Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - Tonale
Alfa Romeo models
Drop-dead gorgeous styling inside and out, intuitive human-machine interface, comfortable driving position, sensible rear-seat accommodation, well calibrated driver assistance technologies
Room for improvement
Obvious Jeep underpinnings, driveline calibration is disjointed, light and sensitive steering feel, expensive service pricing, no head-up display, tyre noise is grating on larger alloy wheels
Stylish looks and sensible packaging face off against a clumsy mild-hybrid driveline
23 Dec 2023
By MATT BROGAN
THERE is no doubt that the Alfa Romeo Tonale is one of the most attractive SUVs on the Aussie market.
But, in being based on the Jeep Compass, the gorgeous Small SUV segment model is at something of a disadvantage from the get-go, working hard to fit a mould that feels more at home on gridded surface streets of the USA than the high Italian mountain passes it is named after.
To be completely fair, this isn’t a sportscar – despite what its looks might tell you. This is a practical and efficient city-centric SUV that has family buyer’s needs at heart. So, if you’re chasing that sporty compact number of your dreams, perhaps look elsewhere in the Alfa Romeo range…
The Alfa Romeo Tonale took a little longer than expected to arrive in local showrooms, thanks in no small part to the global semi-conductor shortage, finally making landfall late in 2022. The stylish model maintains classic Alfa Romeo styling cues – including the V-shaped Scudetto grille and five-hole ‘telephone dial’ wheels – but with a brand-first 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine coupled with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and 48-volt mild hybrid system driving the front wheels.
Priced from $49,900 plus on-road costs in Ti form and $56,400 +ORC in Veloce trim (tested), the Alfa Romeo Tonale Hybrid range delivers 118kW of power at 5750rpm and 240Nm of torque from 15000rpm. Combined cycle fuel consumption is listed at 5.6 litres per 100km.
Like many hybrid vehicles, the Tonale can be driven in electric mode for short distances and at low speeds (under 15km/h). The 15kW/55Nm electric motor – which draws from a 0.8kWh lithium-ion battery pack – is used primarily for silent starts, acceleration assistance, and to recover energy when decelerating or braking.
Alfa Romeo says the Tonale’s cabin is inspired by past racing models and “promotes passion and driveability”. Sporty touches include Alcantara upholstery, leatherette finishes and the brand’s new Cannocchiale 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster which itself has a few nods to historical models.
A 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment array brings wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity to the range, which also offers a comprehensive array of driver assistance and security systems including a 360-degree camera, Level 2 autonomous driving capabilities, My Alfa Connect mobile phone app, LED adaptive matrix headlights with welcome and goodbye gesture adaptive driving beam technology.
Alfa Romeo has also equipped the Tonale with brake-by-wire technology that it says, “guarantees a strong pedal feel, immediate response and added safety benefits”. The chassis further benefits from Koni-sourced frequency selective dampers and electrically assisted steering.
Based on a modified version of the Fiat 500X/500L, Jeep Compass and Renegade platform, the Alfa Romeo scored a five-star EuroNCAP safety rating when tested this July.
Weigh the Alfa Romeo Tonale against other premium Small segment SUVs and it stands up rather well.
The list price is very reasonable and includes a generous level of standard kit as you’ve no doubt noticed above, even when stacked against the likes of the Audi Q3 (from $53,400), BMW X1 (from $60,400), Lexus UX (from $46,085), Mercedes-Benz GLA (from $68,900), and Volvo XC40 (from $54,990).
Even the extras pricing is well positioned. Premium paint is $1600 (Montreal Green is $2500), a panoramic sunroof is $2500, 20-inch alloys $1500, and Alfa’s Lusso Pack $4500, and includes perforated leather seats with front seat heat and ventilation, 14-speaker sound, electric seat adjustment with memory, and a heated steering wheel.
The cabin is thoughtfully laid out with an acceptable mix of hard buttons and touchscreen controls. All are easy to wrap your head around, though we would have appreciated hard buttons for the seat heating and ventilation instead of using the touchscreen, and the heated steering wheel control should be moved to the driver’s side...
The volume and track buttons behind the steering wheel spokes feel very “Jeep” but become quite intuitive once you’re familiar with their position.
Alfa Romeo has done a commendable job of packaging the Tonale. Four adults fit comfortably across the two rows, the optional sunroof taking only a smidge from the available headroom. Seating is comfortable and the driver’s pew well positioned, offering a terrific relationship with the pedals, gear selector and steering wheel.
Further back, the flat floor of the cargo area makes it easy to pile in a week’s worth of groceries, Alfa Romeo quoting 500 litres of volume in five-seat mode and 1550 litres all told. The inclusion of a space saver spare wheel beneath the cargo floor is a win for Aussie buyers.
Based on older Jeep underpinnings, the Tonale handles better than expected and is reasonably comfortable in Normal mode. Firming the adaptive dampers does little to detract from the ride quality, even on larger wheels, though we did note that the tyre rumble was intrusive when riding on the optional 20-inchers.
The steering is light and a little over-sensitive for our likes, and though the weighting can be changed, it remains too sharp for the application – as if it is trying hard to deliver some “Alfaness” that isn’t really there.
We also took issue with the disjointed driveline which in our opinion detracts from the experience overall.
Moving away from standstill the Tonale is slow, the petrol engine seeming to take a while to engage the transmission and move into play. The electric motor takes away from, rather than adding to the fluidity of the Tonale in urban running, while the dual-clutch transmission is tremulous between shifts, lagging and jolting as it swaps from cog to cog.
On the plus side, fuel economy is reasonable. On test, we averaged around 6.4 litres per 100km, almost a litre more than the claim. It’s a fair effort considering the 1600-odd kilogram kerb weight of the vehicle, and one that may improve further as the car is run in.
One of the things we also appreciated about the Tonale – and something we certainly can’t say about many of its competitors – is how well calibrated the ADAS settings are. In experiencing the Tonale in city and country environs we found the lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, speed sign recognition and auto high beam to all operate in line with expectations. If only some others could take a leaf from this book...
Alfa Romeo offers the Tonale with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty which is inclusive of roadside assistance and capped-price servicing. The latter is required every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first), and is quite expensive in the scheme of things, adding up to $3675 over five years.
In summing up, the Alfa Romeo Tonale is a good vehicle that is really let down by its clumsy mild-hybrid driveline. In our view, it would benefit greatly from a significant recalibration of the driveline, and perhaps the steering system too. Get those items right, and there is no reason this smart-looking Italian SUV isn’t every bit a rival for the competitors we listed above.
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