Alfa Romeo Tonale review: A new squeeze? - MrLiambi's blog


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Tuesday, 13 December 2022

Alfa Romeo Tonale review: A new squeeze?

Think about Alfa Romeo and you probably think about men buying a sporty car which always breaks down. On one hand, you have great brand heritage and on the other, perhaps limited appeal.

Alfa is keen to change this and while great models like the Guilia helped boost Alfa's appeal to those core customers - the company has realised how it's only appealing to a small subsection of the buying market.

The solution? Move into the biggest selling segment of the market, which the car industry knows as C segment SUV. The model to do this? The Alfa Romeo Tonale.

Design and build

Alfa Romeo is full of Italian passion, but to bastardise an expression, no car brand is an island. Having been part of FCA, it now sits under the wide umbrella of the Stellantis super group and the Tonale shares its platform with the likes of the Jeep Compass.

A word on that name too, you have to say Tonale with Italian vigour on the final "e", don't decode it phonetically, or you'll be calling it the "toe nail", which doesn't quite have the same exotic ring to it.

The Tonale's exterior design is dripping with heritage features from Alfa, drawing lines of this car from a whole collection of previous models, from the shape drawn by the glass down the side through to the point at the bottom of the rear window.

It's the front of the car that will really scream Alfa Romeo, however, with that iconic badge set in the shield to the front, with an offset licence plate (if you happen to live somewhere that demands a front numberplate).

There's sporty aggression in those lights, while the telephone dial wheels with red Brembo brake callipers peeking through reinforce this message and do make the Tonale better-looking than many in this segment.

With so many options in this segment, having good looks goes a long way and we're sure the Alfa Romeo Tonale will draw many in with its sporty good looks.

Move to the interior

Slipping inside, you're greeted with a cabin that doesn't quite offer the quality that the exterior sets you up for. That's to be expected at this price as the Tonale isn't hugely expensive - starting at £39,995 in Ti trim, moving up to £42,495 for the Veloce seen here.

collection: interior

The interior is neatly laid out, and uses a combination of soft-touch materials and leather in essential places while hanging on to a couple of touches to give a sporty feel.

Our favourite part is the start/stop button on the steering wheel, which is reminiscent of an F1 car, while the cowl over the digital driver display is nicely sculpted. The Veloce model also gets huge aluminium paddle shifters on the steering column which reinforce this sporty look and make it easier to take control of the gearbox.

By contrast, the central display looks a little small at 10.25 inches, sitting proud on the dash and leaving the feeling that it could be a couple of inches bigger.

It's a touchscreen and intuitive enough, with main controls running down the left-hand side so you can get to what you want to find. We found the navigation to be clear enough and powered by TomTom, while there's support for wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, which, in truth, most people will just resort to.

The Tonale also supports Alexa, so you can sign into Amazon's assistant and take advantage of Alexa's skills while out on the road. That will also allow you to get information about your car when you're at home further connecting the experience.

While we're talking about technology, you might hear discussions of NFTs when people talk about the Tonale. An NFT - or non-fungible token - is basically a digital certificate that's designed to be secure and absolute and in this case, replace the old paper service book. It's essentially an online history of the car, designed to add value when you come to sell or exchange it because the buyer can take possession of this NFT and know exactly what the car has been through.

collection: screens

Returning to the interior of the car and there's a range of cloth or leather seats available through the different trims and they are comfortable enough and plenty spacious in the front, while the rear bench feels a little smaller. Certainly, if you have a long-legged driver there won't be huge knee space for the passenger in the rear, but typically this type of car will be carrying kids in the back so that might not be such a huge problem.

The boot offers some 500 litres of space, which is pretty much average for this segment of the market.

So, both on the interior and the exterior, the Alfa Romeo Tonale has something to offer and certainly, the interior is a nice place to be - typical of this type of SUV.

On the road

Alfa Romeo is calling the Tonale the start of electrification, but the initial launch is a mild hybrid and that's about the mildest form of electrification that you can possibly imagine. Indeed, the plug-in hybrid model that's expected in 2023 might be the model that you want to hold out for - not just because it will offer greater electric range, but because the mild hybrid isn't actually that nice to drive.

There's a 1.5-litre petrol engine producing 160hp mated to a 7-speed automatic gearbox, with a 15kW electric motor and a 0.8kWh 48-volt battery. That's a fairly typical setup for a mild hybrid, with the system here designed to harvest energy on braking to charge the battery.

This in turn can use the motor to start the car in EV mode, boost the torque, or allow the engine to shut off and just maintain momentum with the motor alone. That's all standard MHEV stuff and all designed to increase overall efficiency and reduce wasted energy.

However, the Tonale MHEV feels a little underpowered. The 0-62mph time of 8.8 seconds reveals this isn't the fastest off the line, but that's not the biggest factor. When you're out on the road and you put your foot down, it doesn't seem as ready and willing to respond as you might want it to - even in the D (dynamic) driving setting.

When on the flat, pushing down the accelerator will often see the revs increasing, more noise from the engine, but little corresponding increase in speed.

At low speeds things feel rather gravelly, so moving slowly lacks the smoothness you might want, while we're not convinced by the reaction of the gearbox either. We'd sometimes find it hanging onto gears for far too long, running through the rev range when going uphill while not shifting to match the condition of the car.

This, again, is likely to be because the gearbox doesn't really respond when you want it to, failing to react as the situation changes. This might be designed to increase overall efficiency, but the result is that the Tonale doesn't offer a smooth driving experience.

Whether that matters or not will depend on who you are. With Alfa Romeo looking to appeal to a wider audience of drivers, those on the school run or heading to the supermarket might not find anything to complain about, but with rivals as strong as the Nissan Qashqai or Kia Sportage there are better driving experiences out there.

The good news is that the plug-in hybrid will be more powerful and will likely remove some of these vagaries, while also offering the opportunity to drive on electric power for longer ranges. We'll update this review with details of the PHEV experience when we get some time behind the wheel.

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