What Car? says...
The Alfa Romeo Tonale has a tough task on its hands: to keep existing Alfa fans happy while appealing to a new breed of buyers looking for an intriguing alternative to the familiar family SUV lineup.
The first part could be tricky, because very few SUVs are anywhere near sporty enough to satisfy the 'Alfisti' (die-hard fans of the Italian car maker). Still, the Tonale does have a lot to offer in other respects.
As well as having eye-catching looks, a large dose of practicality and the promise of being fun to drive, both versions have hybrid tech of some sort, so it benefits from electrical assistance, which can help reduce running costs.
The entry-level Tonale has a 0.8kWh battery pack, so unlike many other mild hybrids (MHEVs) it can travel short distances at low speeds on electric power alone.
There's also a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), which has a much bigger (15.5kWh) battery and a predicted electric-only range of up to 42 miles. Emissions figures are competitive, and running costs should be low, especially if you run one as a company car.
Alfa Romeo has injected a lot of other technical wizardry into the Tonale. For example, it can accept over-the-air updates to keep the infotainment system up to date, while an Amazon Alexa voice assistant makes interacting with your car much easier.
There's also something called 'non-fungible-token blockchain technology' (NFT) for servicing records. It's supposed to make it easier for owners to prove that the car has been well looked after (at resale time, for example), but most manufacturers have offered a similar facility for years in the form of digital service records.
So, is the Alfa Romeo Tonale one of the best family SUVs you get, and does it live up to Alfa’s sporting heritage, despite using a range of frugal hybrid engines?
Well, over the next few pages of this review, we'll tell you. We'll also investigate how the Tonale compares with its main rivals, including the Audi Q3, the BMW X1, the Hyundai Tucson, the Kia Sportage and the Volvo XC40.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Alfa Romeo Tonale's entry-level hybrid option is called the Hybrid 160 and combines a 158bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine with a small electric motor to chivvy it along at low speeds. The flagship plug-in hybrid (PHEV) delivers a more potent 276bhp by teaming up a 1.3-litre petrol engine that powers the front wheels with a beefier electric motor to propel the back ones.
Although it's our pick of the range, the Hybrid 160 is quite a bit slower than the PHEV, and the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage have a lot more power and bigger batteries. Both can accelerate up to 62mph from rest in well under 8sec, while the Alfa takes a comparatively lengthy 8.8sec. Even the dynamically underwhelming Lexus UX hybrid feels peppier.
The PHEV version drops the 0-62mph time down to 6.2sec, and while its forward momentum is not accompanied by a particularly thrilling soundtrack, it does cover ground effortlessly. Alfa Romeo gives a predicted electric range of 40 miles, but on our real-world test loop, the engine cut in after just 28.2 miles. Still, that's better than the 25.3 miles we got from the Range Rover Evoque P300e.
Both versions of the Tonale have an automatic gearbox with seven speeds on the Hybrid 160 and six on the PHEV. They shift gears quickly and smoothly, but the mild-hybrid is a little more responsive and eager to shift down a gear when you need a burst of acceleration. The PHEV tends to use the electric motor to build momentum before swapping down a cog.
In terms of driving dynamics, Alfa has sought to inject some dynamism into the Tonale, but it hasn't quite worked. The steering is quick and alert like the Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon, but unlike the Giulia it doesn't have enough weighting. As a result, you're constantly making little corrections on country roads. Combined with suspension that tends to lurch with every steering input, there's not much joy to be had from driving quickly. If you want a family SUV that is fun to drive, take a look at the Porsche Macan.
More positively, the Hybrid 160's ride quality on 20in wheels and standard suspension is impressive, with low-speed shocks from potholes being absorbed well. However, if you want the best ride comfort, the smaller 19in wheels are even better at isolating bumps and the adaptive suspension (available as standard on Veloce models) is superb. We also love that you can ramp the driving mode dial up to Dynamic (giving you firmer steering and a more assertive gearbox) while leaving the suspension in comfort.
Wind and road noise is relatively well contained at motorway speeds, but an Evoque is even more hushed. You also have to put up with a bit of whistling from the turbo and the engine note sounds rather gruff.
The brakes are good, with a firm and progressive feel. In the PHEV version, flicking from Normal or Advanced efficiency modes to Dynamic quickens up the response of the brake pedal as the regenerative braking effect becomes stronger. It takes bit of getting used to but feels natural once you're familiar with it.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Behind the wheel of the Alfa Romeo Tonale you get a comfortable driving position with plenty of adjustment in the steering wheel and seat. Regardless of which trim you go for, that includes adjustable lumbar support, firm seat padding that’s supportive over long journeys and a generous amount of side bolstering to hold you in place.
The driving position can’t match the lofty heights of the Range Rover Evoque or Volvo XC40 and the tall dashboard tricks you into thinking you’re sitting lower than you would in the BMW X1 (even though the Tonale is a smidge taller).
Forward visibility is fine, but the chunky side and rear pillars, and tall rear headrests obscure what you can see behind you. Fortunately, you get parking sensors all round and a rear-view camera as standard (a 360-degree camera system is on the options list).
It’s a pity the interior isn’t a bit more special. The dashboard looks smart from a distance, and the presence of easy-to-use physical controls for the air-con is commendable, but you won't be mistaking this for an Audi Q3 or Evoque when you look at material quality. The grainy soft-touch plastics aren’t as smart as those used in rivals, and there are hard, unappealing plastics lower down. Non-premium family SUVs – including the latest Nissan Qashqai – disguise them much more.
Every Tonale has a 10.3in infotainment screen with Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity. Unlike the older system used in the Alfa Romeo Giulia and the Alfa Romeo Stelvio the Tonale doesn’t have a handy rotary controller to interact with it, hurting its ease of use on the move. You can use the Alexa voice recognition software to handle some basic commands.
The operating system is quick to respond, with sharp graphics and a simple menu structure. There are shortcut buttons, but they run down the left of the screen and are a bit small, so the driver has to lean over and aim carefully to get to certain functions. That's not the case in the Q3 and other rivals.
The driver gets a 12.3 digital instrument panel, which is sharp to look at and has plenty of information available, but with fewer layout options than the Virtual Cockpit in the Q3. You can upgrade the sound system to a 14-speaker Harman Kardon system, which sounds very good, but the standard system performs well anyway, so we wouldn't pay the extra.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Head and leg room up front in the Alfa Romeo Tonale are fine for six-footers, but shoulder room is tight compared with its major rivals. Storage wise, it doesn't have the cavernous hollowed-out door cards of our favourite family SUV of 2022 – the Volvo XC40 – which can handle big bottles of water and a laptop, for example.
Trying to fit three passengers across the back seats would be a challenge. There's enough head room for a 6ft 2in tall adult but not much more, so it might be wise to leave the option box for the panoramic roof unticked. There's also less rear leg room than in the BMW X1 and the XC40, but at least there’s some space to tuck your feet under the front seats.
The back seats split 60/40 to fold down to extend the boot space, rather than the more useful 40/20/40 split found in the X1 and the Range Rover Evoque. There's a ski hatch behind the fold-down centre armrest that allows you to thread longer items through and keep the two outer seats in use.
The boot in the mild-hybrid Tonale is a reasonable size for the class, with a volume of 500 litres (more than the XC40 and a similar size to the X1 and Evoque). It's also a useful square shape and has a height-adjustable boot floor to boost versatility. In its highest position, you end up with the floor being level with the load lip to ease loading, as well as a generous storage area underneath.
The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) has a smaller boot (385 litres) and the boot floor sits at a fixed height, with the batteries below it. There’s a storage space under the floor that's big enough for the charging cables. We managed to fit five suitcases below its parcel shelf – the same as the Evoque P300e.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The Alfa Romeo Tonale’s starting price seems expensive, even compared with premium rivals such as the Audi Q3, the BMW X1 and the Volvo XC40. Granted, every version of the Tonale comes well-equipped and aligns itself with higher trim levels of those rivals, but when you’re paying the same as an X1 M Sport, it’s hard to ignore the price tag. The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version is even more pricey, commanding a 15-20% premium over the mild hybrid and is limited to the top two trim levels.
The official fuel economy figures for the mild-hybrid Tonale – close to 50mpg – suggest that it should match the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage hybrids. That would probably require a lot of low-speed town driving in electric mode though, and our mixed test route yielded a figure in the mid-30s. The PHEV looks more impressive on paper, with an official figure of up to 217mpg, but you’ll need to keep the battery charged up to get near that. When the 15.5kWh battery is depleted and the petrol engine is doing all the work, we saw an average of 32.5mpg on our real-world test route.
Emissions for the mild-hybrid are lower than a similar-priced petrol Q3, X1 and XC40, which should make the Tonale a more affordable company car. The PHEV emits more CO2 than the X1 xDrive25e PHEV, but its longer electric range of more than 40 miles puts it in the same 8% benefit-in-kind tax bracket. A full battery charge matches the X1 as well, requiring around two and a half hours.
When it comes to depreciation, the Tonale is predicted to lose its value more quickly than most rivals, including the Q3, X1 and Evoque. It doesn’t come close to the best in class for low depreciation, the XC40.
We reckon entry-level Ti trim makes the most sense because it has a good level of standard equipment, including matrix LED headlights, keyless ignition, rear air vents, dual-zone air-con, a powered electric tailgate and wireless phone-charging. A launch trim called Edizione Speciale has 20in diamond-cut wheels, privacy glass, shift paddles for the automatic gearbox and Speciale badges. Veloce has 19in alloy wheels, aluminium pedals and adaptive suspension.
The experts at Euro NCAP gave the Tonale the full five stars for safety – the same as all the rivals. It comes with adaptive cruise control that can read road signs and alter your speed accordingly, and lane-keep assist with lane centring that’s said to work even at low speeds in traffic.
In terms of reliability, the Tonale is too new to have featured in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey. As a brand, Alfa Romeo did badly, coming 29th out of the 32 manufacturers included. That’s below all the rivals, and only Fiat, Land Rover and Jeep did worse.
For some peace of mind, the Tonale comes with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty, just like the one BMW gives you.
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Every Tonale comes with a 10.25in touchscreen infotainment system which is easy to use and quick to respond to your prods. It’s a shame Alfa Romeo has removed the physical rotary controller, though.
|RRP price range||£35,995 - £51,995|
|Number of trims (see all)||5|
|Number of engines (see all)||2|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid, petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||201.8 - 50.4|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / No mileage cap|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£643 / £2,652|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,286 / £5,303|