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Alfa Romeo Tonale (2022-): first drive review

The Alfa Romeo Tonale aims to offer vigour, practicality and premium quality – as well as stiff opposition to the Audi Q3 and BMW X1. We deliver our first impressions.
Alfa Romeo Tonale front angle photo

Alfa Romeo’s Tonale is a strikingly styled newcomer in the small SUV market. Its main attraction is sharp driving manners, which are every bit as impressive as those found in the BMW X1. The Tonale, however, is also practical enough for family duties, with a spacious cabin and generous luggage capacity. However, based on our initial impressions, it doesn’t feel class-leading in other areas.

Note that this review is based on our initial drive of the Alfa Romeo Tonale. Our full review and verdict (complete with the car's overall score, plus scores for safety, reliability and more) will be available to Which? members once all our extensive lab and road tests are complete.

Looking to buy a car that's been through all our tests? View our pick of the best cars for 2022

What is the Alfa Romeo Tonale?

Alfa Romeo already has one SUV in its range: the medium-size Stelvio. With the new Tonale, it’s heading into the very popular compact crossover arena, dominated in the UK by the Ford Puma and Kia Niro. Alfa is positioning the Tonale as a premium product, so its closest competitors are the Audi Q3 and BMW X1.

The Tonale is quite compact, measuring 4.53 metres long and 1.84 metres wide. Easily its most striking design touch is the headlamps: six LEDs that recall past Alfas like the SZ and Brera. The same motif recurs at the rear, underneath a distinctive V-shaped rear screen.

The Tonale platform is an evolution of the Fiat 500X/Jeep Renegade one, but it has a wider track and bespoke suspension, steering and electronic systems.

UK customers have only one engine option from launch in September 2022: a 160hp 1.5-litre mild hybrid. This is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox that drives the front wheels only.

A more powerful Q4 285hp plug-in hybrid version is due to arrive in December 2022, featuring all-wheel drive, a 37-mile EV range and official CO2 emissions of just 35g/km.

Three trim levels are offered in the UK: Ti, Veloce and Speciale (the latter a launch-only special edition). Standard equipment on the Ti includes 19-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights/wipers, sat nav, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, parking sensors, rear-view camera and electric tailgate. The Veloce adds Alcantara trim and aluminium gearshift paddles, while the top-spec Speciale has adaptive suspension damping and larger 20-inch wheels.

Prices have yet to be announced, but are expected to start at around £35,000.


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What’s the Alfa Romeo like to drive?

SUV drivers who appreciate sporty driving will love the Tonale, which handles more sharply than most of its main rivals. It’s certainly appealing inside and out, with a cabin that looks and feels modern and upmarket.

So far we’ve driven only the 160hp mild hybrid model, which is fitted with a small 48-volt electric motor. While this version can travel in electric-only mode (unusual for a mild-hybrid), it can do so only at low speeds for very short distances, such as when parking or in stop-start traffic jams. The true benefit of the electric motor is how it boosts power and torque in everyday driving, most notably when pulling away and at low revs.

The 160hp engine delivers peppy but hardly exceptional performance (0-62mph takes a claimed 8.8 seconds). One thing we didn’t like during our first drive was the accelerator pedal, which feels like it’s held back by a rubber band; we had to hoof it really hard to get maximum acceleration.

Stepping inside, the Tonale’s cabin ambience certainly impresses. Its clean design is underscored by a palpable feeling of quality and we like the dashboard’s ambient lighting whose colours you can change. The materials are high-end, except for the lower front cabin and rear passenger area, which are trimmed in cheap, hard plastics. One minor ergonomic fault is a rather obtrusive centre front armrest.

Ahead of the driver is a classical twin-hooded instrument binnacle with a fully digital 12.3-inch display that allows you to choose from three different styles. In the centre of the dashboard is a 10.25-inch touchscreen that can be easily configured to display all sorts of information. The graphics are very sharp and the menu is logical, although there’s no rotary controller – it’s only changeable by touch. Pleasingly, there are separate knobs for audio volume and air-con.

Alfa Romeo’s signature ‘DNA’ controller is a nice-feeling rotary dial with three driving modes: Dynamic, Normal and Advanced-efficiency. These alter the settings for the engine, steering, stability control and chassis electronics.

Does the Tonale live up to its ‘sporty, dynamic’ handling billing? Yes, it does - at least during our limited time with the car (we’ll reserve our final judgement until it’s been through our full lab and road tests).

The steering is very fast-acting, if a little on the light side, while the 50/50 front/rear weight distribution gives the car a balanced feel. It turns into corners nicely and while there is some body roll, it’s not excessive. Travel too fast through corners and ultimately there’s safe understeer (front end pushing wide).

The automatic gearbox is OK, but we found it sometimes gets flustered finding the right ratio. Changing gears manually using the steering wheel paddles is not recommended as the shifts don’t feel very sharp.

The ride quality isn’t bad overall, but it’s notably firmer in Dynamic mode, when it feels uncomfortable on poor roads. Top-spec models feature a button that softens the damping, addressing this issue to a certain degree.

The Brembo brakes, controlled by a brake-by-wire system, are very sharp and confident.

Visibility is about average by class standards. The lofty ride height gives a good view of traffic but thick side and rear roof pillars, as well as chunky rear headrests, really obscure your rear view. Thankfully parking sensors and a rear-view camera are standard.

How reliable is the Alfa Romeo Tonale?

As the Tonale hasn’t reached showrooms yet, we can’t assess its reliability as a new car.

However, we did hear from enough Alfa Romeo owners in our latest car survey to judge the reliability of the brand as a whole.

Which? members can read more about Alfa Romeo's reliability using the tool in our guide to the most reliable car brands.

Not yet a Which? member? Sign up today.

How comfortable and spacious is the Alfa Romeo Tonale?

We'll provide accurate figures for driver and passenger height limits once the Tonale has been through our labs, but on first impressions there’s no lack of legroom and headroom up front. With the front seats set for six-footers (people 1.6m tall), the rear seats have enough legroom for passengers of a similar height.

Cutouts in the roof boost headroom in the rear, too, while large door apertures ease getting in and out, so overall the Tonale is great for family use. The only downside is a slightly narrow cabin.

The boot is big by class standards at a claimed 500 litres and has a usefully square shape. It also benefits from a split-level floor, giving you the option of keeping it level with the load lip and providing hidden underfloor storage.

It’s a pity that the rear seats split in a simple 60/40 format, rather than the more useful 40/20/40 split offered by some rivals.

How economical is the Alfa Romeo Tonale to run?

The official fuel consumption figures for the 160hp hybrid are between 44.8 and 49.6mpg, while CO2 emissions are between 130 and 144g/km. These are about average for the compact SUV class.

Whether it can get anywhere close to this in our independent lab tests remains to be seen.

How safe is the Alfa Romeo Tonale?

Euro NCAP has not yet tested the Tonale.

Standard safety equipment includes lane-keep assist, autonomous emergency braking and pedestrian/cyclist recognition. Blind spot monitoring is also available.

Is there anything I should know?

Straight-line performance isn’t quite up to the level we expect of a sporty brand like Alfa Romeo. If you enjoy high performance, you may want to wait for the more powerful Q4 plug-in hybrid version.

Alfa Romeo Tonale: Which? first drive verdict

Price: TBC (expected to be around £35,000)

Pros:

  • Sporty handling
  • Generous equipment
  • Pleasant and spacious cabin

Cons:

  • Slightly disappointing performance
  • Unsettled ride on some surfaces

If you like your SUVs to feel sporty, the Tonale is certainly up there with the class leaders in terms of driving dynamics. It also looks smart, feels nice inside, has enough space for all the family, and comes with plenty of modern media technology. It does most things competently, if not exceptionally.

Don't forget, this is just our first impression of the car.

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