- Alfa Romeo has launched its new compact Tonale SUV in South Africa.
- The crossover model falls below the larger Stelvio in the range, and it's the brand's first hybrid model.
- The Tonale is a beautiful car, packed with technology, signalling a new era for the brand.
If you're dreaming of unwrapping a new car for Christmas, Alfa Romeo's new Tonale SUV is the one you'd want under the proverbial tree.
The Italian automaker has always built beautiful masterpieces with roaring engines, and while the new Tonale is simply magnificent, it also showcases the brand's metamorphosis into a new era. This new compact SUV crossover is smaller than its larger Stelvio sibling, but it's the brand's very first hybrid powertrain-driven model.
Alfa Romeo cars have become a rare sight on our roads, and new model launches have become further in between, but the launch of their SUV marks the brand's journey towards connectivity and electrification.
Earlier in November, I wrote about the Kia Sportage, and I reckoned it was the most beautiful car I'd driven this year. But then I saw the Tonale at its local launch and realised it was a very close contender for the title. They might be rare, but you know an Alfa when you see it, thanks to the true DNA that's evident in its design – a legacy established in 1910. The Tonale is no different in the looks department, with its striking styling. It also has state-of-the-art technology, software and electrification systems.
The Tonale is available in three specifications in South Africa: the entry-level Ti, a launch-edition Speciale (which will only be available until the first quarter of 2023) and the range-topping Veloce.
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Pricing for the Tonale starts from R739 900. While that might seem like a hefty price tag on paper, you have to consider what it goes up against. Direct rivals include the Volvo XC40, BMW X2 and Audi Q3, making the Tonale seem like a good deal considering its lengthy list of standard equipment you don't have to fork out additional cash for. And since it's a hybrid model, you're likely to visit your nearby petrol station a lot less.
But Alfa Romeo had a clear mission in mind when this car was birthed – to reinvent sportiness for the 21st century. The automaker says the car's name marks the evolutionary continuity with Stelvio (launched early in 2020), a fascinating new road that leads to a new destination: the future.
While Alfa Romeo has always built gorgeous cars, its products have generally been well-built, with premium equipment and materials inside. It's no surprise that this new model is packed with technology to enhance the driving experience and protect its residual value. Connectivity is a key focus, along with its all-new infotainment system, which includes two large display screens.
With the Tonale being Alfa Romeo's first hybrid model, it's surprising that the Stellantis Group (which Alfa falls under) will only have electrified vehicles in its entire range by 2030. But, when you experience its hybrid technology, which was created to enhance its DNA, it seems easy to believe all their cars will no longer have any petrol-only models.
Since this is a brand new model, there's a lot to unpack.
What's it like to drive?
Alfa Romeo says its brand new 48-volt hybrid propulsion system can propel the wheels even when the internal combustion engine is turned off.
The Tonale debuts the 118kW hybrid VGT (Variable Geometry Turbo) engine exclusively for Alfa Romeo. Its 1.5-litre variable geometry turbocharged internal combustion engine is mated to a seven-speed Alfa Romeo TCT dual-clutch transmission combined with the 48-volt 15kW, 55Nm "P2" electric motor. This allows the vehicle to be driven only on electric power at low speeds and when parking and cruising.
There might not be a burbling V6 engine under the bonnet or one with a sonorous growl that we've become so accustomed to with the brand, but the Tonale still offers great driving dynamics once you get used to the quieter ride. This is thanks to its segment's best weight distribution and the most direct steering. It's also the only model in its class that is equipped with the Integrated Brake System (IBS) and includes fixed aluminium shift paddles.
There are fixed callipers by Brembo, with four pistons and self-ventilated discs at the front and full discs at the rear, which result in improved braking performance. A fully independent MacPherson suspension with Frequency Selective Damping (FSD) shock absorbers is used in the Tonale, which equates to an engaging driving experience that makes you want to stay behind the wheel and carry on driving. Gear shifts are seamless, but the car does feel a tad heavy, most likely due to the hybrid tech. But even so, it can still sit in the twisties of some of the Cape's best mountain passes without any trouble.
What makes it stand out?
Its sensual design and distinctive points of reference make this car stand out in a crowd. There are the five-hole "telephone dial" wheel rims, the cluster in the "telescopic" instrument panel, the three-spoke sports steering wheel, and the sine-curve headlights – my absolute favourite feature on the Tonale. The car is only 4.53m long, 1.84m wide and 1.6m high, and its dimensions help encompass the uniqueness of its Italian design.
Other subtle features include the "GT Line" that runs from the rear to the headlights, recalling the forms of the Giulia GT along with elegant volumes reminiscent of iconic models such as the 8C Competizione, says the automaker. On the front, the new "floating" shield stands out, not as part of the bumpers but as a distinctive element. The lower portion includes two main side air intakes. Together with the shield, they create what has been known for several generations as the "Trilobo". In the upper part of the front, notable features include headlights that vindicate the concept of "3+3", another result of the reworking of iconic models such as the SZ Zagato and the Proteo concept car.
The 3D geometry of the lights can easily be interpreted as the direct outward extension of the shield. The taillights feature the same design as the headlights and form a sine curve that fully wraps around the car's rear, making it a truly unique light signature – probably the car's most distinctive feature.
As a tribute to the stunning 8C Competizione, the car's sensuality and dynamism are also apparent in the encompassing rear window, along with its unique rims, which pay homage to the brand's legacy. Inspired by Alfa Romeo's racing history, the interior strongly focuses on the driver, with easy access to all controls for a safe driving experience. The same care is reserved for the rear passengers.
While it might sound cliché, the Tonale's interior arouses real emotions, while the latest technology ensures a connected and comfortable drive by using a combination of prestigious materials. Like the cool solidity of aluminium and the warmth and softness of leather and Alcantara – features that appeal to younger and dynamic customers.
The instrument cluster can also be reconfigured using three layouts: Evolved, Relax and Heritage, the latter inspired by the brand's iconic models.
The Tonale is equipped with new Alfa Romeo Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) for Level 2 autonomous driving, for automatic handling of acceleration, braking and remaining within the lane while maintaining maximum driving safety and the pleasure of sitting behind the wheel.
There's a host of innovative systems for active and passive safety features. These include front, side and curtain airbags, and comprehensive, innovative devices and technologies, including Autonomous Emergency Braking with vulnerable road users to alert the driver of danger and bring the vehicle to a complete stop to avoid or mitigate a collision or when recognising the presence of a pedestrian or cyclist; and "Drowsy Driver Detection", which checks the vehicle's movements to detect any driver fatigue. Optional extras include Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Path Detection, and a 360° view camera. Four high-definition cameras are positioned on the front grille, rearview mirrors and tailgate, which work in conjunction with many driving systems.
From its debuts in the Giulietta, Mito and 4C, via its development in the Giulia and Stelvio, Alfa Rome's DNA system is offered in its most advanced form in the Tonale. The driving mode selector has specific functions related to the electric powertrain in Tonale: Dynamic, Natural and Advance Efficiency.
What to know about this hybrid version
The new four-cylinder turbocharged engine has been designed to be the best fit for hybrid use, allowing improvements in fuel economy. It also features the all-new high-pressure direct injection system, operating at up to 350 bar, while a belt starter generator guarantees fast and silent transitions when restarting. The Intelligent Brake System optimises the "auto-charge" feature; it uses mixed regenerative braking to maximise kinetic energy recovery during deceleration, improving efficiency.
This new hybrid technology means the Alfa Romeo Tonale can provide customers with an authentic hybrid experience. The Tonale can run in various driving scenarios using only the electric motor (with the petrol engine turned off). This is made possible by the wide range of EV capabilities, which include:
- e-Creeping uses the electric motor to provide the start-up usually available in vehicles with automatic transmission at a speed that can vary from 0km/h to the equivalent of the petrol engine idling in first gear or reverse
- e-Launch, to start the vehicle using only the electric motor
- e-Queueing, for the car to keep going in a traffic jam, in a "stop and go pattern
- e-Parking, to simplify parking manoeuvres, making them practical and quiet.
EV capabilities depend on the battery charge status and the output required.
South Africa is a long way from being electric vehicle ready, but with constant painful fuel prices and the cost of living ever increasing, we're looking for alternatives to ease things any way we can. Hybrid cars are becoming more appealing to motorists. The Tonale is a premium car for sure, but you get everything you pay for – and it's a lot. It also falls under quite a niche target market, but the brand hopes this new model will attract a new generation of buyers despite its status.
If I could find one of these breathtaking models – in any one of its six body colours, especially the Montreal Green – with a big red bow on its roof under the "Christmas tree", I'd be very merry indeed.
Alfa Romeo Tonale Ti 1.5L FWD 7AT – R739 900
Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce 1.5 FWD 7AT – R819 900
Alfa Romeo Tonale Speciale 1.5 FWD 7AT – R799 900
All models come with a five-year or 100 000km warranty and a five-year or 100 000km maintenance plan.