Striking looking compact SUV heralds Alfa Romeo’s first steps towards electrification.
The Italians have finally gotten serious about the premium and performance SUV segment. While the German and British manufacturers have been there for decades, Italy’s manufacturers have been late to the party. But that has all changed in the last few years, with Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and even Ferrari joining the growing number of manufacturers who offer a performance or prestige SUV. Indeed, this issue of evo Australia features the second entries to the SUV market from both Maserati (Grecale Trofeo on the preceding pages) and Alfa Romeo, here with the Tonale.
Alfa’s first foray into the performance SUV segment was the highly desirable Stelvio. We’ve been fans of the Stelvio (especially in Quadrifoglio guise) since its introduction back in 2017, and now it has a younger, smaller sibling. And just as the Stelvio is named for a famous Italian mountain pass, the new Tonale is named for the 1883-metre high pass in the Rhaetian Alps in Northern Italy. Geographically, the Stelvio and Tonale are less than 75km apart, but is Alfa’s new compact SUV similarly close in character to the Stelvio?
Not only is the Tonale entering a new segment for Alfa Romeo, but it ushers in the brand’s move towards electrification. The range starts with the Tonale Hybrid in both TI ($49,900) and Veloce ($56,400) specification. These two mild hybrid models will be joined later in the year by a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model.
Regardless of trim level, the Tonale Hybrid is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-litre in-line four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 118kW at 5750rpm and 240Nm at just 1500rpm. The engine drives the front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The Tonale Hybrid also runs a 48-volt mild hybrid system that allows battery-only running at speeds under 15km/h – useful for parking and silent starting and departures. The system uses a 15kW electric motor that draws from a 0.8kWh battery, which in turn recovers energy during braking and coasting. The official combined-cycle consumption is rated at an impressive 5.6L/100km.
The plug-in hybrid model will combine a 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (making 132kW at 5750rpm and 270Nm at 1850rpm), with a 90kW electric motor for a total system output of 202kW. The ICE motor drives the front wheels while the electric motor motivates the rears, making the Tonale PHEV all-wheel-drive. The PHEV also has a claimed electric driving range of 60km and a 0-100km/h time of 6.2 seconds.
Back to the Tonale Hybrid on test and both models are well equipped, as they need to be taking on the establishment from Audi (Q3), BMW (X1), Mercedes-Benz (GLA) and Volvo (XC40). The Ti features 18-inch alloys, tyre pressure monitoring (with a spare wheel), adaptive cruise control with stop and go, forward collision warning, AEB, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, six airbags, reversing camera, 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment and nav, wireless Apple Carplay and Android Auto, DAB, 12.3-inch TFT instrument cluster, Alfa Connect Services with voice assistant, wireless charging pad, front and rear USB ports, and dual-zone air con.
The top-spec Veloce adds 19-inch alloys (with 20-inch alloys as an option), red Brembo brake calipers, Alcantara and leatherette seats, aluminium door sill plates, aluminium shift paddles, traffic jam assist, 360-degree view camera, blind spot detection with rear cross path and Alfa Active Dual-Stage Valve suspension. The Veloce is also available in Alfa Romeo’s stunning Montreal Green.
Regardless of colour, the Tonale is a terrific-looking vehicle and will stand out from the crowd of same-same SUVs. Its ‘3+3’ headlight treatment is an Alfa Romeo signature and nothing in the segment can match the style of the new Tonale.
We spent most of the local launch programme in the Veloce and found that it offers performance to match in-class rivals. The drivetrain feels most natural and gives its best performance when Alfa Romeo’s DNA drive-mode selector is in Dynamic mode. The Tonale Hybrid can feel a little hesitant to throttle inputs in the other modes. However, in Dynamic, the engine feels alert and the seven-speed gearbox offers crisp shifting.
Dynamically, the Tonale shines, offering a nimble sure-footedness that is lacking in many flat-footed SUVs. The round steering wheel is a delight, and commands very quick steering – just 2.2 turns lock-to-lock. The suspension does an admirable job of balancing body and wheel control with ride quality and we don’t mind that Alfa has chosen to slightly prioritise dynamics over outright comfort. Not that the Tonale is harsh, just that there’s an underlying tension to the chassis that suggests a latent sportiness.
Given the looks and the fact that it’s not another German SUV, plus it’s competitive pricing, we wouldn’t be surprised if buyers flock to the Tonale. Once there, they might be surprised by its engaging dynamics and impressive spec and quality.