you’re cruising on the motorway, the wind and road noise is reasonably well controlled, although the hybrid engine can be a little vocal as it accelerates up to speed.


Running Costs

The hybrid power plant in the Tonale helps to save a bit of fuel, but it’s not going to be enough to make the move to the Alfa Romeo on efficiency grounds. Officially, it’ll return as much as 49.6mpg and, driven gently, it’s possible to match that. Realistically, you’re likely to see around 40mpg, which puts it in the ‘alright but nothing special’ category. The forthcoming plug-in hybrid, while more expensive and more powerful, should be able to return more impressive figures.

A five-year warranty, limited to 75,000 miles, should keep you covered for the duration of any lease deal, leaving just annual servicing as the only extra cost of ownership. Company car drivers will be facing a BIK burden of 33%, thanks to the CO2 emissions of up to 144g/km, which is competitive enough but, again, nothing outstanding.


Interior

Inside the Tonale there are pluses and minuses. There is a stylish dashboard which contains a digital instrument panel, with a 10.25-inch infotainment screen sitting in the centre. It’s fairly simple to use, giving easy access to systems like navigation and entertainment. The software is built around the Android OS so, as you would expect, Android Auto is accessible via the touchscreen. Confusingly, Amazon’s Alexa is built in too; our experience suggests the Google ecosystem will perform better, and Alexa’s repeated failures to understand what was going on during our drive hammered home that view.


As for comfort, there is a reasonable amount of space in the front of the cabin, with enough head and leg room even if you’re quite tall. The rear is a little tighter with regard to legroom, but there’s still a good amount of headroom. Fitting three across the rear bench seat would be rather cosy, but for a family with kids, it should be much less of an issue.

What lets the side down is the quality of some of the materials used. It isn’t uncommon to use cheaper feeling materials in more concealed, less tactile areas, but with hard plastics on door handle surrounds, window switches and around the gear lever, Alfa Romeo has undermined the feeling of quality in the car. With such important touch points lacking a premium feel, the addition of Alcantara and vegan leather elsewhere can only do so much to mask the error in judgement.

Boot space isn’t bad, with a 500-litre capacity, putting it on a par with the BMW X1. There is a little extra space to be found under the adjustable floor, too. If you have a heavy item to move, leaving the adjustable floor at its highest position creates a flat floor for easier loading.


Technology

Alfa Romeo has incorporated some, so far, unique technology in Tonale, including NFT digital certificates which create an apparently non-corruptible record of the lifetime of the car. Specifications, service history and more will all be available digitally with little more needed than scanning a QR code.

Alfa Romeo has also added Amazon’s Alexa to the car, despite basing the infotainment centre around Google’s Android OS. This allows you to talk to Alexa while driving, asking questions about the local area, or adding things to your shopping list. From your home, you can also keep a check on the status of your car, its current location (handy if your son or daughter has ‘borrowed’ it) and battery and fuel levels. Of course, if you don’t currently use Alexa at home, you’ll need to invest in some hardware. Happily, a smartphone app does much the same.


Safety

Alfa Romeo has included a good level of safety equipment within the Tonale, and the result is a maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating when it was put through its paces. Autonomous emergency braking and speed assistant systems scored particularly well during testing, and child safety during crash testing was impressive too.

There are plenty of features included that you’d expect to find, such as blind spot detection, lane keeping assist and autonomous braking. Alfa Romeo has also thrown in a good adaptive cruise control system that uses the vehicle's camera systems; computers monitor the surroundings and use that information and the adaptive cruise control, lane assist and traffic jam assist to control the speed and position of the vehicle.


Options

When the Alfa Romeo Tonale arrives in the UK, there’ll be three trim levels - Ti, Veloce, and a launch special edition called, er, Edizione Speciale. There’s still a bit of time before the cars arrive in the UK, so final specifications aren’t known but expect all of them to come with a decent infotainment set-up, climate control and LED lights.

We do know there’ll be 18, 19 and 20-inch wheels, depending on the trim level, and some will come with Alcantara trim while others will be leather. Options are likely to be few and far between but expect to pay for any of the more interesting colours.


Rival Cars

If we listed every rival for the Tonale, we might run out of internet. The medium-sized SUV is the darling of motor manufacturers the world over, as they’re popular and profitable - which is precisely why Alfa Romeo wants to get into the sector.

The Hyundai Tucson looks every bit as good as the Alfa Romeo, but takes a very different stylistic approach, with sharp creases, dramatic lighting and a distinctive silhouette. It’s a good car too, with plenty of space and a high-quality cabin.


Kia’s Sportage takes another design turn and goes digital-first inside. It’s a better drive than the closely related Hyundai but falls a little behind in practicality and economy.

Arguably the creator of the segment, the Nissan Qashqai, has had a recent new model introduced which is sharp and spacious but lacks much excitement. An advanced ePower model arrives soon though, taking the hybrid powertrain and turning it on its head.


Verdict

Coming up with a simple verdict for the Alfa Romeo Tonale is a tricky task. The Italian company has presented a car that, in isolation, ticks all the boxes; there’s enough space for a family, enough of a boot to be practical, enough equipment to keep passengers comfortable, and enough power to cope with modern roads.

There’s enough of everything, but never more than is necessary which, in a market with as many as 30 capable rivals, isn’t actually enough.

The one thing it has in abundance is style. Say what you like about SUVs, but the Tonale looks great. Is that, and the desirability of simply driving an Alfa Romeo, enough?

Where to next?

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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Alfa Romeo Tonale

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