First Drive: Is the Alfa Romeo Tonale Plug-in a positive sign of this firm’s electrified future?

Alfa Romeo is broadening the range of its new crossover with a plug-in option. Ted Welford heads to Milan to put it to the test.

First Drive: Is the Alfa Romeo Tonale Plug-in a positive sign of this firm’s electrified future?

What is it?

The mild-hybrid Tonale, already on sale, proved to be a bit underwhelming. (Alfa Romeo)

At the point of writing, you can’t buy an Alfa Romeo that you can attach a plug to, but by 2027 there won’t be a new Alfa Romeo you can walk into a showroom and buy that’s not an EV.

That’s almost frightening progress, and the first piece of the electrification puzzle is the new Tonale. It’s Alfa Romeo’s long-awaited compact SUV, which arrived on sale only a month ago with an underwhelming mild-hybrid setup. A good car lacking a good powertrain, there remains hope as Alfa is now introducing a new plug-in hybrid version. But is it the setup the Tonale has been craving?

What’s new?

The Tonale competes in a very popular segment. (Alfa Romeo)

There’s no mistaking the Tonale’s importance for Alfa Romeo, as it enters the brand into a hugely important sector and one where electrification is an especially hot topic. So this new plug-in hybrid is vital, especially when you consider all of its main rivals are offered as a PHEV – including the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Volvo XC40.

This plug-in also gives the Tonale a well-needed efficiency boost and addresses the slight performance downfall of the standard car.

What’s under the bonnet?

Alfa Romeo claims the Tonale Plug-in can travel for up to 43 miles on electric. (Alfa Romeo)

The Tonale PHEV features a turbocharged 1.3-litre petrol engine paired with an electric motor. The combined result is 276bhp and 400Nm of torque – a healthy improvement on the 158bhp and 240Nm of torque supplied with the regular mild-hybrid.

A six-speed automatic gearbox is adopted too, as is Alfa Romeo’s Q4 all-wheel-drive system – again, different to the standard front-wheel-drive car. It’s able to hit 60mph in just six seconds and accelerate on to a top speed of 128mph.

As for the all-important efficiency, Alfa Romeo claims 43 miles of electric range once the 15.5kWh battery is charged (which takes 2.5 hours with a 7.4kW charger). Alfa Romeo also claims more than 200mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 26g/km, though – as with any PHEV – these figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt unless you are completing the majority of your miles purely on electric.

What’s it like to drive?

The Plug-in hybrid retains the standard car’s agile handling. (Alfa Romeo)

Alfa Romeo is pretty big on the ‘sporty’ feel of the Tonale, and there’s a lot of truth to this. It’s without doubt one of the best handling cars in its segment, with the steering having a wonderfully fluid feel to it. You can safely carry speed through a corner far more comfortably than in an XC40, for example, and despite the additional weight that the plug-in powertrain has, Alfa Romeo has done a brilliant job of hiding it.

There’s the adjustable driver mode selector (called D.N.A) that now controls various hybrid functions, the ‘A’ leaves it in electric mode, the ‘N’ is the regular hybrid mode, while ‘D’ ensures the engine is already on, and provides the most pace when you want to get your foot down. The ride is perhaps a bit firmer than some of its rivals – the XC40 – in particular, though this is a worthy trade-off for its handling ability and composure. The gearbox is a slight weak point, occasionally sapping performance, but it’s world’s better than the mild-hybrid model.

How does it look?

Even through Alfa Romeo’s more turbulent periods, its cars’ designs have always been a highlight, and the Tonale’s styling will be a key selling point for many. It will always be subjective, but we reckon it’s a brilliant-looking car. It retains Alfa’s trademark triangular grille, while the sharp and distinctive ‘3+3’ headlights are a great nod to past models from the Italian marque, including the SZ.

We’re a big fan of the fact Alfa Romeo hasn’t plastered ‘hybrid’ badges all over the Tonale, messing with the car’s lines. In fact, the only visual differences are the charging flap at the driver’s side rear quarter and two exhaust pipes at the rear, which give it a sportier look than the hidden setup on the standard car.

What’s it like inside?

The interior quality isn’t quite up to that of rivals. (Alfa Romeo)

The Tonale’s interior is one of Alfa Romeo’s best yet, particularly on the technology front. There’s the firm’s first digital instrument cluster, which is great to look at and use, while the main 10.25-inch touchscreen offers a host of features and great clarity – the only gripe is that finding the heated seat buttons (within the screen) can be quite fiddly.

The quality is generally good, though it’s not as plush as an Audi Q3 and BMW X1, which may prove a challenge with the Tonale PHEV’s expected high price. However, it puts plenty of ticks in the practicality boxes. There’s room in the rear seats for taller adults or teens, while despite the fitment of the large battery, the only thing you lose out on is the cubby below the boot floor.

What’s the spec like?

The 10.25-inch touchscreen is smart and easy to use. (Alfa Romeo)

The Tonale Plug-in Hybrid line-up will mirror the car already on sale, with two main trim levels available – Ti and Veloce – alongside a launch edition.

Standard equipment is very generous, including Matrix LED headlights, the aforementioned screens, keyless entry and adaptive cruise control. We reckon the Veloce is the model to go for, it gains darkened styling elements to give it a sportier look, red brake calipers, adaptive dampers and fantastic metal gearshift paddles on the steering wheel which are a joy to use.

Alfa Romeo isn’t saying what the Tonale Plug-in will cost until sales begin in early 2023, but considering the standard mild-hybrid Ti model starts from £40,000, we reckon it will be comfortably £45,000, and closer to £50,000 for a top-spec Veloce with a select few options.

Verdict

The Plug-in Tonale is the version to go for. (Alfa Romeo)

Given the importance of the Tonale, it was slightly disappointing to find it let down by the mild-hybrid setup at the original launch. But this plug-in version now gives this crossover the powertrain it feels like it should have had from the start. That additional pace makes it feel far sportier, while the extra weight hasn’t dented the wonderful handling.

We reckon the anticipated price of this Plug-in may prove a sticking point when it launches – particularly from its interior which will struggle at a £50,000 price point. But as long as the firm isn’t too ambitious with this, the Tonale PHEV is a competitive proposition in this class and shows there’s real hope for electrified Alfa Romeos of the future.

  • Model as tested: Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce Plug-in Hybrid Q4
  • Price as tested: £47,500 (estimate)
  • Engine: 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol with electric motor
  • Power: 276bhp
  • Torque: 400Nm
  • 0-60mph: 6.0 seconds
  • Top speed: 128mph
  • Economy: 201.8-256.8mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 26-33g/km
  • Electric range: 43 miles

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