2022 Alfa Romeo Tonale Hybrid review: price, specs and release date
The new Alfa Romeo Tonale aims to challenge the best family SUVs with sportier handling than its rivals, plus an electrified engine line-up...
On sale July | Price from £36,000 (est)
The youngest child is commonly deemed as the most sociable out of all the siblings. In the case of the Alfa Romeo Tonale, the newest and smallest SUV to join the family may very well live up to that rule. For a start, unlike the firm's larger Stelvio, which is heavily focused as a sports SUV, this Tonale promises to appeal to a wider audience. It echo the Stelvio's racy looks, but it does so with the promise of sensible running costs, which should help it mingle among the busy crowd of family SUVs.
Like many of its rivals, including the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Range Rover Evoque and Volvo XC40, there's a plug-in hybrid version, and it should offer up to 37 miles of electric only range, bringing competitive BIK tax costs for company car drivers. Those without access to a plug socket can opt for the regular Hybrid, which augments its petrol power with the ability to travel for very short distances on electricity alone at low speeds.
The Tonale also marks a bit of a technical renaissance for Alfa Romeo; it can accept over-the-air software updates, it features Amazon Alexa voice assistance, and it even uses some form of non-fungable-token blockchain technology for servicing records, with the intent of providing digital proof of maintenance over its lifetime.
But aside from all this new technology, is the is the car underneath a worthy addition to the class, and does it live up to Alfa’s sporting heritage? Let’s find out.
What’s it like to drive?
The cheaper Hybrid models are powered by a 1.5-litre petrol engine that's available with two power outputs. There's the entry-level 128bhp unit or the 158bhp version we tried. The more potent 273bhp plug-in hybrid with four wheel drive is arriving in December.
The hybrid system helps out by providing a small boost in performance during acceleration. And it really is small; the 8.8sec 0-62mph time doesn't make for a strikingly sporty experience, and judicious use of the accelerator and lots of engine revs is required to get you up steep gradients.
The 1.5-litre petrol is certainly buzzier at higher revs than the BMW X1's petrol engines but, thankfully, the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox does its best to calm the engine down when cruising at motorway speeds. That does mean it needs a good prod of the accelerator pedal in order to downshift, and occasionally refuses to change gear when using its manual mode – although we're assured its response times are being looked into before final production begins.
Road noise is low, and while there is a flutter of wind noise around the door mirrors, it's nothing that sound system can't drown out.
The Hybrid's 0.8kWh battery pack is never going to get you very far on electrons alone, so the three-quarters of a mile we managed on a very gentle run is to be expected. However, being small, the battery recharges quickly under regenerative braking (a system that recovers energy that would be released as heat during braking and converts it into electricity) in city traffic, so you'll find yourself running on electricity more often than not when trundling along in a queue. That helps to improve refinement, too, because the engine remains dormant and any electric motor whine has been effectively quelled.
As a consequence of the Tonale's sporty remit, the ride at low speeds on optional 20in wheels and standard suspension is best described as busy over scruffier road surfaces. Fortunately, the sting is largely taken out of nasty pot hole impacts, and there isn't much thunk to speak of, unlike in some larger wheeled versions of Audi Q3. Veloce versions have an adaptive suspension system that soften things off if you find things too firm in the sportier Dynamic mode. However, the ride should be fine if you stick with the standard suspension set up and 18in wheels provided with lower spec Ti trim.
That underlying firmness means the Tonale maintains its composure nicely over undulations at speed on the motorway, plus body lean is kept in check during fast changes of direction. A good level of grip keeps you on the right course, even when you're making the most of the quick steering. It's light for manoeuvres in town, and is pleasingly accurate at higher speeds, although it would be nice if it could build up a little more weight at higher speeds and on twisty B roads to provide a greater degree of confidence.
What’s it like inside?
Behind the wheel of the Tonale you get a comfortable driving position with plenty of adjustment. Our test car came with an optional premium pack that includes four-way lumbar support with your eight-way electric front seats. Entry-level Ti trim goes without lumbar support adjustment.
Alfa's latest 10.25in infotainment system with Android Auto and wireless Apple Carplay loses the handy rotary controller as used in the Alfa Romeo Guilia saloon and Stelvio, but it gains a much faster operating system, sharper graphics, a simplified menu structure, plus the aid of Alexa voice recognition software to handle some basic commands. If we are to nitpick, it's a shame that the shortcut buttons running down the left side of the screen and heated seat controls won't be reversed for right-hand drive, meaning you'll need to lean over to operate certain functions.
While the Tonale's dash is attractively shaped and the physical controls for the air-con makes them easy to use, many rivals use far plusher materials than the rhino skin texture found across much of this car's interior surfaces. You certainly won't be mistaking a Tonale for a Q3 or BMW X1 when you look at material quality, while even some non-premium family SUVs, including the latest Nissan Qashqai, do a better job of disguising the cheaper looking hard plastics.
Head and leg room up front are fine for six-footers, but shoulder room is tight compared with its major rivals, When it comes to storage space, it certainly doesn't have the cavernous door cubbies of our preferred family SUV offering, the Volvo XC40, which can handle huge two-litre bottles of water and even a laptop. Visibility is also a bit of an issue due to very chunky pillars front and rear, making the standard parking sensors front and rear, plus the reversing camera a godsend. Climb into the back and you can fit a six footer behind a similarly tall driver, although both an XC40 and X1 offer greater knee room. Head room is well catered for, but trying to fit three across the rear would be a challenge.
The boot is an okay size for the class at 500 litres, and this won't alter for the plug-in hybrid coming later. The batteries in that version will go under the car, sharing space where the petrol tank goes. The boot is a usefully square shape with a low lip and has generous under floor storage. It's just a shame that the seats only split in a 60/40 layout, rather than the more flexible 40/20/40 split found in an X1 and Range Rover Evoque.
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