- Mild hybrid, PHEV
- Responsive infotainment system
- Rides surprisingly well for a sporty SUV
- Boot isn't compromised by hybrid batteries
- Tardy performance from entry-level engine
- Interior doesn't look or feel as special as you might expect
- More expensive than many rivals
In typical Alfa fashion, the brand is a little late to the party with the Alfa Romeo Tonale. While other car manufacturers are now concentrating their efforts on electric vehicles, the Tonale is Alfa Romeo's first ever hybrid car. It's only its second SUV, too, sitting below the Alfa Romeo Stelvio in the range and rivalling cars like the Range Rover Evoque, BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA.
It's based on the same platform as the Jeep Compass, but don't let that put you off straight away. Alfa's engineers have done a pretty decent job of disguising the Tonale's underpinnings, while it strikes a fairly decent balance of comfort and sportiness. It's not as soft and comfortable as a Volvo XC40, but it's up there with the BMW X1 in the way it handles.
You can choose from two different powertrains in the Alfa Romeo Tonale. The first is badged the Tonale Hybrid, although its tiny battery pack only powers a small electric motor for the mildest of electrical assistance. Most of the power comes from a 1.5-litre petrol engine which is pretty underwhelming, not least because the standard seven-speed automatic gearbox hampers acceleration from a standstill.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale plug-in hybrid is likely to be a better option. It actually uses a smaller 1.3-litre petrol engine but combined with an electric motor on the rear axle to produce a combined 272PS - the kind of power figure you expect from a sporty Alfa Romeo. It'll be able to travel further under electric power alone, too - a figure of more than 30 miles is quoted, which means you could cover the school run without the petrol engine kicking in at all.
The Alfa Romeo is also available with Fiat's 1.6-litre diesel engine in other markets. With diesel very much out of fashion, it's expected to be a slow seller, and won't be offered at all in certain countries (including the UK).
Of course, if you're in the market for a family SUV, you might be more concerned about what it's like inside than how it drives. Well, it's spacious enough, with a 500-litre boot that isn't hampered by batteries in the hybrid models. Kids will be happy in the back while you get a relatively high seating position in the front, although the solid centre console and high dashboard does mean it feels a bit more claustrophobic than the new BMW X1.
It looks pretty smart, too, although you really need a top-spec Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce with a few select options for it to feel special. Even then, there are a few less premium finishes that you wouldn't get in an Audi Q3.
You do get a very user-friendly widescreen infotainment screen across the range, complete with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and even Amazon Alexa. It's much better than the system used in the pricier Alfa Romeo Stelvio, while we also like the slick digital instrument cluster (which, impressively, is also standard across the range).
Ultimately, the Alfa Romeo Tonale is a left-field choice, much like the Volvo XC40 or Jaguar E-Pace. Many buyers will be willing to overlook its quirks just to drive something that'll stand out on the roads, and we respect that. If you're not fussed about a premium badge, though, your money will go a lot further with a Hyundai Tucson or Kia Sportage.
Is the Alfa Romeo Tonale right for you?
Want to stand out from all the BMW X1s and Audi Q3s on your neighbours' driveways? The Alfa Romeo Tonale will do that. We think it looks great, while there's a clear appeal to the Alfa Romeo badge. It drives like an Alfa should, too, although the performance from the entry-level mild-hybrid engine is mediocre at best.
What’s the best Alfa Romeo Tonale model/engine to choose?
We'd wait for the Alfa Romeo Tonale plug-in hybrid. With a bigger battery and a more powerful electric motor than the mild-hybrid model, it'll feel much more responsive and be more efficient in the real world.
In terms of trim level, the entry-level Alfa Romeo Tonale Ti is probably the more sensible option. It's hardly sparsely equipped, while its 18-inch alloy wheels will be better for ride quality. That said, if you can justify the cost, the Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce does feel a bit more special.
What other cars are similar to the Alfa Romeo Tonale?
If you're in the market for a left-field premium SUV, you should also be looking at the excellent Volvo XC40 and impressive Range Rover Evoque. You might like to consider the Jaguar E-Pace, too, while the Lexus UX is a good choice if you're looking for a reliable hybrid SUV.
We rate the new BMW X1 highly, while the Mercedes GLA and Audi Q3 are two strong all-rounders. If you're not fussed about a premium badge, the latest Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage are two of our favourite family SUVs on the market.
Although you do sit relatively high up in the Alfa Romeo Tonale, the high dashboard and chunky centre console mean you feel slightly cocooned. We quite like that, but the Volvo XC40 and BMW X1 both have more lounge-like interiors.
We also like the little row of buttons in the centre of the dashboard, as well as a conveniently located toggle for switching between drive modes. The Tonale's cabin is far from minimalist but that's good news from a usability point of view.
The interior of the Alfa Romeo Tonale is a little spec-dependent. The top-spec Tonale Veloce feels significantly sportier, thanks to its perforated Alcantara and faux-leather seats, aluminium pedals and the aluminium shift paddles behind the steering wheel. The Tonale Ti looks and feels a bit more conventional (dare we say boring...), which is a little disappointing in a premium SUV of this price.
Still, we found it easy to get comfortable in the Alfa Romeo Tonale, and all models come with adjustable lumbar support for the driver's seat. Visibility is fine if not exceptional - fortunately, there are plenty of advanced driver assist systems to help you out, along with front/rear parking sensors and a reversing camera as standard across the range.
Quality and finish
From first glance, the Alfa Romeo Tonale looks perfectly smart inside. Our test car was fitted with sumptuous black leather with embossed Alfa Romeo badges but, even on the top-spec Veloce, that's actually quite an expensive optional extra.
From an interior quality point of view, the Alfa Romeo Tonale is in a different league to the Jeep Compass on which it's based. It'd have to be, though, to compete with cars like the BMW X1 and Audi Q3. Its cabin generally feels well-finished, although we don't think it's quite as posh as competitors. There are some flimsy plastics here and there and some of the buttons aren't as reassuringly clunky as you might like.
Infotainment: Touchscreen, USB, nav and stereo in the Alfa Romeo Tonale
The infotainment system is one of our favourite features of the new Alfa Romeo Tonale. A 10.25-inch display is standard across the range with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as Amazon's Alexa voice recognition software. The latter is a bit hit and miss, which is a shame as the Tonale does without the rotary controller you get in other Alfa Romeo models (including the bigger Stelvio).
That said, it's a really easy system to use, with speedy responses to touch inputs. You can configure widgets to prioritise features you're likely to use most often, while the screen's positioning high up on the dashboard means it's not too distracting to glance at while driving, either.
As well as the central display, the Alfa Romeo Tonale comes with a 12.3-inch TFT screen behind the steering wheel. It's not quite as customisable as Audi's Virtual Cockpit, but you can select from a trio of layouts (Evolved, Relax and Heritage).
Space and practicality: Alfa Romeo Tonale boot space
The Alfa Romeo Tonale's dimensions make it 4528mm long, 2082mm wide (including door mirrors) and 1601mm high. That makes it a similar size to its direct competitors, while its 500-litre boot is pretty standard for a premium SUV of this size. A Hyundai Tucson can carry up to 620 litres - but, unlike the Tucson, the batteries in the plug-in hybrid Tonale won't impact boot space.
The rear seats are spacious enough, too, although the rising window line does mean it feels a little claustrophobic back there. You can get around this by speccing the optional panoramic sunroof, although doing so will eat slightly into headroom. We wouldn't recommend carrying anyone in the middle seat on a regular basis - it's narrower than the outer seats and the intruding transmission tunnel leaves little room for feet.
In the front, you get a high seating position and plenty of headroom and legroom, although the BMW X1 (with its floating centre console) feels more spacious. There's a useful storage tray for your phone as well as a relatively small central cubby box, while the door bins aren't as cavernous as in certain rivals.
As soon as you jump in the driver's seat and drive out of a parking space, you'll notice the Tonale's ultra responsive steering. It takes fewer turns from lock to lock than competitors, which means it feels instantly quite agile.
Even at higher speeds the Alfa Romeo Tonale feels impressively dynamic. No, it's not as rewarding to drive as the rear-wheel-drive Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon, but it remains composed during cornering. This doesn't really come at the expense of ride quality, either - despite its sportiness, it absorbs bumpy road surfaces well. For the ultimate in comfort, though, we'd recommend looking for a Tonale with the smaller 18-inch alloy wheels (and more absorbent tyres).
We're yet to drive the Alfa Romeo Tonale plug-in hybrid, although this will be your only choice if you want a four-wheel-drive Tonale. The standard front-drive car provides plenty of grip, though, while the communicative steering also inspires confidence.
What engines and gearboxes are available in the Alfa Romeo Tonale?
Alfa Romeo describes the entry-level Tonale as a Hybrid but, in reality, its 1.5-litre petrol engine only comes with the mildest amount of electrical assistance. The 48-volt setup uses a small 0.8kWh battery which won't let you travel any significant distance without the petrol engine kick in. It will let you coast to a stop under electric power, though, which will save you a small amount of petrol.
This engine is a bit disappointing, really, considering how good the Alfa Romeo Tonale is to drive otherwise. It produces a relatively meagre 160PS and 240Nm of torque, which is enough to take the Tonale to 62mph in 8.8 seconds. It feels slower than that, though - a tardy throttle response is frustrating at best and downright dangerous at worst. If you spot a gap when joining a roundabout, for example, you'll have missed it by the time the car responds.
We suspect the plug-in hybrid will be better. This will actually use a smaller 1.3-litre petrol engine but combined with a beefier electric motor to provide a more potent 272PS overall power output. It'll be able to run under electric power for greater distances, which should also reduce the lag when pulling away from a standstill. And it'll be significantly quicker than the mild-hybrid Tonale, accelerating to 62mph in 6.2 seconds.
Refinement and noise levels
The biggest issue in terms of refinement is the hybrid engine. As it's quite slow to respond, you'll find yourself being quite heavy with the accelerator, which (when it does react) causes the revs to soar and create a bit of a din. It's just not a relaxing driving experience.
Engine noise aside, the Alfa Romeo Tonale is a perfectly competent cruiser. There's a bit of wind and road noise on the motorway, but it rarely gets intrusive and nothing that can't be drowned out by the radio.
Safety equipment: How safe is the Alfa Romeo Tonale?
The Alfa Romeo Tonale comes with the brand's Advanced Driver Assistance Systems as standard, meaning it's capable of Level 2 autonomous driving. This means computers can control multiple aspects of the drive - in the case of the Tonale, the Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Centring system work with the forward-facing camera to keep you in your lane and a set distance from the vehicle in front. Traffic Sign Recognition and Intelligent Speed Control will adjust your speed so you don't inadvertently break the speed limit.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale has been awarded five stars for safety by Euro NCAP. That makes it one of the safest family SUVs you can buy.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale plug-in hybrid, when it arrives, is likely to be capable of very impressive fuel economy. Like all PHEVs, though, it'll depend a lot on how it's driven and how often it's charged. If you rarely charge it, it's likely to be less efficient than the mild-hybrid version.
If you're looking for an SUV that'll be very efficient over long distances, you might want to look for one with diesel power. We're not expecting a diesel Alfa Romeo Tonale in the UK (other markets get a 1.6-litre diesel), but the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Range Rover Evoque are all available with very economical diesel engines.
How reliable is the Alfa Romeo Tonale?
The words 'Alfa Romeo' and 'reliability' don't traditionally go together. The brand performed pretty mediocrely in the latest HonestJohn.co.uk Satisfaction Index, but its recent takeover by automotive supergroup Stellantis should be good news for long-term dependability.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale's platform and mild-hybrid engine are shared with the Jeep Compass. We haven't heard of many issues with the that model, so there isn't necessarily anything to be concerned about in terms of reliability with regards to the Tonale.
Insurance groups and costs
At the time of writing, the Alfa Romeo Tonale has provisionally been placed in insurance groups 28 and 29, with the launch-edition Speciale model being the cheapest to insure. In reality, you'd be best searching around for quotes to see how much it's actually going to cost you in insurance.
VED car tax: What is the annual road tax on a Alfa Romeo Tonale?
As all Alfa Romeo Tonale models are classed as 'hybrid' in the eyes of the DVLA, you'll qualify for a £10/year discount on your annual tax bill. That means you'll pay £155/year in tax after the first year.
There's a 'but'. Quite a big one, in fact. All cars with a list price of more than £40,000 are stung by the government's premium car tax. As a result, you'll have to pay an extra £355 a year in tax for five years (from the second time the vehicle is taxed) - a total figure of £510.
It doesn't take much to spec even an entry-level Alfa Romeo Tonale up to more than £40,000 so that's something to bear in mind when you're ordering your car. Metallic paint could make all the difference on your annual running costs - and you won't get around that by buying secondhand, either (as the premium car tax is based on the list price when new).
That makes the Alfa Romeo Tonale look quite expensive when you can pick up the new BMW X1 or a Range Rover Evoque for less than £35,000.
The good news, though, is that even the Alfa Romeo Tonale Ti feels far from entry-level. You get 18-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels and a 10.25-inch navigation system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto as standard.
Trim levels and standard equipment
The Alfa Romeo Tonale will be available in a choice of two distinctive trims, Ti and Veloce, as well as a Speciale launch edition.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale Ti is recognisable by its a satin chrome V front bezel, 18-inch dark finish diamond cut alloy wheels with coloured Alfa Romeo centre wheel caps, a gloss-black body kit, with satin side and front inserts, and black painted mirror caps. Inside, sporty black cloth upholstery, driver’s seat with four-way lumbar adjustment, 60/40 split rear seats with ski pass and sport leather steering wheel with start button mark out the Ti.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce builds on this with dark miron V front bezel, veloce badging and body kit, with matt side and front inserts, gloss black window surround, privacy glass and 19-inch dark finish diamond cut alloy wheels with monochrome Alfa Romeo centre wheel caps and red painted Brembo brake calipers. Inside, the Veloce adds aluminium pedals and door sills and column mounted aluminium shift paddles to its distinctive black and red Alcantara upholstery. Under the skin, the Veloce also gains Alfa Dual Stage Valve suspension (DVS) for a more compliant ride.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale Speciale launch edition mirrors the look of the Veloce but adds 20-inch dark finish diamond cut alloy wheels and dark miron Speciale badge as standard.
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