A premium European car maker has revealed its most affordable machine, and its due to arrive in Australia early next year.
Though it’s named after a high pass in the north of Italy, the new Tonale will wear a lower price-tag than any other Alfa Romeo. This makes the small five-seat SUV an effective replacement for the Giulietta hatchback discontinued in 2020.
The Tonale is due to arrive in Australia in the first quarter of next year. To compete with obvious rivals from premium European brands, such as the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Volvo XC40, the Italian newcomer will need to be priced from about $50,000.
It will be months before the brand’s owner, Stellantis, finalizes the Tonale model line-up and prices for Australia.
Hybrid variants, the first-ever electrified models from Alfa Romeo, will be the first off the assembly line. Four models will be available: the Super, the Sprint and the more powerful Ti and Veloce. All four are front drive.
Late this year the Pomigliano d’Arco factory outside Naples will add a plug-in hybrid variant. The PHEV will be the high-performance Tonal. As well as a big increase in power, it will add all-wheel-drive traction.
Alfa Romeo brought only Ti and Veloce versions of the Tonale to the international launch event beside Lake Como.
These have the same 1.5-litre four as the Super and Sprint, but a more hi-tech variable-geometry turbo increases maximum power from 96kW to 118kW.
Built into the Tonale’s seven-speed double-clutch automatic is an electric motor that sucks current from a small lithium-ion battery pack underneath the tunnel between the front seats.
The 15kW e-motor means the Alfa can do more electric driving than the typical low-voltage hybrid. In slow-moving stop-start traffic the Tonale crawls along, its engine silent. Using a very light foot on the accelerator, it’s sometimes possible to reach 30 to 40km/h before the engine fires up.
Foot flat to the floor, with the e-motor boosting the output of the turbo four, the Tonale is no thriller. Performance is adequate, not exciting. And the engine generates buzzy vibration in the zone between 3000 and 4000rpm.
The Alfa’s seven-speed double-clutch auto could be smoother and smarter, too. Downward shifts, especially at lower speeds, can be jerky. And the transmission’s control software doesn’t seem especially alert; there’s often an annoying wait for it to decide which gear it wants next.
Taking manual control of shifting is more pleasant in the Veloce, which comes with lovely column-mounted aluminum shift paddles that the Ti doesn’t get.
Another important Veloce upgrade is adaptive shock absorbers. These bring a noticeable improvement in ride comfort over the very firm suspension set-up of the Ti.
Alfa Romeo’s engineers aimed to make the Tonale a sportier drive than other small premium SUVs, but missed the bullseye. The steering is light and very direct, but totally feel-free and prone to squirming around in the driver’s hands when accelerating. While the brakes are strong, the brake-by-wire system feels oversensitive and difficult to modulate.
Though it’s no Italian dream to drive, the Tonale is at least a delight to behold. The shapely and prettily proportioned exterior is more appealing than its natural competitors.
Inside, the Alfa is spacious, attractive and appears quite well-made, with up to date tech. Both the instrument and center displays are TFT screens. The customizable Android-powered touchscreen infotainment features Alexa voice control and can be updated over the air. The system is also snappily responsive, like a good smartphone.
There are plenty of digital device charging options; a nicely angled inductive pad at the front of the center console plus a pair of standard USB and USB-C ports front and rear.
The Alfa also introduces a significant auto-industry innovation; it’s the first car in the world to be linked to an NFT (non-fungible token) certificate. This tech allows an incorruptible digital record of each Tonale’s life in service to be kept.
With the owner’s permission, the NFT can be used to create a certificate of the car’s history, a move the car maker says will boost Tonale’s resale value.
ALFA ROMEO TONAL Ti VITALS
PRICE $55,000 (est)
SAFETY Automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, speed-limit sign recognition
ENGINE 1.5-liter 4-cyl turbo; 118kW and 240Nm
MOTOR 48-volt; 15kW/55Nm
0-100KM/H 8.8 secs