Alfa Romeo is at a bit of a crossroads: the intersection of the Italian Autostrada del Sole and U.S. Interstate 94.
Into that strategy and the marketplace comes the Tonale CUV, a plug-in hybrid that foreshadows the all-electric lineup planned by Alfa over the next few years. Though late to the party with a PHEV, it is almost as if the Turin, Italy, automaker is offering us an amuse-bouche before the main courses.
In a nod to parent Stellantis’s desire to make its platforms as efficient as possible, the CUV shares underpinnings with the Jeep Compass and new Dodge Hornet.
Shared platforms across brands can often lead to results that are bland and a bit off-key. But the Tonale’s handling is actually crisper than that of its Jeep and Dodge cousins. Better tires and tighter suspension in the Alfa definitely give it an intramural advantage inside the Stellantis tent and make it a contender against German and Asian premium CUVs.
The Tonale PHEV is powered by a turbocharged 180-hp, 199-lb.-ft. (270-Nm) 1.3L 4-cyl., assisted by a belt-starter/generator, driving the front axle via a 6-speed automatic transmission. That’s backed by a 90-kW (121-hp), 184-lb.-ft. (249-Nm) rear e-motor powered by a 15.5-kWh 306V lithium-ion T-shaped battery tucked into the center tunnel area.
All in, the system boasts 285 hp and 347 lb.-ft. (470 Nm) of torque, good for a claimed 5.6 seconds 0-60 (97 km/h) time, along with an EPA-official electric range of 33 miles (53 km) and 77 mpg-e.
The Veloce we tested starts at $49,090, while the mid-level Ti checks in at $45,590 and the Sprint trim starts at $44,950 (prices include a $1,595 destination charge). It’s easy to check boxes, though, and add $7,000-$8,000 in options.
The interior and exterior styling of the Tonale is smart, with dashes and jiggers of Alfa and a GT profile line hinting at its sporty heritage. Slim headlamps flank the “Trilobo” Alfa grille with unique LED signature lighting elements.
In an attempt at brand stamping, the Alfa has drive selections in what it calls the “DNA” mode selector: D for Dynamic, N for Natural, A for Advanced Efficiency (electric-only while the battery lasts). It’s competent, responsive and feels solid and sure-footed. The steering-wheel paddles suggest more pop and oomph than there is, though.
What do the modes mean? The different screens adapt to each mode by swapping the tachometer for a requested-power setting scaled from 0-100%. The driver can select, for example, a “vintage” analog design, with a traditional gas gauge at the bottom of the speedo. A separate and similar gauge shows electric charge and remaining charge.
The Tonale starts in hybrid mode automatically. But then, if the driver wants, they can opt for the EV-only mode. One can boost the regenerative braking by pressing the e-save button. That is useful as it allows for prioritizing recharging the battery. The chassis is well-balanced when cornering around suburban streets, but no more or less than an Acura or Mazda; not bad company to be in.
This Alfa does an excellent job of balancing gas and electric power for maximum efficiency. We had no problems topping 70 mph (80 km/h) in electric mode with sufficient battery charge to support it.
Dynamic mode changes the 12.3-in. (31-cm) instrument cluster appearance, but also tightens the suspension (Veloce only), amps up steering response, elevates the exhaust note and induces a rear-bias feel to the front-drive powertrain, with the immense torque provided by the rear motor producing a pleasing level of oversteer.
Alfa Romeo plans an all-electrified future by 2027 and will launch its first BEV – a subcompact CUV – in the first half of 2024. If the electrification served up in the Tonale is any indication, the coming lineup, combined with the Italian fashion flourishes inside and outside, could be a compelling package.
The small premium CUV will now be the brand's entry-level model, standing in the barn aside the Giulia and Stelvio, with additional EV models to come.
- A Level 2 240V connection will recharge the battery pack in about 2.5 hours; 110V takes about 8.5 hours.
- 10.25-in. (26-cm) touchscreen infotainment system, featuring the quality Uconnect 5 software shared with many other models under the Stellantis tent. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as wireless phone charging are standard.
- Standard lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, blindspot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert. Available 360-degree camera system.
- 22 cu.-ft. (623 L) behind the second row of seats; 50.5 cu.-ft. (1,430 L) behind the front row of seats.
- 20-in. wheels on the Veloce model we tested.
And quality? Neither Alfa, nor any Italian brand, has been very distinguished in this department. But Alfa actually topped J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study in problems reported in the first 90 days of ownership in 2023. Things are looking up in Turin.
In the U.S., there have been big gaps in the distribution of Alfa Romeo. When it was reintroduced in 2015, sales were under 1,000. But by 2020, sales were almost 19,000. The pandemic drove those numbers down to 12,845, and this year the brand is on track for about 10,000 sales, per Wards Intelligence. Globally, Alfa is tracking to sell about 70,000 units.
Stellantis has high hopes to grow the venerable Alfa brand beyond its traditional “boutique” status into a bigger volume and profit brand in Europe, as well as the U.S., but not so broad as to dumb it down to the lowest common denominators of design and engineering.
Alfa Romeo is going to fight its way into most neighborhoods and driveways outside the Italian boot where the Milanese police drive Alfas. With the Tonale feeling and driving solid, and quality for the brand surging, it should attract a lot of fresh eyeballs – both men and women – around the Smoky and Rocky Mountains, as well as the Alps and Dolomites.