I first got close and personal to the Tonale at the 2023 Chicago Auto Show. Tucked amongst the Stelvio and Giulia models was a small, striking green SUV that stopped me in my tracks. It was attractive and looked agile, certainly smaller than the Stelvio. While looking it over, the PR flack from Alfa approached so I peppered him with questions. “It’s a gas-electric hybrid. This is the last Alfa Romeo model that will have an internal combustion engine.”
“THIS IS THE LAST ALFA ROMEO MODEL THAT WILL HAVE AN INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINE.”
The words echoed through my head. Did I hear that correctly?
The rep slowly nodded, looking not entirely enthralled with the words that he’d just uttered either.
I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. After some marvelous and memorable drives in Giulias, Stelvios, and 4C’s, to discover that those fantastic Alfa engines were going away…it was simply too much. A veil of darkness suddenly settled over the future. What is this world coming to? What is going on? I left feeling demoralized and completely unenthused about the future.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about that little SUV on the show floor. What would an Alfa Romeo hybrid be like? A 1.3L turbocharged four cylinder? Sounds pretty weak. I finally decided to experience the Tonale for myself and reached out to Alfa Romeo USA. They sent over an Alfa Rosso Tonale Ti for us to check out.
In the parking lot, the Tonale strikes one by how small it is. It’s noticeably smaller than the Stelvio. The thin LED headlights and the Alfa inverted-triangle grille looks sharp; smart. The lower valence splitter adds some drama and the long hood gives it some flair. The sides are relatively flat with a little sculpting. The C-pillar is the weak point of the design; there’s a lack of strength to it and it feels like a compromise. The steeply sloped rear glass and the LED taillights finish the design nicely. Overall it’s a nice design.
Inside are well-bolstered seats in a tough, resilient fabric. They sit fairly close together with an extremely narrow center console between. If two men were sitting in the front seats, they’d be shoulder-to-shoulder. Tight. The dash is well-laid out, with all the modern conveniences you’d expect in an Alfa Romeo: heated seats and steering wheel, satellite radio, sat-nav, cross-traffic alert, electrically adjustable seats. It’s easy to get comfortable in the Tonale. It’s also practical. The back seats fold flat and offer plenty of storage space.
The drivetrain layout is simple: the rear wheels are electrically driven and the front wheels are powered by a turbocharged 1.3L inline-four making an impressive 285hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. You feel it when you stomp on the throttle; both engines work like hell and the Tonale GOES. It upholds the Alfa standard with pride. 0-60 runs happen in about 5 seconds and 100 comes up in about 10 seconds. Under normal driving circumstances, the Tonale utilizes one or the other. Typically it uses the gas engine to get up to speed and then the electric motors to maintain that speed. It switches between the two as necessary. The switch is seamless. The driver doesn’t notice it. Whenever the gas motor is running it recharges the battery but the motor can also be plugged in to be recharged. The result is quite impressive: we averaged nearly 45 mpg in regular driving.
The ride is comfortably firm and sporting. It doesn’t lean through corners but remains upright and feels confident. You feel bumps and potholes but the suspension works hard to minimize them. The steering is nicely weighted and feels intuitive and responsive.
The brakes are strong and progressive, slowing and stopping the Tonale without effort.
The Tonale was delivered on the first real day of winter here in Michigan. That night we got over 12” of snow and schools were closed county-wide. How does an electric-hybrid handle winter? Quite well. At one point I used the fob to remotely start it. The engine didn’t start up but the electronics all came on and started heating the seats and steering wheel. When I finally got dressed up for the cold and headed out to scrape the windows, I was pleased to find that the ice on the windshield had already defrosted and was sliding down the glass. And despite not having winter tires, the AWD easily handled the snow and ice on the roads.
I’m going to admit, I didn’t have high expectations for the Tonale but it surprised me. Despite the small size and tiny engine, Alfa has built a decent little SUV. If you’re looking for a small but capable SUV that gets fantastic mileage and can be driven in a sporting manner, the Tonale is worth looking at.