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Alfa Romeo Tonale National World

Alfa’s first compact SUV is also its first hybrid, but how does it stack up against the well-established models from BMW, Audi, Mercedes and Volvo?

Alfa Romeo Tonale represents a new chapter for the Italian brand.

It’s not only the brand’s first compact SUV – expanding the Alfa model lineup by 33% – but it also marks the first step in the move toward electrification thanks to two hybrid powertrains.

Tonale doesn’t quite get into an easy field. In terms of price, size and ambition, it’s against models from all the usual suspects from premium brands. The BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Mercedes GLA are the clear leaders in this segment but there are also the likes of the Volvo XC40 and Range Rover Evoque to consider.

So the Tonale is not going to be easy but the first impression is that it offers something a little different from the packaging which could prove to be the success that Alfa Romeo needs.

Design and Interior

Alfa talks about Tonale being a brand transformation but you wouldn’t know it to look at it. The moment you see it, you know it’s the Alpha thanks to the famous triangular shield flanked by two sets of triangular headlights that trace back to the Brera and beyond. Even from the side, the shape of the headlights is enough to distinguish it as an Alfa and the three-piece taillights linked by a full-width light strip give a slightly distinctive touch to the overall rear end. The overall effect is the Stelvio deflated and honed – which isn’t a bad thing.

The interior is less than the Stelvio-lite, although the circular air vents are familiar and there’s a similar dual-shell instrumentation which here houses an all-digital display. The beautifully decorated instrument panel extends behind the 10.25-inch touchscreen and its pattern is reflected in the upholstery of the sport seats in canvas, Alcantara or vegan “leather”. The materials are generally of the quality you’d expect at this price although there is still the odd bit of curved plastic if you look around.

The cabin is not the most spacious in the class. Leg, head and shoulder room feels cramped compared to the Evoque or the XC40, and while the needs of rear seat passengers are met relatively well, that comes at the expense of those at the front, where taller drivers feel cramped. Your luggage has at least a lot of space in the 500-liter luggage compartment.

Engine and drive

The Tonale marks the beginning of a radical transformation for Alfa Romeo as the brand famous for its howling V6 engines moves towards full electrification. Its first EV will be with us in 2024 and three years later, the range will be entirely battery powered. However, the Tonale is a nice introduction to the electric Alfas idea, firing up with four mildew hybrids before the plug-in hybrid variant arrives.

Power comes from a 1.5 liter turbocharged petrol engine powered by a 15 kW electric motor. Unlike most mild hybrids, which simply provide a minimal increase in torque to the running engine, the Tonale is capable of driving on purely electric power in some conditions. The EV function is mostly used for low-speed maneuvers and crawling into traffic, but it can also start to drive at a higher speed, lower demand. It’s still no match for a “full” hybrid but it feels more useful than a regular MHEV and delivers a claimed economy of 49.6 mpg.

The Tonale’s 158-hp, 177-pound model doesn’t look amazing on paper but out of town – where it can be a bit tiered – it’s actually remarkably agile. It responds well in any gear and combines speed more desirable than its 8.8-second 0-62 time suggests, although you’ll need to be firm with the throttle to encourage it and ideally want it to be in the “Dynamic” driving mode.

This dynamic mode sharpens the dull throttle response a bit, adds a bit of weight to the steering and reveals one of the Tonale’s main strengths — its controllability. There is liveliness and straightforwardness in the Tonale’s demeanor that sets it apart from established and largely lethargic competitors. We’re not talking about Giulia’s levels of engagement but there’s exhilarating weight and speed to steering and in the open road, the Tonale is more agile and fun than its rivals.

Choose the Veloce specification and you’ll get adaptive dampers that tighten up in Dynamic Mode. These might work brilliantly on smooth European roads but here at Blighty you’ll be delighted with the button that turns it into a softer setting. With or without adaptive dampers, the Tonale’s ride oscillates unpleasantly between conformable and taut, coping well with big bumps but struggling somewhat due to small imperfections.

Price and specifications

Alfa keeps the Tonale collection simple, with only two regular levels to choose from – Ti and Veloce – plus a special limited edition. Ti models start at £39.995 while the Veloce costs another £2,500. All versions are generously equipped with 18-inch alloys (phone calls, naturally), 10.25-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging, dual-zone air conditioning, auto-dipping matrix LED headlights, power tailgate and adaptive cruise control.

The Veloce brings an extra sporty vibe with 19-inch alloys, painted brake calipers, a bespoke body kit, and darker exterior trim. Metal pedals and oversized metal shift knobs give the interior a sporty feel, along with Alcantara upholstery, as well as those adaptive dampers.

Rule

Tonale faces some very serious competition but does enough to warrant a good look. Others may still beat it when it comes to interior design, space and quality, but its lively driving characteristics, distinctive exterior design and generous specs make it an interesting new contender in a crowded segment.

Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce

price: £42,495 (£43,145 depending on testing); engine: 1.5 liter, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol, light hybrid; Energy: 158bhp; torque: 177 lb ft.; Connecting: Seven-speed automatic maximum speed: 132 mph 0-62 mph: 8.8 seconds Economie: 47.9 mpg CO2 emissions: 135 g/km

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