- It's the first all-new vehicle from Alfa Romeo in over five years
- Standard all-wheel drive and 285 total horsepower
- Big paddle shifters and gorgeous wheels give it some key Alfa styling elements
- On sale May 2023
Driven: 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Leads Alfa Into the Future
The company's first step toward electrification still drives and feels like an Alfa (sometimes)
Alfa Romeo has been producing cars for over a century. This is a fact that I didn't need to look up because I heard it approximately half a dozen times from different folks as the company handed us the keys to its latest product: the 2024 Tonale, a small plug-in hybrid SUV.
The Tonale, named after a mountain pass in Italy (much like its larger sibling, the Stelvio), is a crucial vehicle for the storied Italian automaker in a few ways. Alfa Romeo only sells two other vehicles in the United States, and the Tonale is the first new vehicle from Alfa to reach our shores in over five years. More importantly, Alfa Romeo has confirmed that after the Tonale, all of its new vehicles will be battery electric vehicles and ditch gas engines completely. This makes the Tonale a bridge of sorts from Alfa's gas-powered past to an electron-infused future.
This concept of melding past and future is top of my mind as I drive through the mountain roads and highways around Balocco, Italy — the home of Stellantis' proving grounds where Alfa Romeo performs much of its vehicle testing. I'll cruise down a modern highway one moment, only to slow suddenly as the pavement turns to skinny, cobbled streets from centuries past. It's emblematic of the Tonale's tricky task: to feel like the SUV of tomorrow but still firmly hold onto Alfa's heritage.
The transition to electrification is not one that every company makes smoothly. I'd argue there's really only one electric vehicle you hop into where it instantly has the feeling and drivability of one of that automaker's gas-powered vehicles: the Porsche Taycan. It all feels like too much pressure to put on the shoulders of any vehicle, but I went to see if the Tonale is strong enough to carry the weight.
What makes an Alfa an Alfa?
Buying an Alfa Romeo has always been a bit of a contrarian statement. Alfas play in the same categories as other luxury vehicles from brands like BMW or Mercedes-Benz, which generally deliver a more well-rounded experience. But there's an ineffable quality to Alfas that appeal to a different section of the brain — the part that eschews logic for the visceral. It starts with the styling, with curves, fantastic wheel designs, and of course that unmistakable Alfa Romeo logo, which to me sits on a level of its own when it comes to automaker badges. And there needs to be handling acumen to back that up, as modern Alfa Romeos boast super sharp, dialed-in steering feel.
There are, of course, less flattering Alfa stereotypes as well: a difficult-to-use and buggy multimedia experience, a gross indifference to ergonomics, back seats that fit only small humans, and weirdly laggy and pixelated rearview cameras.
In an ideal world, the Tonale would keep those good qualities while painting over the imperfections that have plagued recent Alfas. On both fronts, the small SUV finds some success, though quirks remain.
How's the Tonale's powertrain?
The Tonale's sole powertrain combines a turbocharged 1.3-liter four-cylinder gas engine with a six-speed automatic transmission and a 121-horsepower electric motor. The entire system produces a total of 285 total system hp and 347 lb-ft of torque. All-wheel drive is standard, though the Tonale's two propulsion systems work separately, as the gas engine is only tied to the front wheels and the electric motor drives the rears. In practice, these transitions happen seamlessly. There aren't times where the Tonale feels tripped up or like too much power is coming from either source while driving in hybrid mode. Alfa Romeo did a good job with the tuning.
The electric motor is powered by a 15.5-kWh battery pack mounted in the dead center of the vehicle, though thankfully it doesn't make the floor center hump in the back too large. Alfa Romeo says that the Tonale should have just over 30 miles of electric range, but the EPA has yet to sign off on that figure, and it's one we'll surely put to the test when we get one in for testing.
The Tonale feels peppy in the city and on the highway — and the motor offers enough juice to propel the Tonale to 78 mph on EV power alone. The three drive modes are labeled by letters D, N and A, as if the brand's love of heritage wasn't clear enough already. That A mode (for "Advanced Efficiency") is the EV mode, N is for "Natural" (aka normal), and D is for "Dual Power" (aka dynamic mode) and keeps the gas engine on all the time.
When driving in the A for electric mode, there's a clear bump in the throttle pedal that you can feel to let you know that if you demand more power than the motor can provide, the gas engine will fire up. This makes it easier to keep the Tonale running on just the battery, though it's easy to push past the detent if you really need to accelerate. Doing so does kick you up into the N drive mode, so you'll have to toggle back down to A to manually force the engine off.
Beyond this, there are few other ways to customize the way the Tonale drives. There are two regenerative braking settings, high and normal, though you can't select between the two of them. High regen only comes with the D drive mode, and the other two lock you into normal regen. There is an eSave button behind the shifter that allows you hold the battery's state of charge or even charge it up using the gas engine, but that's about it.
Does it drive like an Alfa?
The Tonale comes with a dual-mode suspension that offers drivers between a comfort- and performance-oriented ride. But much like the regen, these are locked in with the different drive modes. The A and N driving modes go for comfort, while D gets the stiffer setting. In comfort guise, the Tonale feels much less like an Alfa. There's more noticeable body roll, and under braking the nose dives a bit uncomfortably. The steering is a bit more lethargic to better match the characteristics of the suspension. It's comfortable and good at controlling the body even at highway speeds, but in these modes, the Tonale feels more like a run-of-the-mill SUV than an Alfa.
That changes once you flip the controller over to D, which not only tightens the suspension but the throttle response and the steering rack as well. Turn-in feels deliciously sharp once more and the Tonale's body control improves markedly. It's in this drive mode — as you rip off shifts with the giant column-mounted aluminum paddle shifters — that the Tonale shines. The tightened suspension setup is not an ideal match for broken pavement, as a jaunt over a cobblestone street showed, but on modern pavement it's the setting I would prefer almost universally. I wish it were possible to have a custom drive mode or at least the ability to stiffen the suspension and steering while in electric mode. Give the people what they want, Alfa!
Solid features and un-Alfa back seat
The Tonale's interior features some new goodies for the brand, with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster display and a 10.3-inch touchscreen that houses a new operating system powered by Uconnect 5. The interface is easy enough to use, and it's a vast improvement over the traditional Alfa multimedia experience that made you want to punch the screen at times more than touch it. A wireless charging pad is standard, as is wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
The Tonale's interior space is a mix of old and new. Some of the old details we love (thankfully) remain. The start button mounted on the perfectly sized steering wheel and aforementioned large aluminum shift paddles (a delight) found in other Alfas are here, and the seats look familiar but feature a slightly different design. Top-spec models will be coated in swaths of leather and faux suede, but seats in all Tonales get a neat multicolor pattern on the inner part of the cushions.
Despite these improvements, there are still a few elements that prove the Tonale hasn't completely shed its "Alfa-ness." The center tunnel between the front seats is a few inches too wide and impedes knee room for both passengers. And for some reason, Alfa chose to use white lights to indicate when buttons like the AC or eSave modes are activated, and during the day these are really hard to see so you can't tell if they're on at a quick glance. But the rearview camera is at least high-resolution now and usable at night, unlike in the Giulia or Stelvio.
The most surprising element of the Tonale's interior is the back seat. Though the vehicle is about 6 inches shorter than the Stelvio, it somehow manages to cram in a few extra inches of rear legroom. And with its less curvaceous shape, it's surprisingly roomy — large enough to fit adult passengers for longer trips. Those passengers also get their own air vents and USB ports for charging. For a company that has traditionally treated backseat passengers as an afterthought, this is a wonderful change.
An Alfa with value(s)
The Tonale starts at $44,590 (including destination charges) and that puts it above the starting prices of competitors like the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. But none of those competitors offer a plug-in hybrid powertrain or the same number of standard features you'll find in the Tonale. In addition to the screens and wireless charging pad, LED headlights and taillights, ambient lighting, heated front seats, a blind-spot warning system, adaptive cruise control, and front and rear parking sensors all come standard. Many of these are optional on competitors.
At the top end, the Tonale's value drops off some. The sticker price of the vehicle I tested pushed $58,000 after you jump up to the ultimate Veloce trim and add a safety package, cool green paint job, an interior and sound package, and the five-hole 20-inch wheels that are so beautiful they feel like a must-have. That's significantly higher than the X1 or Q3 can reach and on par with the price of an AMG GLA 45 that offers quicker acceleration. But if you want that upfront electric range and do mostly city driving, the Tonale's PHEV powertrain helps to defray some of that additional cost.
The 2024 Tonale acts as a bridge between Alfa Romeo's past and its future, delivering just enough Alfa-like performance and style with some unexpected practicality.