Reader test team: Alfa Romeo Tonale

On paper, this sporty new family SUV looks like it ticks all the right boxes, but how does it stack up in the metal? Here’s what our readers think...

Alfa Romeo Tonale reader test team front

When the Alfa Romeo Stelvio was introduced back in 2017, it brought the brand’s trademark style and driving excitement to the large SUV class. Now, the long-awaited Alfa Romeo Tonale family SUV is charged with bottling the same lightning to make it an appealing alternative to the likes of the Audi Q3, BMW X1Range Rover Evoque and Volvo XC40.

The Tonale will be offered as a plug-in hybrid, which combines a 178bhp 1.3-litre petrol engine that powers the front wheels with a 121bhp electric motor that's linked to the rears to deliver four-wheel drive. Plus, there will be 128bhp and 148bhp conventional hybrids with a shorter electric range, but a lower starting price.

Alfa Romeo Tonale reader test team rear

You can read more about what makes the model tick in our full Alfa Romeo Tonale review. However, sometimes pure objectivity doesn’t tell the whole story; a car’s success can be very dependent on whether it captures the public’s imagination. Not only must it have the potential to work well as a means of transport but it also needs to spark enough emotional appeal to make you want to buy one in the first place.

That’s where our Reader Test Team comes in. We invited a party of What Car? readers to spend an afternoon with the Tonale long before it arrives in the showroom (this September), with access to a late pre-production car in the high-specification Edition Speziale trim that will top the range at launch. Here’s what they had to say after giving it a thorough going over…

Tony Barr

Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 Reader Test Team

Age 51 Job Marketing director Drives Land Rover Discovery and VW Touran 

“As a household, we don’t need a car as big as the Discovery any more, and the Tonale seems to be a perfect fit. I’m impressed by the boot; I reckon Hamish, my golden retriever, will be fine in there when the adjustable boot floor is in its lowest setting. It’s great that the plug-in hybrid version offers the same 500 litres as the regular hybrid.

“I expected the Tonale’s styling and stance to be strong and in keeping with recent Alfa design, and I think the designers have done an excellent job, both in the details and the overall form; those ‘telephone dial’ alloy wheels never disappoint. I’m equally impressed inside; from the driver’s seat, everything feels high-quality and well laid out.

Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 Reader Test Team - headlights

“I’d really like the Tonale to succeed; it comes from a historic marque that somehow doesn’t carry the same stigma that some prestige brands are saddled with. You could happily drop that you drive an Alfa Romeo into conversation and be seen as a real driving enthusiast, rather than just a show-off.”

Verdict 4/5

Adam Simpson

Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 Reader Test Team - mirror

Age 34 Job Production technologist Drives Alfa Romeo Giulietta

“The Tonale looked great in the pictures, and now I’ve seen it in the metal, I really think it’s the best-looking car in its class. I like how it references Alfa Romeo models of the past, but subtly, so it has its own look. 

“The form works so well that I don’t reckon it’ll depend on specification to look good. So many family SUVs look awkward without the biggest wheels or sporty body kits, but I suspect the Tonale will look good even in its entry-level trim.

Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 Reader Test Team - speciale badge

“I like how the engineers haven’t forgotten about practicality, despite those sporty looks; looking at the rear seats, the Isofix points are easy to access and I reckon a pair of child seats will slot straight in. Also, the doors aren’t overly long, so they should be easy to open nice and wide when you’re in a tight parking space.

“When I sit in a car in the showroom, I like to have a good root around to get a feel for how well it’s put together, and everything in the Tonale feels like it’s made from good-quality materials. And, oh, the details! That door behind the rear armrest that allows you to poke skis through from the boot… it has a tyre tread pattern on it.”  

Verdict 5/5

Nicholas Chapman

Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 Reader Test Team - wheels

Age 36 Job Operations director Drives VW Golf GTI

“All too often, a new car’s looks are watered down by the time it reaches the showroom, but I’m really impressed with how the Tonale concept’s design has been carried over so faithfully to the production car. That’s particularly true of the details,  especially the front grille and headlights, and the wheels, which are a work of art. While it looks great in this rather understated colour, I reckon it’ll look fantastic in Alfa Red.

“There’s a trend towards ever more complicated infotainment and heating controls; in fact, my Golf GTI is going back soon, partly because I’ve found its systems so frustrating to use. With that in mind, I was really pleased to see that there’s a proper set of physical heating controls in the Tonale. 

Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 Reader Test Team - rear lights

“From what I’ve seen, I think Alfa Romeo has really nailed it. The interior quality seems impressive, it’s sporting yet practical, and it’s really very pretty, inside and out.

“I’m perhaps a little worried about the line-up of engines, though. I don’t want a plug-in hybrid, but I’d like to have more than the 158bhp that’s offered by the regular hybrid engine that’ll be available in the UK.”

Verdict 4/5

Rebecca DiCioccio

Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 Reader Test Team - front interior

Age 27 Job SEO marketing specialist Drives Mercedes-Benz A-Class

“The Tonale seems to really capture the essence of Alfa Romeo in the way it looks. It certainly looks great here in the studio, but, that said, it’ll be really interesting to see it parked next to a Stelvio to get more of a sense of the Tonale’s scale and proportions in the real world.

“We chose our family Mercedes-Benz A-Class partly on the strength of its interior quality and detailing, and the Tonale seems a big improvement on previous models from Alfa Romeo. The leather on the seats is really nice, and I can imagine the Tonale being a really pleasant place to sit for a long trip.

Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 Reader Test Team - paddles

“I love the thoughtful design flourishes, such as the little Italian tricolour flags built into the mirror-mounted indicators.

“I think it strikes a good balance between sensible and fun, too; things like being able to adjust the boot floor for more space or to get rid of the load lip mean it should be easy to live with.

“It’s a shame there’s no manual gearbox option; that would really make it appeal as a driver’s car, and that’s something that I don’t think any other family SUV really does at the moment.”

Verdict 4/5

Dr Yogesh Thankey, wife Priya, daughter Aryana (13) and son Krish (11)

Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 Reader Test Team - rear seats

Age 45 Job GP Drives Mercedes-Benz GLB and Peugeot 3008

Aryana “I think it looks flawless. I love that there are USB sockets for the back seats, and there’s loads of space for my feet.”

Krish “I love all the details inside, especially the stitching on the dashboard and the ambient lighting, and the headlights make me think of a Bugatti.”

Priya “I was absolutely mesmerised by the alloy wheels. Their design is so intricate and open – almost transparent.”

Yogesh “I’m so pleased that the Tonale looks like a proper Alfa Romeo; there are lots of nods towards the Brera coupé in its styling. For a pre-production car, the build quality is impressive, although some of the interior plastics feel a bit cheap.

Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 Reader Test Team - rear badge

“It’s rather dark inside and a bit cramped for adults in the back, and it’s a shame the driving position is so low; it might be tricky to judge the front end.

“The improvements we’ve seen in recent Peugeot models bode very well for Alfa Romeo, now that both brands are part of the same group. If the company can get its customer experience right and nail the reliability, the Tonale ought to succeed, and I hope it does. It plugs a hole in the market for a family SUV that appeals to enthusiastic drivers.”

Alfa Romeo Tonale front

The Tonale has been the subject of hot discussion on social media; here’s what people are saying about it, with nothing held back:

“Hopefully it’ll be a class front runner like the Giulia, but it needs proper aftersales support.”

“The wheelbase looks a little short. Other than that, it looks great.”

“Looks like a copy of an SUV from Jaguar.”

“It looks good, but just like with JLR, it’s not the looks that are the problem.”

“This looks good…”

“…It does look good. Maybe not in blue, though.” 

Alfa Romeo Tonale rear

“I didn’t expect it to look quite so… Vauxhally?”

“I just hope it fulfils the hopes and wishes of Alfa fans and beyond. Looks good!”

“I’m not sure; other than the badge and the wheels, it looks a bit generic to me.”

“To not introduce a full electric version from day one is a crime.”

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