Home » ‘It’s Fine’: My Girlfriend Reviews The Alfa Romeo Tonale In Two Words, I Do It In 2,348

‘It’s Fine’: My Girlfriend Reviews The Alfa Romeo Tonale In Two Words, I Do It In 2,348

Alfa Romeo Tonale Review
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Alfa Romeo is typically regarded as an exotic manufacturer, more special than run-of-the-mill makes like Hyundai or Toyota. It’s known for building cars with a certain passion or spark, the kind you only get when an Italian’s been involved. It’s been trading on that formula for a long time, though, and that passion hasn’t turned into sales. Enter the Alfa Romeo Tonale, which is meant to help turn the company’s fortunes around.

I jumped behind the wheel of the plug-in hybrid Tonale for a week of regular driving to find out if the Tonale had that Alfa magic, and how well it worked on a day-to-day basis in real life.

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What I found was a competent SUV that was devoid of any charm whatsoever.

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Try Something New

American and Japanese manufacturers learned an important lesson long ago. They realized that hitting the SUV button turned into sales, and they’ve been mashing that button ever since. Eventually, Porsche proved that this could work for a niche sports car manufacturer, too, and eventually, everyone else got on board as well.

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Alfa Romeo, with its sales perpetually in the doldrums, eventually decided it had to get on board, too. It started with the Stelvio and then expanded the lineup with the smaller Tonale. People are buying more compact SUVs than they are sedans or hatchbacks, right? So Alfa should build one too, or so the logic goes.

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The Tonale photographs well.
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It’s not entirely lacking in presence, but…

The Tonale isn’t a budget choice; Alfa is a premium Italian brand, thank you very much. In the US, it’s only available as a plug-in hybrid. If you want the cheaper ICE-only versions, you’ll have to look at the badge-engineered Dodge Hornet instead. In any case, $45,440 gets you a 1.3-liter four-cylinder capable of 180 hp on its own. This is a hybrid though, so with the electric motor on board, the drivetrain delivers a combined output of 285 hp and 347 pound-feet of torque. It’s solely available with a 6-speed automatic gearbox. I found myself behind the wheel of the AUDM Veloce plug-in hybrid trim, which retails locally at $78,500 AUD before on-road costs (~$52,000 USD). It seats five and weighs 4,291 pounds.

That chunky curb weight does come at a cost. It’ll only do 29 mpg on gasoline alone, whether city, highway, or combined. However, it can also do 33 miles on battery alone, since it’s a plug-in hybrid. That gets it a combined rating of 77 MPGe from the EPA. Basically, you can expect to drive this thing about 360 miles on a full tank of gas and a full battery combined.

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“Looks kinda like a Suba … wait, that is a Subaru!” The Tonale gets lost in the compact SUV crowd pretty quickly.

On paper, the Alfa is neither hot hero nor sluggard. It seems to land somewhere in the middle. So the real question is: What is driving the Tonale really like?

My first impression on getting in the cockpit was the one that stuck with me for the week. This feels like a competent, comfortable SUV. Despite the “compact” designation, it’s huge compared to what we used to think of as a small car. It’s roomy enough inside. And it could wear just about any badge from Hyundai to Toyota, to, well… Dodge.

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The Tonale features Alfa Romeo’s “DNA” drive mode selector, which plays a key role in how it behaves. D is “dynamic mode,” the most sporting option. It keeps the engine humming and sharpens up responsiveness in the steering and throttle. N is “neutral” mode for regular daily driving. Meanwhile, A stands for “advanced efficiency,” the key mode for taking advantage of the plug-in hybrid’s abilities. It will only fire the engine if you slam the accelerator to the floor.

The Tonale is quite nice to drive on pure electric power; it’s a touch disappointing its range is limited to just 33 miles or so. It’s not fast, but the instant shove of the electric motor is nice, and it doesn’t feel laggardly in city driving. In Neutral mode, the Tonale drivetrain is a perfectly competent hybrid, if unexceptional. It’s hard to wake the beast to enjoy its full power, and transitions between pure electric drive and the engine kicking in are a little more noticeable than you might like. But ultimately, it’s fine.

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It’s not the most interesting engine bay.

Dynamic mode felt like the odd one out to me. In contrast to the other two modes, having the 1.3-liter engine audibly grumbling away at all times was weird in comparison. It felt best suited to a spirited drive on a country backroad with little traffic. That’s not something most of us do with compact SUVs, but if that’s your use case, go ham. For me, using the drivetrain’s full thrust in city traffic felt impractical, particularly given the Tonale’s heft. I’m not sure I see anyone ever using the comically giant aluminum shift paddles to hot-step the six-speed auto, but they’re (optionally) there if you want them.

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What the Tonale deserves the most credit for is its steering. Alfa Romeo specifically gave the model a very quick rack, with just 2.3 turns lock to lock. Despite this, I didn’t find the Tonale to handle in a very sporty way; nothing about it made me want to attack apexes at speed. It’s simply too heavy to inspire that kind of behavior. Regardless, the steering felt very responsive and tactile without a lot of heft. Wheeling around tight carparks and city alleys was a breeze, and I could always tell what the wheels were doing. Cruising at speed was comfortable too; the feel didn’t translate into nervousness on the highway. Transitioning back to my E90 BMW a week later was actually a disappointment.

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The interior is well-built, with seats that hold you nicely and feel lux enough. It’s all black, though, and beyond the crosshair air vents and the Italian flag near the shifter, there’s not much to draw your eye. The US market at least gets contrast red stitching on some models to jazz things up. Without that, it’s a snoozefest. You could be sitting in just about any car when you’re behind the wheel of the Tonale.

The interior electronics are all competent enough. I had some issues getting Android Auto to pair at times, and the dash sometimes threw error warnings up for the crash avoidance system. Other than those niggles, it worked fairly well. Wireless Android Auto is great, and I assume CarPlay works just as well.

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Emotional Response

For getting around town, or cruising the countryside, the Tonale does a fine job. But that’s all it does. There was nothing about the Tonale that made me want to get in and drive it. It wasn’t exciting. It was another silvery-grey SUV in a market full of them. I had about as much fun driving this thing around as I did a Hyundai Santa Fe. Does that mean it’s a bad car? No. Does it mean it’s a bad Alfa Romeo? Well, it does to me. I expected this thing to have something magical about it. Something interesting. But I never found it.

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The phone dials are still glorious. Never stop with these, Alfa. Never stop.

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I’ll temper my criticism by saying that yes, I get it. Alfa Romeo has tried building bright red cars with shouty drivetrains and exhaust notes that rival God’s own voice for sheer healing quality. And that didn’t work. The Giulia didn’t light up the sales charts; neither did so many Alfas that came before.

So Alfa Romeo realized it was time to grow up. It quit its punk band and decided to get a real job. SUVs seemed like a safe meal ticket, so that’s the move it made, like so many guitarists who end up in accounting.

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“Rule, Italia! Italia rules the waves! Wait…”

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Of course, winning at car sales isn’t that simple. The Tonale might be a competent, safe, middle-of-the-road SUV, and that’s fine. But Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, and about fifty other manufacturers all make those, too. And customers trust them a hell of a lot more than they do Alfa Romeo.

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Wait, how do phone dials look if you throw them on a BMW?

Sure, it’s a plug-in hybrid, and those aren’t super common in the compact SUV segment. Beyond that, it’s hard to come up with a reason to buy one. Take the BMW X1 for example. It has more exciting exterior colors, a more exciting interior, and just overall felt like a special vehicle from the moment I got in it.

The grey-over-black Alfa Romeo gave me nothing of the sort. It didn’t feel special in the slightest, and for the price it’s selling for, it ought to. If I’ve just forked over fifty large for a fancy Italian something, I want to be reminded of that every time I get in it. I want my friends to enjoy it when they ride along. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but this is supposed to be an Alfa Romeo, and not one thing on the car reminded me of that. Besides, you know, the badges. There’s a reason people sometimes refer to the Tonale as a “fancy Dodge Hornet” instead of noting – correctly – that the Hornet is actually a less fancy Tonale.

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Other Matters

I found the Tonale’s most appealing offer was the fact it was a plug-in hybrid. The idea of getting around solely on electric power from your own driver is compelling. I enjoyed it when I tried it, and I got about 37 miles out of a full charge. Plus, I had the insurance of gasoline on tap if I wanted to roam further. Really, though, I’d probably have enjoyed the Tonale even more if it was a pure EV. The Dynamic mode and the 1.3-liter engine didn’t inspire me enough to justify their existence.

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The Electric snek motif is repeated a couple of times on the body and in the dash, but the Alfa badges themselves stick with the traditional design.

If you’re keen to use this thing as a plug-in hybrid, you’ll probably want to sort out a home charging solution. For me, this was easy. Australia runs on 240 volts, so I just plugged in the included portable charger and had the car topped off in a few short hours. Americans might need to work a little harder to sort a 220-volt socket or something, or you could just settle for slower 110-volt charging overnight.

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There’s plenty of room in the back, with 23 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats. You can up that to 51 cubic feet if you fold them down. Meanwhile, if you want to tow your jetski or something, the Tonale can handle a 2,000 pound trailer without complaint.

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You can fit a decent-sized amp in the back.

The big problem for Alfa Romeo is the existence of the Dodge Hornet. Stellantis let Dodge rob Alfa of the cheaper ICE-only models, and they put a more boring front-end on it to boot. The Hornet is failing to make any real sales for Dodge, and dealers are slashing prices by over $16,000 just to get old stock off the lot. With the right exhaust, the right colors, and the right price tag, the ICE-only models could have been something special. A cheap Italian SUV with a bit of flair. Instead, they’ve ended up as unexceptional Dodges that won’t move, and Alfa’s stuck with only the pricier hybrid to sell.

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Final Thoughts

The Alfa Romeo Tonale is pretty okay, I guess. Whether you should buy one or not depends on what you want. If you like the way it looks, and you want a plug-in hybrid in an SUV body style, it could serve you well. Get it in green, get the interesting interior options, and enjoy it in that way. If you want to road trip or take in the Tail of the Dragon, the ICE powertrain will happily take you further than the limited battery can, and the Dynamic mode will let you have a little bit of fun.

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If you’re interested in the Tonale as a fancy Italian to spice up your life, I’m not sure I could recommend it. I’ve found much more style and charm in other SUVs than I found here. The Tonale isn’t a bad looker, but aside from Verde Fangio Metallic, the paint colors are pretty tame and the interior is boring. I tried to see the fun in the Tonale, but I couldn’t do it. Save for one of my friends, the rest all wondered why you’d buy one over just about any other competent SUV on the market – particularly given the price.

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It’s a Mopar at heart, baby.

Think back, and you’ll realize the problem. Porsche did the niche SUV thing right when it dropped the Cayenne all those decades ago. The company realized it had to imbue its sporting ethos into the SUV, even if nobody had ever thought of doing that before. The Cayenne proved a hit, combining practicality with the handling and power that made a Porsche special. Alfa Romeo seems to have lost the recipe for its special sauce, and delivered the Tonale without it. The result is a ho-hum sandwich that is sadly quite forgettable.

To make sure I wasn’t going too hard on the Tonale, I checked in with my emotionally intelligent girlfriend. “I wrote it was devoid of any charm,” I explained, and she replied with an oof. Perhaps I had judged too harshly, I thought, and asked if she felt the Tonale had any special charm. “It was fine,” she offered. So I figure I’m about on the money, then.

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I’ll end it on this: I hope Alfa Romeo sells a million Tonales so they can afford to have heart and soul again. It’s a decent car, it’s just lacking any special something to justify it over the mainstream brands. And that’s a shame.

Image credits: Lewin Day, Alfa Romeo where stated

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Thomas Metcalf
Thomas Metcalf
1 month ago

Stellantis and Chrysler before them is where brands go to die. They merge to make a bigger company and then slowly pare down the offerings until each brand has 1 or 2 cars. Then they merge again and repeat the cycle.

Matti Sillanpää
Matti Sillanpää
1 month ago

Teledials are always nice, but I think that is only good thing about this car.

Bring me the damn Giulia wagon! I’ve already bought the 159 wagon (new, so done my bit) and I have no use for sedan and I don’t want a damn crossover.

Aardvark775
Aardvark775
1 month ago

The two word review is perfect for yet another generic SUV.

Laurence Rogers
Laurence Rogers
1 month ago

Great review! Maybe here in Australia, being just a competent smaller SUV will finally get Alfa some sales so we can get the fun stuff.

You really are getting some awesome headlines lately, first the Clown car and now this!

Zelda Bumperthumper
Zelda Bumperthumper
1 month ago

The whole thing feels like Stellantis developed An Car and then grafted on the Alfa front clip and wheels. The base vehicle feels very generic, but at least the Alfabits are pretty tasty.

Mr E
Mr E
1 month ago

From the rear up to the A pillar, it’s a nice (albeit generic) design. The full side profile, however, makes it look like it could use either a tiny stretch to the wheelbase and/or a little less front overhang.

So close, Moparomeo!

Ricardo Mercio
Ricardo Mercio
1 month ago
Reply to  Mr E

That’s just FWD platforms in general. I definitely agree a stretch of an inch or so would have helped give it a bit more meat in that TINY sliver of fender between the door and wheel arch, though, this has a particularly accentuated FWD nose.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ricardo Mercio
AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
1 month ago

I have to reluctantly agree. It’s fine. It’s just fine. It looks distinctive enough, it goes well and is above average interesting. Does it do Alfa’s pedigree justice? No it does not. But honestly as your prime Alfa Romeo nut, I’m glad to be able to have something like this as a “boring” daily. So there’s that.

Dottie
Dottie
1 month ago

Although it is certainly one of the CUVs of all time, it does come in a really nice green. The Hornet has some nice color choices too.

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 month ago

The company realized it had to imbue its sporting ethos into the SUV, even if nobody had ever thought of doing that before. 

Ahem. GMC would like a word with you.
Tested: 1992 GMC Typhoon Is the Original Performance SUV (caranddriver.com)

World24
World24
1 month ago

 Stellantis let Dodge rob Alfa of the cheaper ICE-only models

More like Alfa let Dodge do the gas only models. Alfa Romeo is treated like Lexus, Audi, Jeep. They get first dibs, they get to do whatever they damn well please, whenever they want to. Let’s remember the last time Dodge was allowed to take billions of dollars’ worth of profit from other brands to build its own custom chassis for 3 vehicles. Oh wait, Dodge never could. Of course, the Tonale was yet another project FCA/Stellantis wanted to go through for Alfa at a moment’s notice because Alfa needs the product more.
I can only imagine the ass kissing Kuniskis had to do to even get the Hornet in the first place. Likely the reason he decided to retire too.

Norek Koss
Norek Koss
1 month ago

I love spirits. Of course PHEV option.

Spikersaurusrex
Spikersaurusrex
1 month ago

Something, something, ingrown toenail.

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