Alfa Romeo is the kind of brand most people want to see not just survive, but thrive. And with the brand at last ready to launch a small, electrified SUV into one of the world's most hotly contested segments, its future success now rests squarely on the shoulders of this new Tonale. No pressure, then. So is it up to the job?
Alfa Romeo is back. Yes, again. But this time it says it means it.
The Italian brand's renaissance might haven slowed to a crawl following the launch of the Giulia and the Stelvio, but this new Tonale is the first of a flurry of new vehicles designed to finally breath new life into Alfa Romeo, which is now under the helm of a new global chief.
It's a small SUV. It's stylish as hell. It has an electric motor supplementing its turbo-petrol power. And it has some pretty solid cabin tech on board, too.
So is this finally the first rays of new dawn for Alfa Romeo?
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 7/10
This is the mystery bit. We know so far that the Tonale is coming to Australia in early 2023, and that it will be priced below the Stelvio (obviously), which lists in its cheapest form at around $65k.
Alfa Romeo is yet to confirm what trim levels will arrive in Australia when the Tonale touches down early next year, but our test cars were the 118kW mild-hybrid variants in Veloce guise, which means quite a lot of nice stuff along for the ride.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 8/10
If sexy design is Alfa Romeo’s hallmark, then the new Tonale is still very much old Alfa Romeo.
From front-on, the Tonale looks properly delightful, with its narrow-frame headlights, bold black-mesh grille treatment, and these surprisingly subtle bonnet creases that draw your eye to central badge.
From the side, though, it adopts more of your typical small SUV shape, albeit with a crisp shoulder crease that runs the length of the body, and, on our vehicles, massive 20-inch alloys hiding bright red brake calipers. From the rear, a two-tone colour scheme (black on the bottom) and a similar narrow treatment to the rear lighting system works, too.
And inside, this doesn't just feel like a new Alfa Romeo, but like a new Alfa Romeo. Previously, cabin spaces were a definite weak point in Alfa’s arsenal, with underwhelming materials and questionable cabin tech, but not so the Tonale.
If sexy design is Alfa Romeo’s hallmark, then the new Tonale is still very much old Alfa Romeo.
The fit and finish appears solid, and the cabin materials – while not overly luxurious in places – all work well. The tech offering is at last on-par with the segment, with dual screens delivering all the connectivity you’d want, and some you probably don’t (I’m looking at you, Alexa).
None of that is overly revolutionary — and certainly appears in Alfa’s core competitors — but it does elevate the Italian brand to on-par status, which is a good start.
Downsides? The premium-ness doesn’t extend to all corners of the cabin. The front door panels are bland and hard in places, and the backseat feels a little utilitarian — especially the hard-plastic-framed air vents and USB ports, and the scratchy door plastics.
The fit and finish appears solid, and the cabin materials all work well.
How practical is the space inside? 8/10
The Tonale is a small SUV that offers real practicality, thanks to a bigger than usual boot space and plenty of rear-seat room, too.
It measures 4528mm in length, 1841mm in width (without mirrors) and 1601mm in height, while riding on a 2638mm wheelbase.
Those dimensions actually aren’t courtesy of an Alfa Romeo architecture, with the much-hyped Georgio platform nowhere to be seen here. Instead, Tonale sits on Jeep’s small-wide architecture, the platform that underpins vehicles like the Compass.
The Tonale is a small SUV that offers real practicality.
The backseat is surprisingly roomy, too.
As Italian as deep dish pizza, then, but it's does have its perks. There is a surprising amount of room on offer from the Tonale, and in the boot, which delivers a solid 500 litres of room in a wide and deep space that also offers a ski portal into the backseat. Drop the rear seats and that number grows to 1550 litres.
The backseat is surprisingly roomy, too. Sitting behind my own 175cm driving position, I had enough headroom, enough leg room, and it’s honestly somewhere you won’t mind spending a few hours when you have to.
There are USB ports up front and in the rear, with a choice between USB-A and USB-C, bottle holders in each of the doors, and dual-zone climate up front feeding backseat vents.
ISOFIX is present and accounted for, too, with attachment points in each rear window seat.
The boot delivers a solid 500 litres of room in a wide and deep space that also offers a ski portal into the backseat.
Drop the rear seats and that number grows to 1550 litres.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 7/10
There are plenty of options coming (diesel, petrol and thumping plug-in hybrid variant), but what will arrive in Australia is still a little mysterious.
For now, though, the Tonale range spans two petrol-48v mild hybrid units. Both share the same 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, tuned to deliver either 96kW and 240Nm or 118kW and 240Nm, paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that shuffles power to the front wheels.
The mild-hybrid stuff? Alfa Romeo’s 48-volt system pairs a 0.77kWh lithium-ion battery (it weighs just 13.5kg) with an electric motor that delivers 20kW and 15Nm. Ostensibly the system exists to reduce fuel use and emissions, but the Tonale also draws on its power for extra boost when driving, and for super-slow-speed manoeuvres.
How much fuel does it consume? 8/10
Alfa reckons you’ll see fuel efficiency as low as 5.7L-6.3L on the combined cycle, with emissions pegged at 130-144g/km.
The Tonale is equipped with a 55-litre fuel tank, which should make for a handy driving range should you get anywhere near the official numbers.
What's it like to drive? 7/10
Let’s get one thing clear from the off — this is not your average Alfa Romeo. You want to know how I know? Because slipping into the driver’s seat means being greeted by a cabin experience that is distinctly not-average.
Not to rag on Alfa Romeo here, but it has always felt a bit like driving dynamics are put at the very top of the to-do list, with cabin materials, ergonomics and infotainment slipping some way down the job list.
But the Tonale really flips that on its head. Here the cabin experience is super strong, with quality technology, a mostly flawless fit and finish, and good material choices, which do admittedly begin to fade as you approach the backseat.
Let’s get one thing clear from the off — this is not your average Alfa Romeo.
But the cloud to that silver lining is that, while Tonale doesn’t look or feel like your average Alfa Romeo, it also doesn’t always drive like one, either.
It's set-up well, especially considering its front-wheel-drive architecture. There’s plenty of grip at the front axle, body-roll is virtually nonexistent, understeer takes plenty of pushing and the steering (though too light and lacking in any feedback) is plenty sharp at speed.
But the powertrain on offer doesn’t deliver enough in true driver engagement. On flowing bends, the Tonale hums along nicely, but in the tighter stuff it can feel altogether too busy, the gear shift too frequent, and the engine noise too loud and intrusive for little pay-off.
While Tonale doesn’t look or feel like your average Alfa Romeo, it also doesn’t always drive like one, either.
The combination of a small, buzzy petrol engine and a generally fussy drive experience give the impression that Alfa Romeo is trying to make the lesser Tonale feel sportier than it is, and it suffers a bit as a result. For mine, it would be a better drive experience if everything was dialled down a notch or two.
That way you could cruise along peacefully, enjoying the impressive cabin refinement and insulation from road noise, and save the go-fast stuff for the Tonale models that really earn it.
The Tonale is set-up well, especially considering its front-wheel-drive architecture.
Warranty & Safety Rating
5 years / unlimited km
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 7/10
Exactly what will arrive standard in Australian cars remains to be seen, but I can report our Italian test vehicles were fitted six airbags, AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, intelligent cruise and traffic sign recognition.
The high-tech stuff then arrives as part of a Techno Pack, which includes lane centring and traffic jam assist, side parking sensors, semi-automatic parking, blind-spot detection and a 360-degree camera.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
All Alfa Romeos are now covered by a five-year warranty, with unlimited kilometres, which is strong in the premium space. It's on-par with Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Audi, and better than BMW.
So what's with the score of seven? Well, lots of brands in the mainstream space offer seven, eight or even 10 year warranties. And we don't think buyers of premium cars should miss out.
Servicing is demanded every 12 months or 15,000kms, and while the brand's service pricing is yet to be confirmed for the Tonale, servicing a Stelvio will cost you around $2865 for the first five years.
All Alfa Romeos are now covered by a five-year warranty, with unlimited kilometres.
There is plenty of potential in the new Tonale, which studiously addresses the shortcomings of the Alfa Romeos of old, while still sporting those Italian supermodel looks. A new focus on quality and resale, and cabin tech that's on-par with a modern segment also adds to the appeal here.
If red mist flows through your veins, then wait for the high-performance plug-in hybrid variant.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel, accommodation and meals provided.
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