New Alfa Romeo Tonale 2022 review
We drive a UK-spec Alfa Romeo Tonale in both main trim levels trim to see if it can mix it with the many other premium compact SUVs available right now
Alfa Romeo has done a good job of creating a relatively firm but tidy-handling car from humble underpinnings, but the Tonale’s laggy powertrain spoils the fun and could prove irritating during day-to-day driving. The quality and premium feel of the cabin also falls short of where it should be considering the price, leaving the looks and the badge to do a lot of the heavy lifting here.
“The beginning of a new Alfa Romeo era,” the Tonale’s official website states, which is interesting, as we all thought that’s what the Giulia represented when it was launched in 2016. Sales of that model and the related Stelvio haven’t been stellar, however, so here we are in 2022 with Alfa once again relaunching itself, this time with a compact SUV it says will cover more of the UK car market on its own than the Stelvio and Giulia combined.
The rear-wheel drive Giorgio platform in which Alfa Romeo invested heavily is absent here. Underneath the Tonale is the vehicle architecture of the five-year-old Jeep Compass, itself a derivative of the Fiat Small Platform that underpinned the Grande Punto of 2005, and - as it happens - the Alfa Romeo MiTo. On paper, it feels like a backward step.
Not that you’d know it from the outside. The Tonale is a great-looking thing that adds welcome spice to a segment not exactly known for design flair. It references various Alfas from the past, from the SZ in its triple-element light clusters, the original and newer 8C in its window line, and (although this one is perhaps a bit of a stretch) the sixties GT’s silhouette.
Car group tests
The interior is fairly minimalist and doesn’t rely quite so heavily on scratchy piano black plastics as German rivals. The stylish space is enhanced with various elements lifted from the Giulia and Stelvio, including the steering wheel and - in the case of the range-topping Veloce - large metal gear shift paddles mounted to the steering column.
There are some cheaper-feeling bits of trim here and there, though - it falls short of the premium offerings Alfa is targeting with this car. The 10.25-inch touchscreen meanwhile has an easy-to-navigate layout and is as responsive as it should be, but a lot of the shortcut icons around its edges are small and not easy to use on the move. To its right is a slick 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, complete with three different looks - modern and sporty dials, a more retro set-up, and a pared-back option that’ll be easy on the eyes at night.
We had the opportunity to drive UK-spec versions of both main trim levels - Ti and Veloce (pictured), although there is also an Edizione Speciale launch edition - in the UK for the first time. In either model, the one thing that makes itself immediately clear is the speed of the steering. Like a Giulia or Stelvio, the steering is light and fast. With a ratio of 13.6:1, it’s the quickest in class; an Audi Q3, for comparison, is 14.8:1.
The front end can just about keep up with the brisk steering inputs this arrangement allows, as Alfa (thankfully) hasn’t just left the Jeep Compass underpinnings as is. The Tonale gets a bespoke set-up with frequency-selective dampers co-developed by Koni, with the Veloce adopting adaptive suspension. The latter can be controlled independently of the drive modes via a button in the middle of the ‘DNA’ rotary selector, so if you’re in the Dynamic setting, you can soften the ride noticeably.
This is a good thing, as the harder suspension mode is too firm for the average British B-road. The going can get a little crashy on more broken-up surfaces, robbing the driver of confidence. Even set softer, it’s not like the Tonale rolls to a significant degree when cornering quickly. That said, the body control can get a little floaty at times, even though the ride is quite stiff regardless of suspension settings.
The passive dampers on the Ti version give a better ride/handling balance that’s more satisfying on a twisty road, yet comfortable enough when cruising. The use of 18-inch wheels instead of the (admittedly very good-looking) 19s on the Veloce meanwhile help take the edge off. Both wheel/tyre sizes generate quite a bit of road noise, which along with the wind noise, the Tonale could be better at filtering out.
While the chassis is mostly a success, especially considering the less-than-ideal starting point Alfa’s engineers were handed, the powertrain is far less impressive. The 1.5-litre inline-four powertrain is billed as a ‘mild-hybrid’, which uses an 0.8kWh battery. Combustion and electric power sources combine to produce 158bhp and a less than spectacular 0-62mph time of 8.8 seconds.
It’s not the modest performance that’s an issue, though, because the Tonale feels brisk enough in most situations. It’s the delivery that frustrates. There’s a noticeable delay between a throttle application and the car actually doing something about it. It doesn’t just suck the enjoyment out of country roads, it’s a pain during more regular driving, too - you’ll need to wait for bigger gaps when joining a roundabout, for instance. The brakes are effective enough, but even a moderate amount of pressure on the pedal sees the hazard lights flashing wildly as though you’re doing an emergency stop.
In terms of practicality, the Tonale 500-litre boot is just ahead of the 495 litres you get from the Mercedes GLA. Rear headroom is okay, although it’s a little gloomy back there with that retro-inspired window line resulting in fat C-pillars that also hamper rear visibility.
Pricing is best described as ‘punchy’. A Ti starts at £39,995 or £399 a month on an Alfa Romeo PCP deal with a four-year term and £8,499 deposit. It comes with LED headlights, a rear parking camera, a powered boot lid, keyless entry and the infotainment/instrument cluster screens.
Veloce adds the bigger wheels, Alcantara interior trim, adaptive dampers, aluminium shift paddles and various fancier bits of trim. It’s £42,495, and it’s possible to inflate that figure further with even larger 20-inch wheels (we’d definitely swerve those), paint options (only Alfa Red is free) and various packs including one for £2,150 that includes heated/cooled electric seats and a Harman Kardon audio system.
|Model:||Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce Ti Hybrid VG 160|
|Engine:||1.5-litre 4cyl turbo petrol hybrid|
|Transmission:||Seven-speed automatic, front-wheel drive|