Cape Town – Having been an Alfisiti for as long as I can remember, and having spent many hours behind the wheel of various models over the years, every announcement of a New Alfa Romeo is always greeted with enthusiasm.
Mostly they get it right, especially when it comes to design and sometimes things go a bit awry, but then it wouldn’t be an Italian car.
Which brings us to the new Alfa Romeo Tonale that sits just under its bigger Stelvio sibling with one big difference in that it’s a mild hybrid and the first Alfa Romeo to come out with this drivetrain.
Yes I know, a mild hybrid as opposed to a traditional Alfa ICE mill that has had people enthralled (and sometimes disappointed) for generations.
And of course it’s an SUV, slotting into the C SUV segment, because the world seems to have lost its enthusiasm for well crafted sedans and hatchbacks.
Alfa says the Tonale marks the brand’s metamorphosis that remains true to its DNA of Italian sportsmanship since 1910, adding that it's a radical evolution for the company which is looking ahead to a new era of connectivity and electrification.
So what is this electrification metamorphosis all about?
Being a hybrid it needs an engine and in this case it’s a new turbocharged 1.5-litre four cylinder petrol motor that delivers 118kW and 240Nm, which they call the Hybrid VGT (Variable-Geometry Turbo) engine, paired to a seven-speed TCT dual clutch transmission driving the front wheels.
The 48-volt electric “P2” motor, powered by a 0.8kWh battery, adds 15kW and 55Nm. The battery is charged by an Intelligent Brake System that optimises the auto charge feature using mixed regenerative braking to maximise the recovery of kinetic energy during deceleration.
In various driving scenarios the car’s EV capabilities come into play which include e-Creeping to provide the start-up normally found in automatic cars until it picks up speed, e-Launch, to start the vehicle using only the electric motor, e-Queueing to keep going when traffic is hectic in a stop and go pattern and e-Parking when you’re looking for a place to park your Tonale between the white lines.
All of this combined should give you consumption similar to a diesel engine with linear power delivery and consistent acceleration.
To further enhance driving dynamics it’s fitted with Alfa’s D.N.A system, complete with a Dynamic mode that calibrates the accelerator pedal, tightens up the braking and provides more direct steering input. Natural mode automatically manages the compromise between the electric motor and engine while Advance Efficiency provides maximum energy efficiency.
Currently there are three variants available: the entry level Ti, Veloce and Speciale. The Speciale has some very cool features and livery and is available only until quarter one.
There’s no mistaking it for anything else other than an Alfa with the bonnet lines heading towards the distinctive grille that even an average car enthusiast will recognise.
A colleague pointed out that it’s one of those cars that pictures don’t do justice to when you see it in the metal parked on the lawn looking down from the stoep.
The lines are in all the right places as are the air scoops and full lED Adaptive Matrix headlamps as are the rear lights that wrap around the rear and the rear window which pays homage to the 8C Competizione.
The driver has always been the focus of Alfas and in the Tonale it’s no different.
Happily the “telescopic” instrument binnacle is there with digital dials as is the driver oriented dashboard with a diamond texture theme, comfortable seats with decent lumbar support and a 14-speaker Harman Kardon sound system to keep you entertained.
After driving the Tonale we were left with mixed feelings but one thing that does stand out is the sublime handling characteristics.
The chassis and suspension combine sublimely to give a well balanced and sporty drive thanks to DualStage Valve electronic suspension engineered by Marelli, an electronic self-locking differential that ensures smooth and constant traction combined with the McPherson front suspension when you head into corners without the associated understeer.
Over the old section of Du Toitskloof Pass I drove the Tonale hard into and out of corners and it stayed the course even over some serious bumpy sections, with very little body roll and lovely direct steering.
We drove most of the way in Dynamic mode and while there’s a marked difference in the setting, especially throttle and steering response, we couldn’t help wondering whether a bit more grunt would make it a more engaging drive given the super suspension set-up.
Look, the Tonale is a hybrid and unlikely to be driven in anger often, so for its application it does things as it should and then some, and perhaps it’s the Alfa racing heritage that clouds our judgement when it comes to the Italian Marque.
Pottering through heavy Stellenbosch traffic the hybrid part of the car comes into its own inching forward using the battery which saw consumption drop after having driven in Dynamic for some time and obviously emitting a lot less emissions.
And because connectivity and technology features high for potential car owners, Alfa has loaded the Tonale with the required goodies.
The 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system can operate with widgets and graphic components designed for intuitive interaction that can be customised via drag and drop, allowing you to create your own homepage where each of the car’s features is an app accessible with a horizontal scroll.
The vehicle is fitted with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems for level 2 autonomous driving combining the camera, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition and lane centering systems to adjust the car’s speed and keep it within the lines.
There’s a slew of active and passive safety features including a full set of airbags, autonomous emergency braking, drowsy driver detection and a host more if things should go awry.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale is a decent package that does everything it was designed to do even though it doesn’t shoot out the performance lights, but it’s a welcome addition to the brand. How it will fare against the competition will be interesting given South Africans’ brand consciousness, but more Alfa Romeos on the road will always be a good thing.
It comes with five-year/100 000km warranty and a five-year/100 000km service plan.
Alfa Romeo Tonale Pricing (November 2022)
Ti 1.5L FWD 7AT: R739 900
Veloce 1.5 FWD 7AT: R819 900
Speciale 1.5 FWD 7AT: R799 900