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Driven: 2023 Alfa Romeo Tonale Is Big On Style And Space, But Hybrid Needs Work

Aerial Panoramic of Skaneateles Lake and Village

The Tonale might just be the car that finally helps Alfa Romeo hit the big time. Seriously. Yeah, we know people said the same well-nigh the Giulia and Stelvio, and yet despite stuff well received, neither has sold in huge numbers. But the Tonale could transpiration that. Does it deserve to? We jumped overdue the wheel of a UK-spec entry-level, front-wheel momentum mild-hybrid to find out.

Alfa has given customers multiple reasons not to buy its cars, including interior quality that didn’t match the competition’s, crappy multimedia systems and a reputation for poor dealer service. But one of the reasons it doesn’t sell unbearable cars (a pathetic 35,000 in 2021; Porsche shifted 38,000 911s in the same period) is that the trademark is woolgathering from key segments of the car market. It’s had no electrified offering and no small SUV, but the Tonale fixes both omissions.

The opportunities are huge. One in every four cars sold in the UK is a C-segment SUV, or subcompact SUV as they’re known in the U.S, where the rate is closer to 10 percent but is the fastest-growing segment. Alfa’s UK team says it currently only covers 15 percent of the car market with its current two-model, Giulia and Stelvio lines, but that’s going to expand to 40 percent with the wing of the Tonale, and 70 percent when the plane smaller, all-electric SUV, potentially tabbed Brennero, arrives next year.

Quick Facts › › ›

› Model: 2023 Alfa Romeo Tonale Hybrid (MHEV) 160

› Price UK (OTR): £38,595

› Powertrain: 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol-hybrid

› Output: 158hp (petrol) 20 hp (electric) / 177 lb-ft (petrol) 41 lb-ft (electric)

› 0-62 MPH: 8.8 seconds (0-100km/h)

› Top Speed: 132 mph (212 km/h)

› Economy WLTP Comb: 49.6 – 43.5 UK mpg / 41.3 – 36.2 US mpg / 5.7 – 6.5 l/100km

So the fact that the Tonale is aimed at a sector that’s once huge, and still growing, ways it’s once off to a good start. That it looks unconfined ways it’s off to an plane largest one. There’s only so much you can do with a blobby, small SUV shape, and the Tonale’s overhangs midpoint its profile isn’t its hottest angle. But in the metal this is handsome car with plenty of soft Alfa curves and numerous tomfool details like the front and rear LED lights that reference the brutalist Zagato-designed SZ of the late 1980s.

Related: Get A Close Squint At The 2023 Alfa Romeo Tonale In 90 New Images

Stellantis’s new STLA platforms weren’t ready in time for this car so under the skin is the same tracery used in cars like the Jeep Compass and Renegade, and Fiat 500L and X. Not that you’d know it to squint at. The Alfa has its own unshared interior and exterior styling, or at least it does in Europe, where the worryingly similar (and surpassingly less expensive) Dodge Hornet won’t be available.

Better quality, if not class-leading

One zone in which Alfa has unchangingly had to requite second-best to Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes is in interior quality. The plastics were never up to scratch, or maybe just too nonflexible and scratchy, the infotainment systems felt a generation overdue and there’s no sign on the Stelvio or Giulia of the digital gauge cluster modern buyers seem to want. But while the Tonale doesn’t exactly redefine quality and refinement for premium cars, it’s definitely taken a giant leap forward for Alfa.

True, some of the plastics are still harder than the ones you’ll find in rival cars, but you might only really notice if you go looking for them like journalists do, prodding and poking shit of the car that owners will never touch. And plane those that aren’t soft-touch, like the zone on the lower console, are at least styled in a way that ways they don’t squint cheap. If you jumped out of a new BMW X1 and into the Tonale you’d certainly say the BMW felt increasingly expensive, but the Tonale’s motel is still a unconfined place to be.

One of the reasons it’s a much largest place to be than its Stelvio big brother is the new Uconnect 5 infotainment system. The 10.25-in letterbox format exhibit is well-done and responsive, and is equipped with Amazon Alexa, meaning the voice-control unquestionably works, and you can plane use it to tenancy functions in your house while on the move if you moreover have an Alexa at home. Handy if the kids are in the habit of whacking up the heating the minute you leave the house. Alfa says the Giulia and Stelvio will be updated with this new media system soon.

Also new is a 12.3-inch “cannochiale” digital gauge cluster. It’s housed under a archetype double-bubble dashboard top, just like on a 1960s Alfa, and the default layout, which features virtual versions of a round speedometer and rev counter plane features 1960s-style fonts and an odometer designed to squint like an old-fashioned revolving trip meter. Unfortunately the numbers are pretty small and nonflexible to read so you’ll inevitably end up using the digital readout located between the clocks to trammels your speed, just like everyone has washed-up on Porsches for years. And if you prefer something a little increasingly modern you can tap the right-hand post stalk to reconfigure the gauge pack to show a increasingly contemporary-looking instrument setup.

Other techy features include an NFT record of the car’s service history and the availability of Alfa’s first surround-view camera system, which will likely prove itself invaluable: the windscreen pillars are surprisingly fat and the rear visibility isn’t great, either. But it’s unconfined to see that Alfa hasn’t gone overboard with digital technology. You still get a tuft of nonflexible keys for heating controls, and plane the gearstick is an old-fashioned lever with specified gear positions.

Decent passenger space, loads of luggage capacity

You don’t buy a small SUV expecting to fit a football team inside, but the Tonale is at least class-competitive. There’s probably just well-nigh unbearable space to fit four six foot passengers in one go, and there’s moreover the option of taking a fifth passenger, though we wouldn’t fancy drawing that short straw for a multi-hour trip.

It could do with some increasingly storage up-front (the door pockets are small) and the rear seat is a bit firm, but we’re definitely impressed by the value of luggage space Alfa has packed into a car that measures just 178-inches (4,528 mm) from bumper to bumper. The cargo bay can swallow 17.7 cu-ft (500 liters), which is just 0.2 cu-ft (5 litres) less than you you get in BMW’s commodious new X1, and far increasingly than the Audi Q3, Lexus, Volvo XC40 or any of the Stellantis cars (Dodge Hornet excepted) that share the Tonale’s platform can offer.

Quiet at a cruise, tidy in the bends

Alfa is chasing variegated buyers with this car, shifting from a predominantly older male regulars to a increasingly plane male-female split and where customers are likely to be younger and have young children. So practicality and ease of use is a worthier priority here than it has been on Alfa’s other cars. And that variegated focus has brought good and bad results.

On the positive side, the turning whirligig is usefully tight, road and wind noise levels are pleasingly low, and though only higher-spec Veloce cars in the UK get adaptive dampers, both the Ti and Veloce ride well. The adaptive car obviously feels increasingly sophisticated on gnarly surfaces, but the Ti on its increasingly vital frequency selective dampers still strikes good wastefulness between stuff well-appointed and feeling athletic.

Related: 2023 Alfa Romeo Tonale Lands With Hybrid Options, NFT Tech And The Promise Of U.S. Sales

But while many of those newer buyers might love the light steering for navigating parking spots on the school run, the rest of us will find it far too light. And that’s a shame considering it detracts from what’s unquestionably a pretty good chassis. There’s very little soul roll and good vertical soul tenancy on bumpy sections of road in the stock Ti, and in the Veloce too, provided you’ve shifted its DNA momentum mode selector to Dynamic and have the adaptive dampers in their firmer mode.

You moreover get Alfa’s trademark fast-steering ratio and a front end that seems unswayable not to relinquish its grip on the road, meaning this is a car that feels really light on its feet. It’s fun to punt lanugo a twisty road, but the lack of steering weight and finger just takes the whet off the experience. At higher speeds, and in Dynamic mode, the assistance is reduced, but try zipping through a municipality roundabout that requires a quick transpiration in direction, but at a relatively low speed, and the lack of arm muscle required makes it finger a little nervous and disconnected.

Mild-hybrid leaves us mildly disappointed

Adding to that shredded feeling is a powertrain that’s a bit of a mixed bag. The fact that this is Alfa’s first overly electrified car might have you wondering why we left the engine stuff until so later in the story, but while everything we’ve covered so far will probably wield to every Tonale, not every car will get the same engine we’ve tried.

Some European countries will get a front-wheel momentum diesel Tonale, for instance. In the U.S. the launch engine will be a fairly conventional 2.0-liter turbocharged motor with all-wheel drive, 256 hp (260 PS) and no hybrid assistance whatsoever. And come next spring UK buyers will get the option of a 272 hp (275 PS) plug-in Tonale powered by a combination of a turbocharged 1.3 driving the front wheels and an electric motor working on the rear axle.

For now though, the sole UK engine is a 1.5-liter petrol engine with variable-geometry turbo that drives the front wheels with the help of a mid-hybrid motor. The engine kicks out 158 hp (160 PS; there’s moreover a 128 hp / 130 PS version in mainland Europe) and the electric motor can add up to 20 hp (20 PS), or plane indulge electric-only driving in unrepealable circumstances, like when creeping withal in a traffic jam.

Reasonable performance, poor response

As you’ve probably guessed from those power figures, the Tonale is not a rapid car in this guise. Zero to 62 mph (100 km/h) takes 8.8 seconds, and while it never feels outright slow and can be hustled along an empty road pretty quickly, there’s never a ton of horses in reserve. The reality is that it’s probably got zaftig performance for most non-enthusiast drivers, at least in Europe, however our whinge isn’t really with the value of performance anyway, but rather the way you wangle it.

For all its variable-geometry trickery, the turbocharged engine’s response to a kick of right-foot is poor, and it’s not helped by a seven-speed transmission that is moreover slow to respond. It’s possible to mash the throttle right lanugo to the floor and lift it when up then without noticing any transpiration in forward momentum, and plane holding the revs at 3,500 rpm or 4,000 rpm, then flattening the pedal as you might when you were preparing for, and then delivering out, an overtaking maneuver, there’s still an worrying wait for the power to kick in.

The transmission moreover seems too eager to default to higher gears, plane when you’re tanking withal a twisty road and need it to hang on to lower ones to requite you some engine braking effect on the tideway to bends. If you like to hustle you’re weightier off sliding the gearstick wideness to the left, where you can manually select your gears by rocking the stick backwards and forwards, or, if you’ve splashed for the Veloce, by using the gorgeous aluminum shift paddles (the Ti doesn’t get paddles).

What well-nigh the hybrid’s EV potential? Technically, it’s a summery hybrid with a small 0.8 kWh battery, so it’s never going to let you commute to work on electric power, and our country-road route whimsically showed it off in its weightier light. But it does tingle withal in traffic without the engine running, will indulge the combustion engine to cut out at up to 50 mph (80 km/h), and I was worldly-wise to slide slowly up to 20 mph (32 km/h) purely using the battery, which suggests it could have some real fuel-saving benefits for urban drivers. You can’t plug it in though, and I did notice some occasional shunting at plane low speeds when running on the electric motor.

Well equipped, but rivals forfeit less

UK Tonale prices start at £38,595 ($42,545) for the launch-edition Speciale, which for some reason forfeit £1,500 ($1,653) less than the Ti it’s based on, but is dressed up to squint like the top of the range Veloce. That must make it the pick of the range, provided those big wheels don’t ruin the ride.

The Ti itself financing £39,995 ($44,089) and while it doesn’t get the Veloce’s fancy shift paddles it’s still very well equipped. Matrix LED headlights, a hands-free tailgate, keyless go, 18-inch wheels and a wireless phone-charging pad are all standard. But the £42,495 ($46,847) Veloce looks undeniably largest thanks to its 20-inch wheels and grey, rather than gloss black, exterior trim, and it moreover features adaptive dampers.

Related: We Get Up Close To The New 2023 BMW X1 Compact SUV

The long list of standard equipment is important considering you can get into an Audi Q3 or new BMX X1 for as little as £34,000 ($37,494), and when you price match the three cars the two Germans unhook increasingly power than the Alfa. It’s plane possible to buy a PHEV Q3 S line 45 TFSi e that is scrutinizingly 2 seconds faster to 62 mph and offers 50 miles (80 km) of electric driving for the same price as a Tonale Veloce MHEV. Maybe the Tonale could shrug that competition whispered if it kicked ass in every other area, but it doesn’t.


Related: 14,000 Dodge Hornet Orders In 24 Hours? If Alfa’s Tonale Bombs Blame The Brand, Not The Car

Don’t get us wrong, there’s lots to like well-nigh the Alfa Romeo Tonale, and I’m sure it will transform Alfa’s sales figures. It looks great, it’s well equipped, has loads of luggage space, rides well, feels agile, and here in the UK the low CO2 icon will make it lulu to visitor car drivers who get taxed on their car’s emissions.

But the competition is strong and well priced, we’re not fans of the Alfa’s over-light steering and this MHEV drivetrain isn’t as good as it could be. There’s a unconfined car in the Tonale waiting to get out, but we might have to wait for one of the other powertrains (PHEV in Europe, 2.0-liter non-hybrid in the U.S.) to come on line next year surpassing we get to really wits it.

Note: We asked you what you wanted to know well-nigh the Tonale and we’ll imbricate those questions in a separate post

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