For the first time in around six or seven years there is a brand new Alfa Romeo nameplate to play with and it’s called the Tonale. Named after a mountain pass, high in the Italian Alps, the Tonale is also the luxury and performance brand’s first move towards electrification – so the Alfristi should be rejoicing right? Well sort of.
In all honesty it’s hard to understate the importance of the Tonale for Alfa. Sitting below the Stelvio in size, not only does it put them into the increasingly popular small luxury SUV Market but as I said, it’s also their first step towards electrification and that’s where the brand wants to be in its entirety by 2027 – no pressure then.
When it comes to looks, the Tonale is a real Alfa catwalk model, it’s a stunner. The designers have given it plenty of nods to the past and kept with the brand’s DNA, while adding a delightful modern undertown.
For example, the trilobo nose is unmistakable Trilobo nose and the distinctive Alfa Romeo Scudetto shield grille is more pronounced, more 3D looking. The 3+3 headlight design has been inspired by the look of the SZ Zagato, however, they are now Matrix LEDs meaning that aside from offering less eye strain and better driving comfort, you don’t blind oncoming cars – mind you, the Tonale looks so good it will probably blind them anyway.
While on the matter of lights, the taillights take on the same 3+3 style as the headlights plus they form a sine curve that fully wraps around the rear of the car. The rear window pays tribute to the 8C Competizione, and for those that remember the 1960s Giulia GT Junior, there’s a GT Line that runs from the Tonale’s profile, from the rear to the headlights.
Dimensionally, the Tonale is a bang on for the segment, with its 4.5m length and 1.6m height making it great for manoeuvring about the town and yet comfortable when on longer runs, and I have to pay special mention to the teledial wheels, they look bellissima.
NZ has launched the Tonale with two hybrid models, the Ti and the Veloce, both feature a 1.5L 4-Cylinder VGT Petrol engine and a 15kW Electric Motor, mated to a 7-Speed DCT gearbox that delivers 118kW/240Nm to the front wheels and a 0-100km/h time of 8.8 seconds (5.6L/100km economy and CO2 Emissions of 143g/km). More on that powertrain soon.
My ‘Veloce’ review model came in red (or is that rosso?), which to me is probably the ideal colour for an Italian vehicle, and had the added advantage of matching the SUV’s Brembo brake callipers. Plus, being top of the current range with an additional ‘Lusso pack’ option, not only did it look good outside, but it also came with plenty of treats for when I slipped inside.
Inspired by Alfa Romeo’s racing history, the interior is strongly focused on the driver, with easy access to all controls and well-crafted finishes that reflect Alfa Romeo’s commitment to luxury. The seats are comfortable, supportive and dressed in a perforated Alcantara and leatherette material with an embroidered Alfa Romeo Logo and dark grey double stitching. They offer a good driving position and ample legroom, however, the centre console did impede my left knee and the foot pedals are ‘very Italian’ in their proximity to each other.
In terms of tactility, the steering wheel is full grain leather and felt great in my hand and the aluminium paddles beyond made ‘manual’ gear changing even more special. The AC buttons are satisfyingly buttons as opposed to a screen menu option and the gear stick is nice and chunky.
But it’s practical too, with generous sized door bins (1L), 500L of luggage space, ample room in the rear seats, a variety of cup holders, a wireless phone charger, and there are even two different usb chargers at various ‘stations’.
The technology upgrade is a big thing for the Tonale, with the 10.25-Inch Infotainment touchscreen coming with all the latest apps and ADAS widgets, with the navigation being provided by TomTom and the sounds coming by way of a punchy 14-Speaker Harman Kardon system.
The 12.3-inch instrument cluster has been revamped to welcome the digital world, making it very personalisable in the data it projects, however, it’s also true to Alfa’s heritage with its ‘Cannocchiale’ or telescope appearance.
Ok, so it looks good and the technology is state of the art, but how does it drive?
To me, an Alfa, even an SUV Alfa, should offer an involving drive that enlivens the senses of all those on board, but particularly the person behind the wheel. And in that respect, the hybrid Tonale has missed the mark – well sort of. The 0-100 dash is unfulfilling and the same goes for the lack of any signature Alfa exhaust note. Also, when moving slowly and left to its own devices, the hybrid system appears a little confused in its switching between electric and ICE propulsion. It’s clunky and unrefined.
In Natural (essentially comfort), the steering is light, maybe a little too much so for me, but ideal for those tighter downtown locations offering minimal resistance to get the wheels to full lock end to end, and the clever adaptive suspension absorbs most of the roughness that NZ tarmac has to offer. The adaptive cruise control, and multitude of driving aids are on the whole helpful and non-intrusive too (just the lane keep assist lets you know when you’ve strayed) all combining to make the Tonale very civilised for those looking for a more luxurious Alfa – it even drops the revs to zero whenever it can to save you money.
However, as I said, I want my Alfa to thrill, and once I got on the move, switched to Dynamic, and had the Harman Kardon play my own soundtrack, things improved A LOT.
Dynamic toughens the suspension and tightens the steering, meaning that (although not as rapid as I would have expected), the Tonale is plenty brash for the twists and turns of greater north Auckland. Upping the ante further, a quick flick over to manual on the gearstick and the inclusion of those giant paddles, had me right back in the sporty SUV’s driving seat. As an added bonus, taking charge of the Tonale minimises most of its hybrid/ice confusion too.
As outlined up front, the Tonale comes with a huge amount of brand responsibility, and left to its own devices I fear it comes up a bit short in its mission as a first step towards brand electrification. However, in looks alone it’s well worth having on your driveway and when YOU drive it, the Tonale shows big signs of its heritage. I’d assume that the PHEV Tonale will have many of its EV issues ironed out (plus it’s a couple of seconds quicker to 100km/h) and the full BEV will be the big leap forward, either way, it’s an enjoyable ride.