2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Review and Test Drive
The all-new small SUV packs tech, plug-in hybrid power, and a dash of Italian verve.
Alfa Romeo's Tonale isn't just an all-new model; it marks the Italian automaker's first foray into the compact SUV segment. Known for decades as a builder of sporty coupes, sedans, and near-exotic cars, Alfa Romeo has adapted to the market of the moment. Now, the Tonale joins the larger Stelvio as the second crossover in the automaker's stable.
Named after a high mountain pass in Italy, the 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale is design-centric and packs Italian flair. It also offers modern technology and conveniences. Perhaps more significantly, Alfa wants the Tonale to mark the company's metamorphosis from a storied brand focused on enthusiast driving to one of cutting-edge technology and practicality.
Unfortunately, Alfa Romeo's reputation as a builder of beautiful driver's cars has been saddled with a reputation for unreliability. As recently as 2019, Car and Driver reported on the significant quality problems its staff experienced with a long-term Giulia Quadrifoglio test vehicle.
Fortunately, the tide may be turning. This year, Alfa Romeo scored higher than any other premium brand in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, which included feedback from owners of the company's 2023 Giulia sedan and Stelvio SUV. Still, whether the new 2024 Tonale will contribute to a similar finding next year remains to be seen.
Alfa Romeo builds the Tonale in Sprint, Ti, and Veloce trim levels. Base price ranges from the mid-$40,000s to the low $50,000s, including the destination charge to ship the SUV from Alfa's Pomigliano, Italy, factory to your local dealership. It competes with other small luxury crossovers, including the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Jaguar E-Pace, and Mercedes-Benz GLA.
Notably, the 2024 Tonale shares its platform and most of its bodywork with the Dodge Hornet, though the mechanical makeup and detailing between the two corporate cousins differ.
For this 2024 Tonale review, I test-drove the Ti model in Arizona. It came with the Active Assist Package, a moonroof, and 19-inch wheels shod with 235/45R-19 all-season tires, which brought the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $51,790, including the $1,595 destination charge. Alfa Romeo provided the vehicle for this Tonale review.
2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Review: The Design
With its history of building exciting cars, design is a distinct Alfa Romeo strength. The new Tonale shows it, too, with the triangular-shaped grille, squinting multisegment headlights, five-hole alloy wheels (a signature Alfa styling cue). There's also a jaunty up-kicked side window graphic that makes the Tonale look like a sprinter in the starting blocks. My impression is that the Tonale's exterior looks handsome, lively, and even fun.
Inside, the Tonale's cabin has a sporty and engaging appearance, but I think some of the materials aren't up to snuff for a small SUV costing more than $50,000. While the driver-focused primary controls and displays invite you to get settled in for a fun driving experience, inexpensive-looking surfaces — such as the dash top and windowsills — lack the same polish as the overall design and layout.
That's not to say the Tonale's interior is cheap. In many other locations, the plastic, metal, rubber, and piano-black surfaces look and feel good.
Overall, the driving environment exudes sportiness. The contrasting-color stitching, infotainment screen location, and vent controls contribute to this sensation. I'll give special credit to the Tonale's steering wheel, which I think exemplifies how modern, sporty, functional, and inviting industrial design should look and feel.
In addition, the steering-wheel-mounted engine Start button is unusual. Perhaps that placement is a subtle reminder of Alfa's technical relationship with Maserati and Ferrari. Regardless, each time you fire it up, the Tonale reminds you it's different from its rivals.
Unfortunately, I found the front seats to lack optimal thigh support, and while there's ample room in the back seat, the rising windowsills that impart a great look on the outside make it feel slightly confining inside. However, rear passengers enjoy a whopping 38 inches of legroom. That's remarkably generous, considering the larger Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV offers only 31.9 inches of rear legroom.
Storage space is modest. There are door-mounted bottle holders, an average-sized glovebox, and two center cupholders. But the space under the center armrest is stingy, and the open compartment ahead of the shifter performs double duty as the wireless smartphone charger.
The Tonale's rear seatback folds down and features a center slot to expand the cargo area for carrying long and narrow items, such as skis. Behind the rear seats, there's 22.9 cubic-feet of trunk room, which climbs to 50.5 cu-ft with the seats folded. There's no additional space under the cargo floor.
2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Review: The Technology
The 2024 Tonale has the latest Uconnect 5 infotainment system from Alfa Romeo's parent company, Stellantis. It uses a 10.25-inch touchscreen, has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, and can operate two devices simultaneously via Bluetooth.
In addition, Uconnect 5 provides access to subscription-based connected services and features Alexa voice recognition. The native navigation system gives turn-by-turn instructions within the 12.3-inch digital instrument display and overall route information on the center touchscreen.
Uconnect 5 delivers clear graphics and responded to my inputs quickly. Tabs for media, phone, climate control, navigation, and vehicle settings are all well marked, and there's an ever-present Home button at the top left of the screen. There's also a tile for Hybrid Pages inside the infotainment display. Hybrid Pages present energy-use data, the status of the plug-in hybrid powertrain, and driver "coaching" for maximum efficiency.
After firing up the vehicle, Uconnect 5 prompted me to pair my phone with Apple CarPlay, and setting it up was easy. The embedded voice recognition system also gave accurate responses to almost all my voice commands. Overall, the Uconnect 5 user experience is nearly seamless, as should be the goal of all the technology we live with today. There's only one small caveat: For improved readability, I think the font size could be slightly bigger.
On the audio front, I found the test car's standard six-speaker audio system to be a tinny disappointment. There is an optional 12-speaker Harman Kardon system, but my test vehicle did not have it.
It's worth noting the 2024 Tonale debuts a forward-thinking first in the automotive sector. Alfa Romeo offers non-fungible token (NFT) technology in the Tonale, where the digital certificate ties to confidential, unmodifiable records of the vehicle's service life. Owners can generate a certificate to prove proper maintenance over time, a measure of reassurance and credibility for the pre-owned market where almost all cars will ultimately find themselves.
The Tonale comes standard with a full suite of advanced driving-assistance systems. They include adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and traffic sign recognition.
My test vehicle's optional Active Assist Package installed front, rear, and side parking assist sensors and a surround-view camera system. This option package also adds an Active Driving Assist, which pairs lane-centering assist with adaptive cruise control to create a hands-on, semi-autonomous driving-assistance system.
When used separately from Active Driving Assist, the adaptive cruise control reduced and increased cruising speed on the highway perfectly and predictably. With Active Driving Assist engaged, the lane-centering system operates with accuracy, though on some highway bends, it allowed the SUV to travel closer to the lane markings than I preferred.
In addition, it can feel artificial as the tech makes minor steering corrections while you hold the steering wheel. However, these are fairly common traits of these systems. Also, since you're supposed to have your hands on the steering wheel, you should consider the Tonale's Active Driving Assist system to be exactly that: an active assist, not a driver replacement.
As of publication, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has performed crash tests on the 2024 Tonale. Be sure to check those sources for updates.
2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Review: The Drive
The Alfa Romeo Tonale comes to the U.S. market with one powertrain, a plug-in hybrid based on a turbocharged 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine. It produces a total combined output of 285 horsepower and 347 pound-feet of torque.
All Tonales have standard all-wheel drive. The internal-combustion engine sends its power to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, while a 90-kW electric motor powers the rear wheels.
According to the EPA, the Tonale travels 33 miles on electricity before switching to traditional gas-electric operation. Start with a full battery and fuel tank, and the EPA expects you to average 77 MPGe and travel 360 miles.
Used strictly as a hybrid without pure electric driving, the Tonale's gas-only fuel economy figure is 29 mpg in combined driving. Charging is easy enough, however. Alfa Romeo claims a full battery charge takes 2.5 hours when using a Level 2 240-volt power source.
On my 73-mile loop of mixed highway, suburban and stop-and-go city driving, and with zero battery charge, the Tonale returned 32.4 mpg, beating the EPA estimate. Separately, on a full charge, the Tonale gave me 30 miles of purely electric driving before the combustion engine kicked in for good, falling a little short of expectations. (Depending on road and traffic circumstances, the combustion engine engaged only momentarily during this EV driving phase.) And given the Arizona heat, my air-conditioning use undoubtedly triggered the combustion engine and contributed to a lower real-world range compared to the EPA rating.
Alfa claims the trip from zero to 60 mph takes 6.0 seconds, which is by no means slow. Still, acceleration occurs without much brio, especially at higher speeds. Once cruising the highway, the Tonale settles into things relatively quietly for a small SUV. Getting up to speed is less fun than other recent Alfas I've tested, and I also found the acceleration to be somewhat inconsistent.
Alfa's standard selectable DNA driving modes allow three settings: Advanced Efficiency, Natural, and Dynamic. But since Alfa reserves adaptive shocks for the Tonale Veloce, the DNA drive modes in my Ti test vehicle only changed the powertrain response.
The brakes, however, feel fabulous underfoot, and you can modulate them with absolute precision. The response is impressive, too, thanks to Brembo calipers at all four corners. Based on hustling this car on winding desert roads, they deliver heroic ability, even in the heat.
Glance over the Tonale's detailed specifications chart, and you find 4,133 reasons for the overachieving brakes. That's the Tonale's curb weight in pounds, which is a big number for a small SUV. High weight puts a big strain on standard-size brakes, and the Tonale's battery pack and rear-axle electric motor are likely the primary reasons for the added mass.
When the road gets twisty, the Tonale responds with most of the talent you'd expect of a sporty Alfa, but steering feel is vague and light in all of the DNA settings. The suspension, which handles a rhythmic and fun winding road just fine at half of the chassis' natural ability, becomes clumsy, overdamped, and bouncy when pushed closer to the Tonale's handling limits. Despite this awkwardness, I found solid grip between the tire tread and the road surface.
In addition to the PHEV powertrain, I think some of the handling blame here lies with the relatively high ride height and center of gravity common to crossovers such as the Tonale. Even if most of the heavy components are housed low in the chassis, you can't expect race-car agility from a PHEV SUV.
Is the 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale a Good SUV?
In my view, the Tonale illustrates that Alfa Romeo understands the disconnect between what it has been and what it must become.
Considering everything it does well and the areas where it falls short, if owning a plug-in hybrid with lots of character is your goal, the new Alfa Romeo Tonale is a good choice for a small luxury SUV. It rolls down the road wearing a sportier, bolder, and more elegant design than nearly anything else in the class and offers more than its fair share of passenger space.
Unfortunately for Alfa Romeo, the Tonale lands in a segment loaded with good choices, which means the SUV's flaws stand out more. Furthermore, though the PHEV powertrain meets expectations for electric range, I didn't find the Tonale's driving dynamics struck the inspiring chord Alfas are beloved for.
To some Alfa fanatics, the 2024 Tonale might feel like a missed opportunity. But it will likely meet the expectations of shoppers in the segment — especially if they like driving something different.