2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale First Drive: An electrifying Italian alternative

2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale First Drive: An electrifying Italian alternative

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MILAN, Italy – Chicken or egg? It’s often a matter of perspective. In this case, the 2023 Dodge Hornet is based on the 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale – it’s even built in Italy – yet it was the Dodge that arrived first on American shores. By the narrowest of margins, true, but it happened nevertheless. That leaves the Tonale (pronounced "toe-nal-ay," not "toe-nail") to carve out a premium niche for itself above the buzzy Italian-American.

How? For starters, the Tonale is exclusively available as a plug-in hybrid in the United States. Only Canada and Mexico will get the lower-output, gasoline-only variant. Producing 285 horsepower and 347 pound-feet of torque combined, the plug-in powertrain consists of a 1.3-liter turbocharged four-banger and six-speed automatic transmission up front and a 121-horsepower electric motor on the rear axle. There’s no physical connection between them, so power from the gas engine can’t be sent rearward or vice versa.


That means the Tonale is effectively rear-wheel drive when in electric-only mode. It can run like that for more than 30 miles if the 15.5-kilowatt-hour battery is fully charged, which requires about 2.5 hours on a level 2 setup. Provided you don’t ask more of the powertrain than the battery and motor are able to deliver, it will putter along in combustion-free silence. Mashing the throttle will engage the gas engine no matter what hybrid mode you’re in; more on those below.

The standard Tonale is equipped with a MacPherson strut suspension with Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) shocks. They may sound like fancy electronic dampers but FSD shocks do their magic without any digital intervention. While not as sharp as performance-tuned shocks, nor as comfortable as those engineered to deliver the best ride, they offer a solid balance that is much less costly or complex than the adaptive setup that comes standard on the range-topping Veloce model.

The Veloce’s adaptive suspension is incorporated into Alfa's "DNA" drive mode selection system, tightening up in “Dynamic” and backing off in “Natural” and “Advanced Efficiency.” The Tonale’s other sporty add-ons — aluminum steering column-mounted paddle shifters, aluminum pedals and red Brembo calipers with white Alfa Romeo script — are part of the “High Performance Driving Package,” which is optional on the mid-range Sprint and baked into the Veloce.

The hybrid modes mentioned earlier exist outside the D-N-A dial. In addition to the EV-only mode already described, there’s also an automatic “Hybrid” mode and two “e-Save” modes — one that maintains your existing state of charge and another that will actively replenish the battery as you drive, just in case you need EV-only mode available at or near your destination.

Although more closely related to the Hornet, the Tonale’s underpinnings date further back. They're shared with the Jeep Compass among some other small SUVs in the Stellantis portfolio. Like the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA/GLB and Lexus NX, the Tonale leans toward the baby luxury crossover segment. Alfa’s own Stelvio continues on as the flag bearer in the larger “compact” class, although isn’t available as a plug-in hybrid as only the Volvo XC60 and Audi Q5 are. Though Tonale's footprint may be small, the PHEV powertrain makes it hefty — 4,133 pounds before options.

So far, so Hornet, right? But let’s not get too bogged down by that comparison. After all, Alfa and Dodge don’t directly compete, and the Tonale is aimed not at the Brotherhood of Muscle, but at the sisterhood of millennial affluence. North American SVP Larry Dominique was quite clear about this during our briefing: Alfa loves its enthusiast customers, but it can’t survive in the USA by catering only to people who look, well, like the average American auto journalist. Alfa wants women — young women — who care about style and exclusivity, not about the fact that the Tonale lacks a Quadrifoglio model. Don’t expect that to change, by the way. If it’s clover you want, look to Stelvio.

And even if Dodge beat Alfa to market, the Tonale came first in terms of development. That’s evident from the cabin, which looks every bit the part of an Alfa Romeo’s. The one exception, thankfully, is the 10.25-inch Uconnect 5 infotainment system, which is greatly superior to the Alfa-specific system you'll find in the Stelvio and Giulia. It's reskinned to Alfa’s design aesthetic, but its software bones are common with what you’d find in the Hornet and various Jeeps, Rams, etc. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with pulling from a parts bin. It’s then paired with a 12.3-inch digital cluster display skinned to look like a vintage Alfa Romeo instrument panel. The seats are comfortable and supportive but lack the reassuring bolsters of the sporty buckets available in the Giulia.