Alfa Romeo Tonale: new compact SUV revealed

Published: 08 February 2022

► Alfa Romeo’s new compact SUV revealed
► Mild hybrids and plug-in hybrid for UK
► Taking on BMW’s X1 from September 2022

This is the Tonale compact SUV, the first electrified Alfa Romeo in history, which engineers claim is instilled with the brand’s exciting dynamics and delivers a stepchange in technology and quality. 

A rival to the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, the Tonale goes on UK sale with mild hybrid engines in September 2022; a flagship plug-in hybrid follows by the end of the year. A starting price just under £30,000 would shadow its German rivals.

Car paid a visit to Alfa’s Centro Stile in Turin, seeing the handsome SUV in the metal and sitting in its driver-focused, quality-feeling cockpit. Read on for the full story; exclusive shots by Olgun Kordal.

New Tonale design: just like the concept

The good news is that the production Tonale is incredibly faithful to the 2019 concept car. The hooded 3×3 headlamps are present and correct, though noticeably fuller than the Geneva show car’s. Other changes are limited to the addition of trad door handles and mirrors and a spot of window dechroming: this is good news. 

We meet with Alfa Romeo’s new head of design Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos, who points out the crispness of the Tonale’s bonnet creases. ‘It’s a car that you will discover little by little,’ he says of the work led by his predecessor Klaus Busse.‘The hood looks very simple. But when you start looking at the lines, the surfaces, it has a level of complexity which makes it really nice and sophisticated.’

‘The Tonale has this new interpretation of the Scudetto shield at the front which blends very well with the lamps. The concept of 3×3 lamps is reminiscent of the SZ Zagato or the 159. There’s a familiarity but it’s also a new way to express the front end, and it has a homogeneity with the rear lamp graphics.’

New Tonale interior: a first-hand view inside

The cockpit is luxurious and sophisticated, a dramatic improvement over the 2016 Giulia and 2017 Stelvio with their billion-dollar dynamics and Poundstretcher cockpits. 

There’s a big leap forward with the digital screens: the driver’s telescopic binnacle – or cannocchiale – measures 12.3in across and features some lovely animations of the 3×3 lamp motif. Factor in the 10.25in central touchscreen, and Alfa claims the interfaces offer the biggest surface area in class, though the overall impression is of subtlty not technological overload. The dashboard’s backlit strip is a thing of beauty too.

The Tonale’s bulging leather driver’s seat feels both commandingly high and sportily snug, flanked by a wide centre console with an artfully embossed central cubby. The steering wheel feels silky to the touch, the switches high quality and with the DNA drive mode selector offered up to the driver. Veloce cars have aluminium shift paddles. The only detected weakness was a slightly hollow-feeling, unpadded central tunnel. 

A 6ft rear passenger has sufficient legroom and headspace behind an equally sized driver, despite the Tonale measuring just 4.53m-long. It’s 1.84m wide and the 1.6m height is bang on the X1 or Q3’s.

New Tonale: the mild hybrid engine specs

‘The Tonale is a fully electrified proposal: a 48-volt mild hybrid with very interesting features, and a very high-performing plug-in hybrid,’ Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato tells Car. ‘And, of course, we have the road handling of an Alfa Romeo. Electrification is part of the car but it is not the car. This car is an Alfa Romeo first, and then it is hybrid.’

Click here for more details of Alfa Romeo’s electrification strategy

The base drivetrains are a pair of 48-volt mild hybrids. Unlike most mHEVs which replace the alternator with a belt-integrated starter generator (BISG) to boost torque and recuperate mechanical energy (and run the stop/start system), the Tonale has a small electric motor on the input shaft of the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. 

Producing 15kW (20hp) and 55Nm (41lb ft) of torque, the little e-motor can spin the front wheels. It can launch the car from standstill, and trundle it forward in congestion or during parking maneouvres. It also offers superior energy recovery, and e-motor assistance also enables the Tonale to switch off combustion during motorway cruising – something a BISG can’t manage.

Combustion power comes from a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with a high compression ratio, high-pressure direct injection and dual variable valve timing. The latter is important because it allows delayed inlet valve closure, vital for the engine’s Miller cycle and turbocharging to combine to deliver a double-digit efficiency boost.

The engine produces either 130hp, or 160hp with a variable geometry turbocharger. Peak torque is 177lb ft. Alfa Romeo claims the fuel efficiency of a diesel engine, and strong, linear acceleration: the e-motor fills in at low revs, before the turbocharger takes over. On the WLTP fuel efficiency test, Alfa says it’s seeing electric operation around 50 per cent of the time.

New Tonale: plug-in hybrid engine specs

The flagship version at launch is a plug-in hybrid, pairing Fiat’s familiar 1.3-litre MultiAir turbo with a rear-mounted, 90kW (121bhp) electric motor, fed by a 15.5kWh battery. The 180hp engine turns the front wheels via a six-speed torque converter auto, the e-motor powers the rear wheels, and the combined effect is 275hp and Q4 all-wheel drive. 

Alfa claims the PHEV can accelerate from standstill to 62mph in 6.2secs, a few tenths off a Golf GTI but 2.4secs behind the mind-blowing Stelvio Quadrifoglio.

That said, Jean-Philippe Imparato was chasing an additional benchmark, urging the engineers back to the drawing board to enhance battery capabilities. The result is a 37-mile zero emissions range. Alfa reckons both acceleration and range are best-in-class: they certainly eclipse the BMW X1 225xe and Audi Q3 TFSI e.

There are two other engines: a 130hp four-cylinder diesel which won’t come to the UK, and a 256hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol (all-wheel drive) which is strictly for North America and Middle East.

New Tonale: an overhauled Jeep architecture

How will the Tonale handle on the Italian Alpine pass after which it is named? The monocoque chassis is an overhauled version of the Jeep Compass and Renegade’s ‘small wide’ architecture. Materials are different to boost stiffness while minimising weight gains – the targets are 1600kg for the mHEV and 1850kg for the plug-in hybrid – and the electronic architecture is all-new.

Independent suspension is by McPherson struts front and rear. At the back, two independent transverse links and one independent longitudinal link connect to the wheel hub, in what Alfa calls a three-arm strut. Engineers say this design maximises lateral stiffness and decouples longitudinal forces, to boost road-holding and compliance.

The engineers are close to a 50:50 weight distribution for the plug-in hybrid, though that’s a pipe dream for the mild hybrids carrying a higher proportion of weight in the nose. Wheel sizes span 18-20 inches: the top two rims can offer Alfa’s gorgeous five-hole telephone dial alloys.

New Tonale: adaptive damping and direct steering

Base Tonales have Frequency Selective Damping, a hydraulic system that switches between high and low rates depending on road conditions and driving style. Veloce trims upgrade to a Marelli electronically switchable dampers, operated by Alfa’s DNA drive mode selector. Advanced Efficiency (offering pure electric driving in the PHEV) and Normal use the Comfort setting, with an electroactuated valve changing to stiffer damping in Dynamic mode. 

‘We’ve developed the suspension set-up specifically for the Tonale, we worked very much on it,’ says Tonale product manager Luis Miguel Dasso Lang. ‘We wanted to repeat the same feeling as the Giulia and Stelvio, particularly with very direct steering – as an Alfa should be.’ 

The product manager reckons the Tonale will replicate its siblings’ deliciously rapid responses off the dead-ahead, thanks to a fast, 13.6:1 steering ratio and front geometry designed to enhance feel and turn-in. ‘To drive, it feels alive,’ says the Dasso Lang. ‘Of course it’s a driver’s car, but we also wanted it to be a comfortable car, with enough space for the family. We wanted a good balance between the driver and the other occupants.’

The front-drive mild hybrids have dynamic torque vectoring, simulating the feel of an electronic self-locking differential by braking the outer wheel in corners to trim understeer and sharpen turn-in. Alfa is also talking up its Integrated Brake System, with by-wire electronic activation saving weight by eliminating the mechanical link. Veloce models get four-piston fixed callipers from Brembo.

New Tonale: a big quality push 

The Tonale’s design was frozen before Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos joined in July 2021, but CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato has charged his design boss with finessing the perceived quality of Alfa’s soon-to-be best-seller. That means trips to Naples to work with the engineers at Pomigliano d’Arco, the factory which started life building the Alfasud and will soon make the Tonale on a new line. 

Imparato delivered a stepchange in quality while leading Peugeot, and he has the same ambition for the Italians: ‘Tonale will be launched when I have the right level of quality and we do not make any compromise on that topic,’ states the CEO emphatically. 

To reassure wary customers, the Tonale is backed by a five-year warranty, extending to eight years/93,000 miles for the hybrid batteries. Alfa’s even using non-fungible token technology, to record the vehicle’s servicing record off-board in a bid to cement used values.

10 months in a Giulia Quadrifoglio: read Car’s long-term test

New Tonale: will there be a high-performance Quadrifoglio? 

‘We will always have a Quadrifoglio umbrella at the top of the range for each Alfa Romeo launch – provided that I have the right level of performance,’ says CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato. ‘And this level of performance must be obviously raw sensation as well as electrification power.’ 

‘We are working on the potential Quadrifoglio version of Tonale. For the moment the highest level of power I have is 275 horsepower. We can easily be at 300 obviously, that’s not the problem, but that’s not the intention for Quadrifoglio. So if I cannot have [sufficient] horsepower, I will probably not go. But we are working on it at the moment.’

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine