Tonale, a worthy heir to Alfa Romeo

After relaunching the brand with the Giulia sedan and the success of the high-end Stelvio SUV, Alfa Romeo is moving into the field of urban SUVs. Successful transition to a brand with a very strong identity and a demanding clientele?

Stellantis Galaxy has by no means forgotten its fine Milanese brand. After resurrecting it from its ashes with 2 strong models, the Giulia and the Stelvio, it seems that Alfa Romeo is entering another phase of the phase, the recapture. And proof that the effort is very important, the group did not hesitate last year to put the charismatic Jean-Philippe Imparato at the head of the brand, who successfully presided over Peugeot’s destinies for 5 years. Suffice it to say that the release of the Tonale is completely in line with this second rate that Alfa Romeo is experiencing.

For the brand is not the easiest to manage, whether within the Fiat group, later within FCA and even more so within the giant Stellantis group. An old established brand, but above all the privilege of a small elite of passionate customers, it is difficult to infuse it with new trends in the global automotive industry, especially the ubiquity of the SUV and the necessary change to electricity. But the brand impressed with the qualities of its Stelvio SUV.

Model with a sporty tendency, top of the range, supposed to go after the Porsche Macan and other German premium products. The challenge met hands down, as the machine has succeeded in implanting Alfa Romeo DNA into a homogenous and successful SUV. Despite everything, in the absence of real news since then, the brand’s sales have shown a continuous decline, exacerbated by the Covid crisis… to the point that fewer cars are sold than Lancia within the Fiat-Chrysler group.

Tonale was launched in 2022.
Tonale was launched in 2022. © Antoine Larigaudrie

Tonal, the core of recovery

Falling to 55,000 new cars sold in total last year, the group has since refocused and restructured, already in order not to lose more money. The rest of the goals for the future are ambitious, and Jean-Philippe Imparato has promised that sales will quadruple by 2027 (200,000 copies per year are expected by this date). With significantly restored profitability. And so much to say, Tonale must be the spearhead of this great commercial counterattack. It was therefore important that the finished product was a real 5-legged sheep.

Alfa Romeo's historic logo, Biscione.
Alfa Romeo’s historic logo, Biscione. © Antoine Larigaudrie

Designed around the platform of the Jeep Compass, and therefore sharing the latter’s production lines at the Pomigliano d’Arco factory near Naples, the Tonale actually represents the last 100% FCA product, before the integration into the Stellantis galaxy. A widely shared platform, technologies and engines that limit development costs. But for the rest… we must both expand the offer to non-Alfa customers, and at the same time spare domestic customers with a 2nd SUV in the range. Complex challenge…

The highlight: a real Alfa

But let’s cut the suspense. The Tonale is a pure Alfa Romeo product down to the smallest detail and it is a resounding success at this level, especially for those who love the brand and know a little about its history. Starting with its very beautiful “Montreal Green” color on our test model, historic color of sports Alfas since the release of the iconic Alfa Romeo Montreal in 1970. The triple optics, inaugurated on the incredible Alfa SZ from 1989, then repeated on the Brera and 159. The magnificent “telephone dial” rims, a great classic of the brand… not to mention the small Ti logo on the side, corresponding to the test model’s finish level, occupy a customary name for sports models in the range since the 60s and Giulia .

The triple optics are part of the details that will please Alfists on this Tonale.
The triple optics are part of the details that will please Alfists on this Tonale. © Antoine Larigaudrie

We’d almost regret (well, let’s say it, we honestly regret it) the absence of a wooden (or wooden-look) steering wheel to complete it all. But this Tonale is a true Alfa Romeo down to the last detail, and that remains the main asset of this model, both to reassure home buyers who are keen to find products that are more up-to-date but still equipped with the brand’s DNA.. .And also to seduce new customers, even if it means turning them into new die-hard Alfists.

In this case with a strong identity, we discover a sober but well-done cabin, with seats covered in black leather, well-assembled edge plastic and a few details in step with the times, backlit patterns, an infotainment screen. laid out and not too intrusive, as well as mainly digital instrumentation, but which remains quite “old fashioned” oriented, with still quite a few physical buttons.

A sparkling engine and fantastic hybridisation

The other strong point of this 160 horsepower Ti version is a fairly successful engine. Relatively small (1.5 liter displacement) is supported by a turbo with variable geometry and light hybridization (48-volt battery recharges when braking and small 20-hp electric motor mounted on the 7-speed automatic gearbox).

In the absence of real brilliance, it is sparkling and likes to climb the towers with the joyful synchronized whistles of electrification and turbo. In this one, it stays true to the small Ti logo found on the sides of the machine. We feel a real sportiness, especially in position D (Dynamic, the D on the small DNA dial that selects the driving modes).

Our test version is equipped with a 1.5 liter engine with 160 horsepower.
Our test version is equipped with a 1.5 liter engine with 160 horsepower. © Antoine Larigaudrie

But more surprisingly, this Alfa Romeo Tonale has a nice surprise. In fact, light hybridization, due to its low power and the absence of a complete conventional hybrid drive chain, exists only to relieve the engine during acceleration, smooth the torque curve and thus reduce consumption, somewhat like Suzuki and many others. There Tonale, thanks to this internal system, is able to drive… 100% electric. Admittedly, this zero-emission mode only works over very short distances and not over 30 km/h. However, you can perform all your maneuvers at low speed, park or even cross a large underground car park without consuming a drop of fuel. An excellent little surprise, unique in the current automotive landscape.

Tonale is a small family SUV, with a length of 4.50 meters long.
Tonale is a small family SUV, with a length of 4.50 meters long. © Antoine Larigaudrie

Point of view behavior and dynamics, no miracle, Tonale remains an average SUV at 4.5 meters long. But relatively thin (1.84 meters) and precisely sprung, it accelerates sympathetically (8.8 seconds from 0 to 100 km/h) with decent handling for what remains front-wheel drive, being able to support a decent turning speed. A very good point. Note the precise and biting braking, which is not provided by the Italian Brembo, but by the American MOPAR, the alliance with Chrysler obliges. And these beautiful red stirrups with logo give their little effect.

The downside: an uncomfortable gearbox

Tonale remains a true Alfa Romeo in the broadest sense. Understand that it really isn’t free of defects. Starting with a not-so-smooth automatic transmission, with sometimes slightly curious stages that prevent you from getting the most out of an engine that is nevertheless friendly and willing. Add to this, and the pure Alfists will scream: There are no longer the beautiful metal paddles at the steering wheel.

In the cabin, we regret the seats with good support, but with a particularly firm seat, a rather small space in the back seat, as well as a deplorable view to the rear, an effect of the rather elegant design of the trunk. The luggage compartment is also not very voluminous, with a capacity of 500 liters it may even seem very small for this category of vehicle.

The interior of the Tonale is pleasant, but sometimes lacks comfort and space.
The interior of the Tonale is pleasant, but sometimes lacks comfort and space. © Antoine Larigaudrie

A gluttonous machine

We will pass on the horrible system of indicators, very imprecise (already regretted on the Guilia) to devote ourselves to the other real fault of this Alfa Romeo Tonale: its consumption. The use of mild hybridization is really a gimmick in this specific case, as the consumption is indicated for 6.1 liters / 100 km in the combined cycle, and you have not been able to bring it down below 7 liters in the entire test duration, on fairly favorable urban and suburban routes, regardless of the driving style.

This figure is disappointing, as the contribution of hybridization must not be neutral at the margin and does not significantly improve consumption data. Admittedly, CO2 emissions are reduced to 139g/km, which only entails a very reasonable fine of 280 euros, but this data must be taken into account when choosing. Many one-and-a-half-ton SUVs are now doing much better.

Nevertheless, while it won’t seek the top names in this arch-competitive segment, the Alfa Romeo Tonale has plenty to stand out from, providing both an interesting and racy alternative while becoming the stimulus Alfa Romeo is looking for. It will even be able to push to stand up against similar products of a similar range from the Volkswagen Group. But to make definitive inroads into the landscape, without a plug-in hybrid version, it really needs to score points and gain sobriety. The latter is already planned and should be presented before the end of the year. But aside from these technical and strategic caveats, despite its imperfections, the Tonale is a true Alfa at heart. And that alone deserves a real tip of the hat.

Model tested: Alfa Romeo 160 Ti MHEV
Price for this version: 49,050 euros

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