Alfa Romeo’s second SUV, the compact-ish Tonale, arrives in the UK albeit still in left-hand drive form for now.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale compact-ish SUV has arrived in the UK for review, albeit still in left-hand drive form, to sit below the Stelvio in Alfa’s range.
It’s powered by the first engine option we’ll get in the UK – a mildly-hybridised 1.5-litre petrol turbo making 158bhp and driving the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox, though a plug-in hybrid is coming later too. Here the powertrain, with just 20bhp provided by the electric motor, is good for 46.3mpg and 139g/km on the official combined economy test cycle.
There are three trim levels – this one is the middle a Ti, which starts at £39,995, but it has some options, most notably 20in alloy wheels. If you go for the top spec Veloce (£42,495) it’d have flappy gearshift paddles and adaptive dampers too.
I quite liked it inside. There’s a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to materials but the small round steering wheel is cool and the brightwork on the dash pleasing. There are comfortable and supportive seats, too, and it’s good to see prominent separate switchgear for heating and ventilation which means the touchscreen isn’t too overloaded (and will mirror your phone anyway).
But the perceived solidity of some of the materials – the door tops, column stalks, and the application of brushed-effect silvery plastic – I don’t think would match up to the plushest alternatives. There’s reasonable room in the rear for a 4.5m long car and a competitively-sized 500 litre boot.
The driving experience is as mixed a bag as the interior. Alfa has fitted ‘DNA’ drive mode selector and only in D (for Dynamic) is it particularly satisfying, with the system a gear that provides any kind of response to suggest its 8.8sec 0-62mph time is accurate.
In N (Natural) or A (Arrggh: it’s unbearable) it’s to increasing degrees gelatinous and gloopy, attempting to begin moves with the electric motor in what I presume is a futile attempt to not use to much fuel, but which leaves it infuriatingly ponderous before the engine pitches in. It’s particularly wilfully bad in A (actually Advanced Efficiency).
In N mode, at a steady 30mph, we hit the throttle and a stopwatch at the same time, and it wanted more than 3.5sec to gain just 10mph. For comparison we climbed into a diesel Citroen Berlingo van – not a rival, I know, but what we had to hand – and it was a full second quicker doing the same thing. You can select and hold gears yourself – even on the Ti, the gearlever has a manual mode – but it shouldn’t be this hard work. I doubt it saves much fuel over Dynamic mode, either, given you’ll be on the throttle that much harder. And either way, this isn’t much more than a 40mpg car.
Not entirely a rival but the new Honda Civic I drove last week, easily breezing past 60mpg with a much more responsive and predictable powertrain, shows how it can be done.
The handling is, though, very agile, so if that’s what Alfa was going for, it nailed that. It doesn’t roll too far – just enough to lean on – and I doubt there’s another car in the class that’s this willing to turn, yet it does it without the harshness of ride that you get in, say, the smaller Ford Puma ST. Even on these 20in wheels (and in left-hand drive, which often doesn’t help the perception of ride quality in the UK because it sits the driver on the worst bit of the road) while the Tonale is well-controlled, it’s far from harsh, breezing aside most town lumps and imperfections.
The steering is very quick, at around 2.2 turns between locks, and it’s really responsive even just off of straight ahead, and it’s extremely light. Which means that for all the agility, it does not feel very stable.
Combine that with the difficult drivetrain and, even though it comes across as quite a dynamic car, it’s a difficult one to drive smoothly, get into a rhythm with, or feel relaxedly comfortable with.
I’m reminded a little of the 2010-onwards Mini Countryman, which was given very rapid steering in an effort to make a tall car try to feel as nimble as a Mini hatch, rather than being given dynamics that suited its nature.
A seemingly similar ethos makes the Tonale a half-appealing car but one that’s harder to warm to than, say, the incredibly compelling Giulia saloon, or the maturely capable Stelvio SUV.