Alfa adds spicy, electrified Tonale SUV appetizer to menu
Alfa Romeo is jumping into the American subcompact SUV market with its tony Tonale.
Sporting the Italian premium brand’s signature, triangular “Trilobo” grille and muscular lines, Alfa’s entry-level ute will compete against segment stalwarts like the BMW X1, Cadillac XT4, Mercedes GLA and Jaguar E-Pace with standard all-wheel-drive and all-digital interior displays.
Belying its small size, the Tonale has mighty ambitions as Alfa’s first electrified vehicle — opening the door to the brand’s La Metamorfosi transition to all-battery models later this decade. The Tonale comes standard with a familiar, gas-powered 2.0-liter turbo-4 engine, but customers can option a pricier plug-in hybrid that generates 272 horsepower from twin electric motors mated to a 1.3-liter turbocharged engine.
Unlike other premium manufacturers that offer a menu of entry-level performance sedans as well as SUVs, Alfa is offering the Tonale SUV as the lone appetizer to its bigger entrees, the Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV. But the brand still promises the tall, all-wheel-drive hatchback will be infused with the same DNA that has always made the hearts of Alfa customers beat a little bit faster.
“If you look at our history or our present, you realize that Alfa Romeos are designed with a sense of purpose that means that they have an intimate relation between body and soul,” said Alfa design chief Alejandro Mesonero-Romanos. “Dynamics, ergonomics and all other functionally important aspects . . . have always been dressed with beautiful bodies. It is what at Alfa Romeo we call this sense of beauty, and this is precisely the way Tonale looks.”
Completing the promise of the sexy SUV concept that wowed Los Angeles auto show-goers way back in 2019, Tonale will be one of the best-dressed SUVs in class.
A narrow cowl of six headlights bisects the big Trilobo grille up front. The design is reminiscent of the striking Alfa Brera sports coupe sold in Italy two decades ago. A strong, so-called GT shoulder line — common to Alfas dating back to the iconic, 1970s Spider Series 2 models — runs beneath a narrow greenhouse. Out back, red LEDs span the rear deck, intermittently dropping — like a heart-rate monitor — to trace each of the six taillights along the way. The ensemble rides over 19 or 20-inch phone-dial wheels.
“Tonale has been designed with the courage of simplicity. It uses a limited number of lines to define its style,” said Mesonero-Romanos. “The GT line is an example of the line that crosses the car from the front to the rear, a single stroke.”
The design reminds of the Mazda CX-30, which has also made a bold statement in the subcompact class. It will offer formidable competition for Tonale along with luxury European competitors.
The Tonale, however, will aim high with two beefy engine choices that will drive standard all-wheel-drive.
The base engine is a 2.0-liter, 256-horsepower, turbo-4-cylinder engine mated to a nine-speed transmission. European markets get a 130/160 horsepower hybrid powertrain, but product planners deemed that too mousy for the U.S.’s high-powered, affordable-gas market where owners don’t have to pay taxes on engine displacement. A diesel engine will also be on offer for markets in Africa and the Mideast.
Topping the Tonale lineup is the pioneering, 272-horsepower plug-in powertrain. A 1.3-liter turbo-4 mill drives all four wheels with assist from a six-speed transmission and electric motors front and rear. Alfa hasn’t yet disclosed the range on battery power alone, but expect over 30 miles after plugging into the wall overnight.
Those outputs compare favorably against rival Jaguar E-Pace’s gas-powered, 246-horsepower turbo-4 and 296-horse hybrid options. Mercedes GLA offerings include two 300-horsepower-plus performance AMG versions, and Alfa executives said they will monitor market demand for a rowdy Quadrifoglio variant of the Tonale. The 505-horse Quadrifoglio monster is the halo trim for Giulia and Stelvio stablemates.
“We are electrifying the brand — but electrifying to support the driver-centric positioning of the Alfa Romeo brand (as we have from) the beginning of our history in 1902,” said Alfa Romeo CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato, flanked by a blue Tonale at Alfa’s Museo Storico museum in Milan.
To keep things simple, Tonale will be offered in three trims: Sprint and Ti and Veloce. Standard goodies include adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and lane keep assist. Available options include Level 2 self-drive assist and bigger wheels.
Those features will be controlled via a crisp, digital interior that echoes the simple exterior design. A configurable, 2.3-inch instrument display sits under a dual hood behind the steering wheel. Passengers can access infotainment options through a 10.25-inch tablet to its right. The screen is mounted high in the dash for good driver visibility, and the twin displays combine for a best-in-class, 22.5 inches in breadth.
The console is anchored by an upright shifter with a drive mode knob nearby to shift between Advance Efficiency, Natural and Dynamic modes. In keeping with the latest digital tech, the Alfa will feature wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, WiFi hot spot, Alexa voice activation and a phone app to monitor the car remotely.
As the gateway drug for Stellantis’s premium brand, Tonale is important to a U.S. market that is home to one-third of the transatlantic automaker's sales.
“We are wanting to win in America,” said Imparato. “I have 50 (car) clubs in America. The relationship between (customers) is the car is something different compared to other brands in the industry.”
In addition to Alfa’s performance obsession, Imparato said Tonale is value-focused: “I want to bring to my customer the right table of residual value after 3-4-5 years on the road.”
Towards that end, the ute will come with an industry-first, digital NFT (non-fungible token) that certifies the car on purchase, then evolves with the car to track maintenance and other updates.
Tonale will likely be priced from about $37,000-$50,000 when it arrives in the U.S. market at the end of 2022 — about six months after its June launch in Italy.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.