We get to grips with Alfa Romeo’s first plug-in hybrid – the Tonale SUV…
Slotting in below the Stelvio in the Alfa range, the Tonale is arguably one of the best-looking mid-sized crossovers on the market.
It’s athletic and well proportioned, it features some delicious Alfa Romeo design cures, such as the narrow ‘triple’ headlights, trademark shield grille and offset number plate at the front, while its pert rear is endowed with a full-width light bar.
And as you can see, it looks especially good in Montreal Green, though sadly this is a £1,500 option.
Inside, the dashboard design is a successful mix of the old and the new.
A retro-hooded 12.3-inch digital driver’s instrument cluster is standard, with graphics designed to replicate Alfa’s traditional analogue dials. This is complemented by a 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with Amazon Alexa – which is integrated with a voice assistant.
Refreshingly, it’s not totally minimalist either, so there’s a sprinkling of dials and switches for essentials such as climate control.
Priced from £45,995, the Tonale’s PHEV family crossover’s rivals include the BMW X1, Volvo XC40, Audi Q3, Range Rover Evoque and Lexus NX.
It’s worth noting that these competitors are all in the premium sector, which is exactly where Alfa Romeo is pitching the Tonale – so no pressure there then.
And frankly, the Tonale comes close. It’s well put together and interior quality is, for the most part, good, but it’s let down in a few areas – for instance, the use of harder plastics on the doors.
Overall, the cabin has a sporty feel, but it’s also fairly practical with plenty of space for two adults to sit comfortably in the back. A third can perch in the middle, but they will have to straddle the transmission tunnel. That said, unlike some cars, there is space to place your feet under the front seats.
Boot capacity is a modest 385 litres, expanding to 1,430 litres when the 60:40 split seats are folded, putting it on a par with an average family hatchback.
The Tonale’s plug-in hybrid system is an upgraded version of the powertrain used in the Jeep Compass 4Xe (its Stellantis group cousin). In other words, there’s a 1.3-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol engine mated to 15.5kWh battery.
Alfa Romeo claims this gives an EV range of up to 43 miles and CO2 emissions as low as 29g/km.
It’s four-wheel drive too, with the electric motor’s 121bhp going to the rear axle, while the petrol engine sends its 178bhp to the front.
A total of 276bhp is generated, resulting in a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds. Top speed is 128mph, and (I’m told) it will happily stay in EV mode up until 84mph.
I tested the Tonale Q4 in Veloce spec (£48,495), but there’s also an entry-level Ti.
The Ti version is externally distinguished by a satin chrome V front bezel, 18-inch dark finish diamond cut alloy wheels, a gloss-black body kit, with satin side and front inserts, privacy glass and black painted mirror caps. Inside, there’s black cloth upholstery, a driver’s seat with four-way lumbar adjustment and a leather steering wheel.
The Veloce has a darker V front bezel, Veloce badging and body kit, a gloss black window surround, 19-inch dark alloy wheels and red painted Brembo brake callipers. Inside, the Veloce features aluminium door sills, aluminium shift paddles, plus black and red Alcantara upholstery. Under the skin, it also gets Alfa Dual Stage Valve suspension (DSV).
Slip inside and the driving position is fashionably high and all-round visibility is good. The footwell is a tad cosy though, and I couldn’t find a comfortable place for my left foot on longer journeys.
Press the start button on the steering wheel and you’ll more likely than not set off in silent EV mode.
A twist of Alfa Romeo’s ‘DNA’ drive mode selector dial enables you to tweak the engine, steering, suspension and transmission responses.
‘Dynamic’ mode uses both the electric motor and the internal combustion engine to deliver a sportier driving performance. ‘Natural’ optimises power and minimises fuel consumption, with the combined work of the internal combustion engine and electric motor, while ‘Advance Efficiency’ mode is electric-only driving mode, so ideal for low emissions zones.
You’ll spend most of your time in default Natural mode with the engine comfortably switching between electric and petrol power.
The first thing you notice on the road is that the steering is very light and doesn’t offer much in the way of feedback. It’s not a deal breaker, but it takes a bit of getting used to.
Natural mode is absolutely fine for everyday driving. The ride is supple, it feels totally composed on the motorway and surprisingly little road and wind noise spoils the calm of the cabin.
If you want a little fun, then slip it into Dynamic. The whole car sharpens up, and it’s in its element on faster, flowing roads.
The only downside is that the little petrol engine becomes raspy at higher revs and the six-speed automatic gearbox is sometimes a little hesitant with its shifts.
This can be remedied by using the aluminium paddle shifters behind the steering wheel, but these are not perfect either. They are enormous and protrude beyond the column stalks, which means they are invariably in the way when you want to indicate or operate the wipers.
There are various settings for regenerative braking (it’s always satisfying to watching the EV light pop up when you’re coasting, for instance), charging on the move and saving battery charge.
Overall, Alfa’s engineers have done a great job of disguising the Tonale’s weight (1,910kg), and it stays impressively flat in more challenging corners.
This is partly down to the superb 53:47 front/rear weight distribution, which is complemented by excellent grip levels.
So, you can have some fun in the Tonale PHEV, but it will impact fuel economy. In theory it’s capable of 217.3mpg, but as with all plug-in hybrids, figures like that are only possible on shorter trips with a charged battery.
On longer journeys, expect fuel economy between 40-50mpg, because in effect you are driving around in a relatively small engined car with a depleted battery.
Talking of which, the Tonale’s charging speed maxes out at 7.4kW so it’ll take 2.5 hours to recharge the battery, home or away. With a full charge, Alfa Romeo claims the PHEV can travel 43 miles on electric power alone, but we found that 35 miles is more realistic.
The Tonale earned an impressive five-star rating in Euro NCAP safety tests. Standard equipment includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
And if you have cause to brake suddenly, there’s no missing the unique collision warning – a bizarre multi-track hooting sound.
So, ultimately the Tonale is an impressive start for Alfa Romeo on its electrification journey, and the plug-in hybrid’s all-electric range and low CO2 emissions should make it an attractive company car option.
Finally, it’s also worth considering other more affordable PHEVs in the hugely important family-sized SUV sector, such as the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson. Plus, the Tonale is also available as a slightly cheaper mild hybrid.
Verdict: If you’re in the market for a sporty family SUV but not quite ready to go fully electric, then the Alfa Romeo Tonale plug-in hybrid should be on your shortlist. Not only does it ooze kerb appeal, but it’s practical and drives well.