Alfa Romeo Tonale review

Alfa Romeo’s take on a family SUV is predictably sexy and engaging, but the overall package is a little disappointing.

Pros: stunning looks, refined hybrid powertrain, impressive handling

Cons: poor gearbox, questionable cabin quality, expected high price

Alfa Romeo hasn’t had much luck of late. The Giulia and Stelvio are good cars that deserve strong sales figures, but customers have stayed away. So much so that last year, Alfa Romeo sold fewer cars than SsangYong in Ireland and only one more than sister company DS. But with the arrival of the long-awaited Tonale compact SUV, Alfa is hoping a reversal in fortunes will see the brand seize a slice of the pie currently shared between cars such as the Mercedes-Benz GLA and Volvo XC40.

Alfa Romeo Tonale Design

Arguably the best thing about the new Tonale is the way it looks. Despite this being Alfa’s first compact SUV, the Tonale takes some of its styling cues from iconic Alfas of yesteryear. The narrow headlights and compact grille, for example, are straight-up homages to the boxy SZ coupe of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It isn’t just the details that look great. The overall silhouette is perfectly judged, with ideal proportions and a smooth, rounded rear end. The alloy wheels look fabulous, too, with their spidery five-spoke design, and they work particularly well with the red brake callipers.

The result is an SUV that looks bigger than it is – some will be surprised to find the Tonale is just a couple of centimetres longer than an Audi Q3 – but it still manages to feel more interesting and attractive than any of its immediate rivals, including the Q3 and the BMW X1. Some will prefer the look of the Mercedes GLA or the Volvo XC40, with their smooth lines and understated style, but the Tonale goes straight in among the prettiest cars in this class.

Alfa Romeo Tonale Interior

From a quick glance at the photographs, you could be forgiven for thinking the Tonale is as visually appealing from the inside as it is outside. The dashboard looks quite stylish, with just a handful of buttons below the dashboard-mounted infotainment system and a digital instrument display.

But though it’s quite easy on the eye, the cabin isn’t especially tactile or high-quality, particularly for something priced to compete with the likes of BMW and Audi. The way it’s constructed isn’t that bad – the knobs and switches all feel fairly robust – but the materials are a little disappointing. The leatherette on the dashboard, for example, feels cheap and some of the plastics around the doors and centre console are really quite low-rent.

The on-board technology, however, is an improvement on what’s gone before in Alfa Romeo cabins. A sharper display and increased functionality all help to make the car feel more upmarket, although there are one or two issues with lag and the menus are quite fussy looking. That said, it comes with the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration systems as standard, so you can just use those for a clearer and more intuitive experience.

Practicality is fairly good, but the Tonale has one or two foibles that impact its usefulness. On the one hand, rear passenger space is good, with adequate head- and legroom for all but the very tallest adults; the vast majority will be perfectly comfortable back there.

On paper, boot space is equally competitive with 500 litres of volume putting the Alfa on a par with its key rivals. However, much of this space is hidden beneath a false floor, leaving you with a relatively small load space. Adjust the floor and you get far more room, but that creates a load lip that can make inserting bulkier and heavier items more challenging.

Alfa Romeo Tonale Performance & Drive

Alfa Romeo has a long history of building sporty cars that are great to drive, and the current range – the Giulia and the Stelvio – both fit in with that stereotype. The Tonale does too, but to a lesser extent.

A 275hp, all-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid option will arrive around the turn of the year, but at launch, the sole engine option will be the 1.5-litre, front-wheel-drive petrol-electric hybrid that uses an electric motor and a small battery to produce 160hp. The system also allows the car to manoeuvre on electricity alone at low speeds, so parking and pulling away from the lights can be done with minimum use of petrol power. That allows the Tonale to achieve 6.3 litres/100km on the official economy test, although that’s little better than a similarly powerful Mercedes GLA. Performance is similar, too, with an adequate but unexceptional 0-100km/h time of 8.8 seconds.

On the road, the engine proves smooth and refined. The sound made by in-line four-cylinder engines often becomes an objectionable drone at high speeds, but this Alfa Romeo engine sounds much more appealing. Which is a good thing, because the automatic gearbox with which it must work is not such a triumph. Slow on the uptake and sometimes reluctant to change up a gear, it struggles to deal with the demands of the hybrid powertrain – particularly in more efficiency-orientated driving modes.

That’s a shame, because the Tonale is otherwise quite pleasant to drive. The ride is a little stiff and the car feels unsettled over broken surfaces, but it’s comfortable enough and the trade-off is really well-sorted handling characteristics. The steering is too light, but the response from the front wheels is good and body lean is relatively well controlled. Admittedly, it isn’t as engaging as the Stelvio and the suspension gets horribly stiff in the sportiest driving modes, but cars with active dampers offer a well-judged balance between ride and handling.

Alfa Romeo Tonale Pricing

Alfa Romeo has not yet confirmed Irish pricing for the Tonale, but it’s expected to cost roughly the same amount as the Mercedes GLA, which comes in at around €45,000. That’s a lot for a car with such a sub-par cabin, but at least there’s plenty of equipment. The basic Ti model is expected to come with 18-inch alloy wheels, gloss black exterior trim and part-leather upholstery. Keyless entry, navigation and a rear-view camera are also thought to be standard across the range, along with the digital instrument display.

Carzone Verdict: 3/5

Viewed in isolation, the Tonale ticks plenty of boxes. The looks and handling are the main strong suits, while the engine is solid and the interior space competitive, but it’s let down by poor cabin materials and a mediocre gearbox that prevents it from competing with rivals from BMW and Mercedes. Nevertheless, the Tonale shows Alfa has improved in some key areas, and it will always be hard to ignore a car that looks this good.

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