The best way to think of the new Alfa Romeo Tonale (pronounced Tone-ah-Lee) is as a kind of transitional model. Like its big sibling the Stelvio, it’s a compact SUV crossover, a first for the company and a move away from the traditional saloon and hatches towards the kind of vehicle contemporary buyers want. It’s a little late to the party but no matter, it’s a handsome creation with lots of nice traditional Alfa detailing, sinuous curves and surfaces that you just want to caress. Desirable, in other words, and a nice alternative to the competing (and highly capable and slightly “alternative”) models from the likes of Seat or DS, say.
The car also marks a step towards an all-electric future, although again a little behind some rivals. The Tonale is only available, for the time being at least, as a mild on-board hybrid (a plug-in version should arrive later). So no more pure internal combustion engine options, and, as is the way now, no diesel. Alfa says its first all-electric battery-powered vehicle will be out next year, and the range will be successively converted to electric by 2027. That may be a disappointment to traditionalists but it puts Alfa ahead of the authorities’ deadlines and the needs of our poor, abused old planet. Besides, there are still plenty of lovable old Alfa Spiders out there to sate your nostalgia (the ones from the 2000s being the best bet for value and dependability).
The Alfa Romeo brand is part of the giant Stellantis group now, which means it has easy access to all the latest advanced battery electric technology seen in products such as the Peugeot e-208 or Vauxhall e-Corsa. The Tonale is the last product built on the basis of the technology of its old parent, Fiat Chrysler, and it has a little in common with the Jeep Compass, though the Tonale remains front-wheel drive only for now (all-wheel drive is to come).
As for the Tonale itself, it’s mostly a joyful machine, and it’s there, like all Alfas, to offer something more life-enhancing than a mere vehicle. Unlike some Alfas of the past, which were delightful but challenging, the Tonale should offer no real-world nightmares. The brand is now “obsessed by quality”, it says, and is continuing to enhance the customer experience, something that has held the brand back in the past. For a badge that promises so much, it’s been disappointing for owners to feel their dealers aren’t equally invested in the dream, but things have improved over the years, and the acquisition by Stellantis should mean more stability and buyer confidence.
It ought to be rewarded. The performance from the 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol unit is brisk enough and you even get steering wheel paddles on the Veloce version. It’s tuned for economy, the ride is comfortable rather than out-and-out sporting, and is also class-competitive on interior space, equipment and the usual driver aids. Where the Alfa scores highly is the interior ambience, which has nice retro touches such as the cowled dials and heritage badging, along with the touchscreen, and finished off with quality materials.
The standard Ti model is perfectly acceptable and pleasantly distinctive but, if you can stretch to it, the Veloce does lift the spirits a little more. It includes the famous V-shaped “miron” black grille, the body kit, privacy glass and strikingly bold 19-inch dark finish diamond cut alloy wheels, plus bright red Brembo brake calipers. Inside, you also get aluminium pedals, door sills and lush black and red Alcantara upholstery. Mechanically very similar to the Ti, the Veloce also gains Alfa Dual Stage Valve suspension for a softer, more compliant ride.
It’s not a perfect car because the automatic transmission is at times a little slow to respond to a touch on the accelerator, the paddle shift leaves the indicator and wiper stalks a little further back, and the pricing is definitely quite premium. But it’s still a fine blend of the sporty, the practical and the habitable, and in a compact, accessible package that you can get into a standard parking space and down a narrow city street or country lane. It’s usable and it’s fun and you can lease one for about £400 a month. As an all-rounder, the Tonale is the best Alfa yet.