The Alfa Romeo Tonale Makes Me Want More
Another crossover enters the fray. For the sports car-hungry enthusiast, it’s generally hard to care. Furthermore, the Alfa Romeo Tonale is a Dodge Hornet reprinted in a different shade of Stellantis. Some may take a dim view of an Alfa that's basically a Dodge. But no matter how many parts it shares with a Dodge, I was left impressed by Alfa’s new baby egg.
The Tonale is a few things. It’s, of course, the Dodge Hornet’s Italian cousin. It's also Alfa Romeo’s first plug-in hybrid, but not its last, and likely the car Alfa is banking on to deliver sales growth in America. That's a lot of weight on this little crossover’s shoulders.
During a brief stint on the roads of northern Italy, I found myself at first indifferent to the Tonale. From the driver’s seat, it’s a simple crossover. The steering is light, though it tightens up slightly in the vehicle's "Dynamic" mode. Its ride—without that stiffest mode engaged—is firm but fair, what one might and should expect from an Alfa Romeo. Its plug-in hybrid system, which produces 272 horses from its 1.3-liter 4-cylinder and batteries, engages and disengages electric thrust seamlessly. The electric power feels hidden away enough, so as to not distract from an otherwise straightforward driving experience. The Tonale is peppy, but not fast.
The hybrid part is exciting, though. We are proponents of hybrids, particularly plug-ins. In this car, efficiency gains come with no noticeable drawbacks. If you told me that the car I drove didn't have a PHEV system, I would have believed you. It felt so un-intrusive, so inoffensive that it didn't dampen any of this car's performance feel. Unfortunately during a short stint at the Tonale's wheel, I didn’t have time to fuss much with the Tonale’s EV-only mode. Rather, I spent more time exploring how the two power systems integrated in the car's performance-forward Dynamic setting. And in that mode, gas and electric power blended well.
Aside from a hint of Italian flair—the side-view mirror caps have il Tricolore pasted on—there’s not much theater to the Tonale. That’s just fine.
The interior is a decent place to spend time. To modern Alfisti, it'll feel familiar. It’s sporty, driver-centric, and welcoming. Like many new cars on the market, there are massive screens inside this interior; a 12.3-inch ”Cannocchiale” gauge cluster and a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system. While big, they’re about as inoffensive as large in-car screens come.
I found the Tonale’s fiery side when I got the crossover on pavement at Stellantis’s Balocco Proving Grounds facility. Led by an Alfa Romeo test driver in a Giulia GTA, we hammered around one of the short tracks at the Italian test facility. Doing my best to remain glued on the pace car’s bumper, I hammered on the Tonale to merely hang on by a thread. Impressively, it complied very well.
My time on track went by quick. These were relatively short laps, just two or three of them, on a track with light drops, brief straightaways, and some solid corners to toss the Tonale’s weight around. It was no Nurburgring, but it was hilarious fun. With the Tonale dialed to Dynamic and the suspension left in Stiff mode, the Tonale hustled its 4,133-pound curb weight well. Hammering through its six-speed auto with the paddles behind the steering wheel was a joy, more fun than it should be in a non-performance-focused crossover.
The Tonale's brakes held up well, suffering no fade during the quick sessions. Additionally, it seems Alfa has done some impressive retuning of its touchy brake-by-wire system. The brake pedal is bitey, but not annoyingly so. Thankfully it's predictable too.
Overall, the Tonale offers a welcoming experience for an enthusiast in search of a crossover. It’s far from a boring car, and in flourishing small crossover market, one full of products aimed at broad-market appeal, few automakers can clear that bar.
Of course, we'd welcome a Tonale with more power and loftier performance ambitions. Perhaps a Tonale Quadrifoglio, something exciting and violent enough to put the Porsche Macan GTS on its heels.
When asked about the possibility of a more-potent Tonale, Larry Dominique, the senior vice president of Alfa Romeo North America told Road & Track that it’s possible, but the company won’t do build the car if it can’t be done right.
“With this car, what we basically said is, ‘If we can find the right drivetrain or powertrain ability, we believe the platform could manage it, but we would need to have the right level of power and performance that would warrant the [infamous Alfa quadrifoglio] clover. Right now, we don’t have a solution for that.”
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