UK Drive: The Alfa Romeo Tonale is a bold new entry to the compact SUV market

Alfa Romeo’s new small SUV has been a long time coming. Ted Welford sees what it’s like.

UK Drive: The Alfa Romeo Tonale is a bold new entry to the compact SUV market

What is it?

It’s been five years since we last saw a brand new Alfa Romeo. (Alfa Romeo)

A new Alfa Romeo certainly doesn’t come along very often, with this Italian brand slimming down its line-up to just two cars in recent years – the Giulia saloon and Stelvio SUV. And it’s been five years since that latter model arrived as its last ‘all new’ model.

So there has been lots of suspense building around a new Alfa Romeo – the Tonale. First previewed in March 2019 with a close-to-production concept car, the Tonale is only just touching down in UK dealers now. But has it been worth the wait?

What’s new?

The Tonale sits beneath the Stelvio in the SUV range. (Alfa Romeo)

Though the Stelvio might have been Alfa Romeo’s first SUV, the smaller Tonale is opening the brand up to a much wider audience, as one in four new cars sit in the compact SUV segment where this new model competes.

Though it’s based on the same platform as a Jeep Compass, the Tonale is a substantially different proposition. Introducing electrification to the Alfa Romeo range, this new model gets a raft of new technological changes, yet the same familiar design cues that this brand is well known for.

What’s under the bonnet?

The Tonale will only be offered with electrified powertrains. (Alfa Romeo)

Not only is the Tonale Alfa Romeo’s first electrified model, but this is all it will be offered with. Though a four-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid version is due in early 2023, it launches now with a sole mild-hybrid option.

The base is a turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine that’s paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and a small electric motor.

Producing 158bhp and 240Nm of torque, all drive is sent to the front wheels. Getting up to 60mph takes 8.6 seconds, while its top speed of 132mph. In terms of efficiency, Alfa Romeo claims 45.3-49.6mpg, and CO2 emissions of 130-142g/km, though our test route fuel economy figures were a long way short of those economy claims.

What’s it like to drive?

The Tonale is let down by its weak gearbox. (Alfa Romeo)

Things get off to a decent start with the Tonale, as, unlike other mild-hybrids, this Alfa is silent on start-up, and can manage very short stints of driving without the engine off, though these situations are limited.

Avoid the ‘sports’ damping setting on the Veloce version, and the ride is largely comfortable and compliant, even on the bigger wheels. The adjustable ‘DNA’ dial also offers a noticeable difference between driving modes, though you want the ‘Dynamic’ setting selected – it livens up the steering, and makes the Tonale more enjoyable through the corners than many competitors.

But its weak point is this powertrain. It’s neither particularly quick nor efficient, though the switch between electric and petrol is smooth and unnoticeable. However, it’s the gearbox that’s our biggest problem with the Tonale. It’s slow to respond and seemingly gives you no power when you want it, and then offers plenty when you don’t. Next to the wonderful ZF gearboxes in the Giulia and Stelvio, it feels like a backwards step.

How does it look?

Alfa Romeo knows how to design a good-looking car, and the Tonale is a very stylish choice to our eyes. The design is very close to the original concept car, and the front end is particularly smart. You’ve got the brand’s trademark triangular grille, while the ‘3+3’ headlights hark back to the brand’s classic models and look particularly good. The firm’s renowned teledial alloy wheels are also present and correct and have been suitably modernised.

It’s not all that stylish from all angles, though, particularly from the rear three-quarters, where the design just looks a bit bloated. It’s also quite spec-dependent, with the lower-grade Ti models looking a bit under-wheeled.

What’s it like inside?

The Tonale’s interior gets plenty of technology. (Alfa Romeo)

First impressions of the Tonale are positive, particularly from the driver’s seat. An ‘engine start’ button on the steering wheel is always a good sign, while the DNA driving mode selector feels much better to use than the traditional buttons many rivals adopt.

There’s been a big uplift in technology too, with the Tonale having the largest combined touchscreen and digital dial display in its class. Both work very well and are a real step up those found in the Giulia and Stelvio. The general fit and finish is good too, though it certainly doesn’t feel as premium or well built as the latest BMW X1, for example.

There’s plenty of space on offer too, with adults able to sit comfortably in the rear seats with a generous amount of headroom especially. The 500-litre boot is a good size as well, and hardly any smaller than the larger Stelvio.

What’s the spec like?

The Tonale is a very practical compact SUV. (Alfa Romeo)

The Tonale is available in two main trims – Ti and Veloce – while there’s a ‘Speciale’ launch edition available for a brief time.

Standard equipment is generous, with the Ti getting 18-inch alloy wheels, 10.25-inch touchscreen, 12-inch digital instrument cluster and reversing camera. You also get Matrix full LED headlights, an electric boot, keyless entry and adaptive cruise control. In fact, the only thing we reckon should be fitted as standard but are absent are heated seats – included as part of a £450 winter pack.

Upgrading to the Veloce brings larger 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive suspension, a darkened gloss black styling kit, red brake callipers and large aluminium gearshift paddles for the steering wheel.

As for pricing, the Tonale starts from £38,595 for the Speciale launch model, which gets a similar level of kit to the Veloce, and seems very attractively priced. Ti and Veloce models cost from £39,995 and £42,495 respectively, which start to look pretty expensive, especially when a few options have been added.

Verdict

The Tonale is stylish and well-equipped, but outclassed by rivals. (Alfa Romeo)

Alfa Romeo’s Tonale has been a long time coming, and will undoubtedly make a big difference to this brand’s fortunes and sales volumes. The design alone is likely to appeal to the brand’s existing customers and tempt those wanting something a bit different. The interior is pleasant too, while there’s no shortage of space, either.

But it’s not the complete package we were hoping for, with its powertrain and gearbox being the prominent bones of contention, and they struggle to justify the Tonale’s relatively high price. We’re keen to see if the plug-in hybrid improves things next year.

  • Model: Alfa Romeo Tonale
  • Price: £38,595
  • Model as tested: Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce 1.5 160 MHEV DCT
  • Price as tested: £42,595
  • Engine: 1.5-litre mild-hybrid petrol
  • Power: 158bhp
  • Torque: 240Nm
  • 0-60mph: 8.6 seconds
  • Top speed: 132mph
  • Economy: 45.3-49.6mpg
  • Emissions: 130-142g/km CO2

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