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A risky move even for a loved car brand

“La metamorfosi” was the advertising drum at the beginning of 2022, when Alfa Romeo presented the arrival of a car that should change everything. But can the definition of “everything” be too much?

First impressions

Alfa Romeo proves that a regularly shaped car can look interesting, mainly different due to their heritage of having the triangle shaped front grill with an asymmetrically placed number plate not everyone tends to like but I highly support resulting a different look. This example is painted in Misano blue (1’200.- CHF option), a colour that switches its shades in various weather situations and shines in the sunlight. A true eye-catcher. The front’s shapes give the Tonale a very mean face leading to a simpatico rear end where Alfa brings back the currently contemporary light bar they had as a design element made of reflectors on the Alfa Romeo 75, 155 and the fifth generation Alfa Romeo Spider (1994-2004). Given the historical background, the light strip gets a plausibility unlike other automakers like Audi, Cupra/ Seat and Volkswagen.

*shots fired*

All in all a very great proportioned car with its own appealing design language!

What it’s all about

Technically, the Alfa crossover is not based on a platform from the new parent company Stellantis but uses a modified Jeep Compass architecture from FCA times. There is a 1.5-liter turbo engine with a choice of 96 kW/130 hp or 118 kW/160 hp, which is coupled to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and is supported by a 48-volt generator while starting, rolling and accelerating. The only diesel is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 96 kW/130 hp and a six-speed double clutch.

So, the main intention was to have an economical car which fits the contemporary regulations and of course; the popular SUV and Crossover-Boom. The strongest segment on the current car market. A paradoxical situation when you consider that cars should become more economical, and buyers mainly want to do something for the environment and then make the more environmentally harmful decision to buy an unnecessarily large car. I am aware that with the statement I am defying conflict. The car manufacturers are being constricted with new laws. A real dilemma that the buyers choose the "wrong" cars at the same time. Unfortunately, the current situation is the bare truth. And the Tonale is a sacrifice depending on this situation. At least this is my own point of view.

My honest intention is only to get my readers think about this aspect.

Driving experience

Now we probably get to the most disappointing part of this review. I hate to write this down. Honestly.

First of all, the 130hp Speciale variant is the Tonale’s huge limping leg, almost injured leg. The car feels highly underpowered, is utterly slow at higher speed accelerating and can’t really profit enough of that additional weight, called battery.

The hybrid drivetrain is a bit of a mixed bag. Inching forward on pure electric power makes being in congestion slightly more palatable: it’s a lovely sensation. But the drivetrain’s fiendishly complex nature is laid bare when you switch the beautiful ‘cannocchiale’ (the driver’s telescopic digital instrument panel) to the charge power/meter: the engine and e-motor’s power inputs are constantly in a moving flow.

And every now and then, when you’ve lifted off for a roundabout or junction and suddenly call for power again, the Tonale hybrid hesitates, or gives an inexplicable flare of revs or shunty gearchange. That’s no surprise given the complexity of Alfa’s software is making to decide which power source to deploy. This leads that many hybrids are afflicted by pauses. But it can make the Tonale hard to drive smoothly at times. No matter how hard you try.

Don’t get me wrong. As a sensitive driver, the slight inconsistencies in the drive train are now unfortunately more noticeable than with other vehicle manufacturers. But that doesn't mean it's insufficient. I'm sure that a layman wouldn't even notice that.

In conclusion: The Tonale has lost Alfa Romeo’s characteristic aspects of driving “la dolce vita”. It has become a nice piece of metal to get from A to B. I’m not telling that extremely powerful SUVs make any sense, but Alfa Romeo is known as a brand with cars for sporty drivers, passionate fans who like to get defined through the car brand they prefer. The whole base for a slightly more powerful version should be perfect because the steering feels direct, and the suspension does a great job during any speed. The engineers at Alfa Romeo have found the ideal compromise between comfortable and rather sporty driving styles. I’m sure that there’s a lot of potential waiting to be unleashed!

At the end of the year, a 202 kW/275 hp plug-in hybrid with electric all-wheel drive and an electric range of up to 80 kilometers will be added to the range. And rumors have it, that the Maserati Glecale’s V6 could find its way into the Alfa Romeo Tonale. The last-mentioned variant could bring back some emotions we are used to. And exactly what we want to experience!

To the interior

The interior somehow feels like an updated Stelvio. Which is good because everything is in its perfectly positioned place. Almost. We’ll get to it in a minute.

The interior embeds you very quick. I always find my perfect seating position within a few seconds in every Alfa Romeo I drove so far. The seats are very comfortable and provide enough lateral support on curve roads.

Having the car’s price of approximately 48-50’000 CHF in mind, the used materials feel great in their haptics. Soft plastic and leatherette included. The operations are very intuitive and work flawlessly. Same counts for the entertainment system except when you search some very specific car settings through the menus. Speaking of settings: You can’t turn off some safety features like the lane assist 100%. Which is very arduous in combination with road works and on streets without median lines. Sticking with the safety: I recognized that the Tonale has a huge dead angle. The surround view is restricted due to a very thick C-pillow and tapered windows in the rear of the car.

Something new that should lead Alfa back into the first league is the so-called NFT technology (Non-Fungible Token). This is based on a digital check book that is being offered for the first time in a series model and, with the owner's permission, stores all vehicle and workshop data throughout the car's life. It is based on the non-manipulable blockchain concept, a continuously expandable list of records. Above all, Alfa is hoping for a more stable resale value from the new technology. A clever idea against treacherous car sellers.

Now what to buy

The massively underpowered Mild-Hybrid version doesn’t make any sense to me in my honest opinion. The constant excessive demand on power on motorways can’t be healthy for the engine. Additionally, the car’s average consumption levels off at over 10-11L/100km during motorway-driving. Which is too much from my point of view. The Alfa Romeo only becomes more economical on country roads. Around 7 l/ 100 km are enough for him. Which in turn is not exactly little compared to the 5.0 litre V8 in the Lexus LC500, which may manage with 8l/100km.

Unfortunately, the calculation becomes tedious when you look at the digital cockpit. Because the average consumption is given in kilometres (driving distance) per litre instead of, as is usual in Europe, in litres/100 kilometres. I did not find out if I can change this display in the vehicle settings. So, you're presented with a number that can't be compared on the fly unless you improve your mental arithmetic.

I see the buyers of this car mostly as non-car-savvy people who like differently styled and designed crossovers, whether to fit into the SUV-trend, being in touch with the latest entertainment and connectivity technology or just for a higher seating position to get a better overview on the traffic upfront. So, I highly recommend the more powerful versions if you consider getting a new and good looking Tonale. I still think it will be a great selling car because it has sex appeal. Like any Alfa Romeo has. And that's exactly why we all love this brand. Please just keep up building nice cars like we used to get.

To end this review, I wanted to thank Alfa Romeo Switzerland for another great collaboration and photo assignment. And I still hope that Alfa Romeo gets back its soul we are all loving about the brand. Because the perfect imperfection is exactly what defines Alfa Romeo and makes many of the previous cars so special. If the last phrase was too unclear, I’d highly recommend you to read the older reviews I wrote about the 4C, Stelvio Q and Giulia Q.

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