I spend some of my spare time singing the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, which is chock-full of talented performers and singers. As in any artistic group, there are at least a few standouts, some of whom sing in basso profondos or clarion tenors and some who can dance ballroom or ballet with equal elán. And in most auditioned arts organizations, jealousy can spring up when great talents vie for the same solos or dance parts.
Alfa Romeo seemingly feels that way since its charming Tonale subcompact crossover is auditioning for the same consumer cash as the structurally identical (and cheaper) Dodge Hornet, which was revealed afterward but was still first to market – expect the Italian to hit dealers by the end of the month, by the way. Yes, the Tonale gets a standard plug-in hybrid powertrain and Alfa-specific design cues, but some customers might see its $13,000 higher starting price and wonder if the Italian badge and 30-mile electric range are worth the cost.
Luckily, the Tonale has a few tricks that give it a measure of Italian flavor, differentiating itself from both the copycat Hornet and more obvious Mercedes-Benz GLA and BMW X1 rivals. And where better to enjoy the Alfa's uniqueness than near its ancestral homeland in Milan, Italy, including some time on the Stellantis proving grounds in Balocco?
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|2023 Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce
|Turbocharged 1.3-Liter I4 w/Single Permanent Magnet Motor
|285 Horsepower / 305 Pound-Feet
|6.0 Seconds (est)
|$42,995 + $1,595 Destination
Gallery: 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale First Drive
Piling On The Pride
The Tonale features a more holistic, appealing design than its corporate cousin. Its grille incorporates Alfa Romeo’s signature trilobo motif – a shield-shaped center section with mustachioed lower apertures flanking it – but extra openings between the headlights and the grille also recall Alfa Romeos of the 1990s. Ditto the three-element daytime running lamps, whose angular design is intended to harken back to the outrageous SZ sports car. And the oval daylight opening and rear hatch glass, although shared with the Dodge, look more appropriate on an Alfa, where they link to the Stelvio crossover (and 8C Competizione, if you squint).
Overall, there’s no denying the Tonale’s parentage, although the small crossover doesn’t look as sinuous and muscular as its Giulia and Stelvio siblings. Blame the front-drive–biased architecture, which places almost the entire engine ahead of the front axle and gives the small Alfa a cab-forward appearance. But if the Tonale’s stance isn’t aggressive, it’s still endearingly pugnacious. One cute detail is the electrified Biscione serpent emblem in the left rear quarter window – the same side as the charging port. By giving the Alfa dragon a plug for a head, the automaker has blended its history with some silly futurism.
Inside, the Tonale takes inspiration from its siblings with a two-barrel digital gauge display, thick steering wheel with integrated start button, and a pair of well-bolstered front bucket seats. But in place of the Stelvio’s well-integrated infotainment display, the Tonale’s 10.3-inch unit sprouts up from the center stack. The dash design has a horizontal, rather than slanted, motif that helps the Tonale feel airier up front than the intimate (some would say claustrophobic) Stelvio. Unfortunately, the Tonale’s dashboard is done up in soft plastic that feels nice but has a high-gloss finish and unnatural grain that make it look cheap.
In fact, materials as a whole feel a bit disappointing. There’s way too much hard stuff, trimming most of the rear door panels and the entirety of the center tunnel. And the color choices are dour and un-Alfalike. While the Giulia and Stelvio have offered red, saddle brown, and tan interiors before, the Tonale gets a mostly black cabin, with red or tan stitching depending on trim level and exterior color.
Finding Zen At Speed
Even though this is Alfa Romeo’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle (the only way to buy a Tonale following Alfa's decision to drop the turbocharged 2.0-liter) in the United States, the Tonale has some pretty compelling PHEV cred going for it. Under the hood is a turbocharged 1.3-liter inline-four with 177 horsepower that drives the front wheels, while a 15.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery in the center tunnel sends power rearward to a 121-hp electric motor.
Total output is 285 hp and 305 pound-feet, more grunt by far than the BMW X1, Mercedes GLA, or Audi Q3. The spec-chart win translates to the open road, too, where the torque-rich electric motor fills in any small gaps in the turbo four’s output, with seamless handoff between the two. Unfortunately, the engine note is decidedly unlike the snorting Giulia and Stelvio – much less the blatty Alfas of old – but the gas engine fulfills its primary brief just fine.
|Alfa Romeo Tonale
|Audi Q3 45 Quattro
|BMW X1 xDrive30i
|Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4Matic
A pair of massive aluminum shift paddles mounted to the steering column command a responsive six-speed automatic that sends internal-combustion power to the front wheels. That spec might sound dated, but it is very nicely suited to the Tonale, with smooth gear changes and ratios that keep the engine within its powerband in hard driving. The rear axle is EV-only, giving the Tonale through-the-road all-wheel drive with no physical connection between the front and rear wheels.
Toss the DNA drive mode selector into Dynamic and you’re met with the full force of the engine and electric motor at all times. Doing so ratchets up the amount of brake regeneration to recharge the battery, as well as sharpens up the throttle and stiffens the dampers – though you can manually request soft suspenders by pressing a button with a shock absorber icon. Don’t bother though, because the buttoned-down driving experience makes the Tonale a hoot to hustle on a switchback mountain road. If you push it hard, you’ll find a moderate amount of understeer, but Alfa’s smallest US offering still enjoys a brisk pace.
At the other end of the spectrum, Alfa Romeo promises at least 30 miles of all-electric range on a full charge, which feels like an easy target given I hit 36 miles in spite of hilly terrain and those aforementioned high-performance hijinks. When driven in Advanced Efficiency mode – the “A” in Alfa Romeo’s DNA drive selector – the car prioritizes electric propulsion at speeds up to 78 miles per hour, and a hushed cabin experience is the result. Adding to the comfort level is a mandatory soft suspension setting, which wafts a bit more but still gives the Tonale a smooth ride.
One benefit to the Alfa Romeo’s cab-forward design is a space-efficient cabin. Up front, tall folks should have no trouble getting comfortable, although I might like a bit more support in the shoulders when blasting through corners. Around back, the Tonale has more rear legroom than the larger Stelvio, with a longer seat bottom and upright seating position making it more comfortable and natural-feeling. By the measuring tape, the Tonale has about as much front- and second-row space as its primary competitors, the Audi Q3, BMW X1, and Mercedes-Benz GLA.
|Alfa Romeo Tonale
|38.8 / 38.2 Inches
|41.7 / 38.0 Inches
|22.9 / 50.5 Cubic Feet
|Audi Q3 45 Quattro
|39.6 / 37.6 Inches
|40.0 / 36.1 Inches
|23.7 / 48.0 Cubic Feet
|BMW X1 xDrive30i
|42.8 / 39.3 Inches
|40.4 / 37.0 Inches
|25.7 / 57.2 Cubic Feet
|Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 4Matic
|40.1 / 38.1 Inches
|41.0 / 38.0 Inches
|15.4 / 50.5 Cubic Feet
That near-parity holds up when loading the small crossover down with cargo. With 22.9 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seats up, the Tonale is quite a bit larger than the 15.4-cube GLA but smaller than the 25.7 offered in the BMW or the 23.7 from the Audi. Drop the Alfa’s rear seats and 50.5 cubic feet of space, which is equal to the GLA and up on the Audi by 2.5, though again, the BMW is the champ here with 57.2 cubic feet.
Every Tonale sold in the US will come with a comprehensive list of standard technology features, among them a 10.3-inch digital instrument cluster and aforementioned touchscreen. The system runs Uconnect 5, which means it gets over-the-air updates and the same easy-to-use interface as in other Stellantis products. However, the graphics skin is a bit too close to Chrysler for comfort – Genesis, for example, visually differentiates its infotainment from Hyundai, and it feels distinct and luxurious for it. Even so, the responsive tech suite is among the best in the industry, much less the segment.
The 2024 Tonale also gets a full suite of standard active safety and driver assistance technology, including adaptive cruise control, lane centering, automatic emergency braking, and blind spot monitoring. On top of that, you can also tick a $1,950 box for Active Assist, a Level 2 system with traffic jam functionality that’s bundled with a surround-view camera and automatic parking. Although opportunities to use the optional system were infrequent in my first experience with the car, it did a fine job of keeping within the lane lines and distanced from leading traffic without any abrupt, disquieting motions or inputs.
Lira, Euros, Sawbucks
The Tonale starts at $44,590 including a $1,595 destination charge, between 4 and 7 grand more than Audi, BMW, or Mercedes rivals. At $53,590, my top-spec Veloce was nearly fully loaded, with the Active Assist pack, a $2,000 set of appealing 20-inch wheels, and a $500 coat of Rosso Alfa paint. If you want genuine leather upholstery (replacing Alcantara), ventilated seats, and a Harman Kardon audio system, budget another $2,500 for an interior upgrade package.
|Base Price (w/Destination):
|Comparably Equipped Price:
|Alfa Romeo Tonale
|Mercedes-Benz GLA 250
That’s a big pile of cash for a small crossover, and again more than the Tonale’s key rivals when comparably equipped. However, none of those competitors offers a plug-in hybrid powertrain, and the 30 or so miles of gas-free driving might be enough to justify heading to the Alfa dealer. If plug-in functionality is important to you, then the Tonale is the only game in town – at least until the Hornet R/T arrives on the scene.
The plug-in Dodge is a few thousand bucks cheaper than its Tonale cousin, starting at $41,590 and rising to just over 50 large fully loaded. Of course, then you have to deal with the puzzled looks you might get from your Charger-driving friends, who’ll wonder why you spent 40 large on a would-be Honda CR-V rival. And there’s also the grafted-on look of the Dodge’s front fascia, which isn’t nearly as appealing as the snorty, SZ-inspired Tonale.
As with any Alfa Romeo, choosing the company’s new small crossover is a decision motivated by emotion, not logic. The Dodge Hornet is cheaper and just about as good as the Tonale, but it’s less stylish and lacks upmarket cachet. The German competition is likewise less expensive, and their interiors look a bit richer. But they lack the Tonale’s driving verve (and PHEV left-brain appeal). Even against a chorus of alternatives, the 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale still manages to stand out and sing proud.
Tonale Competitor Reviews:
2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce