Tonale: the volume player to change Alfa’s fortunes in SA?
You want a beautifully designed compact sport-utility vehicle that stands out on the road. You also want all the modern gadgetry that makes your commute as pleasant and safe as possible.
Feast your eyes and your senses on the new Alfa Romeo Tonale. It is the brand’s first foray into the compact SUV market, and they’ve made sure to offer a distinctive option in the segment.
The Tonale is available in three specifications: the entry level Ti, launch edition Speciale and the range-topping Veloce. The Speciale will only be available for the first quarter of 2023, and it is the model we drove at the launch in the Western Cape.
The styling is typical Alfa Romeo. It’ sa beautiful blend of sporty, classy and not a copy-and-paste of another manufacturer. The distinctive “3+3” LED headlights are a tribute to the SZ Zagato model of the 80s, while the rear window’s shape pays homage to the 8C.
The distinctive GT bodyline reminds me of the original GT Sprint from the 1960s. All of these elements combine to give the Tonale a look that will satisfy any Alfisti and consumers new to the brand alike.
The retro thread carries over into the interior. The “telescopic” dash harks back to the ‘60s and everything is orientated towards the driver.
The 12.3” TFT instrument cluster is clear and conveys a lot of information with the speedometer and tachometer designed to look like those out of the old GT Sprint and such.
The infotainment’s full touch screen 10.25-inch screen features high resolution and clear graphics and is easy to operate. It features wireless Apple Carplay and
wireless Android Auto – which proved quite finicky with a flagship Android phone.
The soft touch dash and other materials used in the cabin are all pleasant, save for the side air vents – they look and feel cheap. The seats are comfortable and electric adjustment is plentiful to find the optimal driving position.
All three options feature the same mild hybrid drivetrain – a turbocharged 1.5litre, four-cylinder engine delivering 118kW and 240Nm to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) and is assisted by a 48V battery producing an extra 15kW of power.
A 0-100km/h time of 8.8 seconds is claimed along with a top speed of 210km/h. The battery enables full electric drive at low speeds and silent starting. Regenerative braking is used to charge the battery. There is no plug-in hybrid on the cards for SA at the moment.
Alfa Romeo’s motorsport history is a rich one, and as such its road cars are designed to be sporty offerings. They always emphasise the driving aspect and the Tonale’s handling is pin sharp.
The quick steering ratio means the steering is very direct and the chassis features a 50:50 weight distribution.
This enables the Tonale to excel in handling tests compared to its competitors. The front-end tucks into corners with much more gusto than the high centre of gravity would suggest.
The power-assisted steering does a good job of communicating what the tyres are doing, but the 20-inch Teledial wheels fitted to the Speciale specification does introduce some harsh ride qualities on imperfect roads, especially when the DNA drive mode selector is set to Dynamic.
Body roll is kept well in check by the adaptive suspension, and the confidence inspired in the driver when pushing on through a twisty mountain pass is plentiful.
Adaptive cruise control, lane assist and collision avoidance systems as standard on all models means it is a level two autonomous vehicle, which greatly adds to the impressive five-star NCAP safety rating.
The turbocharged 1.5 litre, four-cylinder engine is unfortunately not very complementary to the dynamic package. The mill lacks character and suffers from quite evident turbo lag.
Redline is a low 5,500rpm and it just never feels like it’s really on the boil at any revs.
Driving over the Bains Kloof Pass, a narrow piece of winding tar with a sheer drop-off on one side, proved to be quite frustrating thanks to the engine. The throttle pedal is quite stiff and rather numb in response. It took some thinking to extract the best possible power out of the engine while carving the pass.
The seven-speed DCT is quite smooth. In general driving it is great when left in auto mode. When switching to manual mode and using the big silver paddles (which are fixed to the steering column and do not turn with the steering wheel) downshifts were immediate, but upshifts had quite a delay.
Overall the Tonale is a mixed bag. Great looks with amazing handling engage the driver like no other in the segment. The engine leaves much to be desired though and getting anywhere close to the claimed 5.7l/100km fuel consumption is a hard task.
The interior is a beautiful place to be in with all the technology you’d want at your fingertips. At R739,900 for the entry level Ti model and R819,900 for the range topping Veloce, the Tonale is going to be a tough sell in a market spoilt for choice.