Need an SUV but looking for something a little different, perhaps with some more flair? That's precisely what the Tonale is here to deliver, but just how good a job does it do of blending practicality and Alfa charm?

Few brands stir up quite the sort of emotions Alfa Romeo does – from the best-looking badge in the business to a penchant for style and dynamic flair. However, the unmistakably Italian marque has finally ventured into what could be the toughest for it to crack: the big-business subcompact SUV space.

Its entrant into this convoluted space is dubbed the Tonale, and it has some stiff competition from a vast array of other luxury brands including the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Jaguar E-Pace, Lexus UX, Mercedes-Benz GLA and GLB, and the all-electric Volvo C40 and XC40. Even the likes of the Skoda Kamiq and Volkswagen T-Roc give the entry-level grade some added competition. As the vehicle tasked with turning Alfa Romeo’s sales record around, the Tonale sure has its work cut out for it.

Two electrified powertrains are available including a front-wheel drive 48V mild hybrid – which Alfa simply bills as the Tonale Hybrid – and an all-wheel drive plug-in hybrid. While we’ll be testing the PHEV in the coming months, it’s the mild hybrid on test here in both specifications on offer – the Ti, pictured in Alfa Red, which kicks off at $50,900 before on-road costs for 2024 models, and the Veloce, finished in Misano Blue, which starts at $58,900. At its launch last year, Alfa claimed an expected 30:70 sales split in favour of the Veloce.

As you’d expect from an Alfa, things get off to a good start thanks to its undoubtedly sharp looks. With the brand’s signature grille up front and spot-on lines and proportions elsewhere, it’s easily one of the best-looking offerings in its class. It also manages to look bang up to date despite riding on the same platform as the Jeep Compass which traces back to 2012, with the floorpan, wheelbase, and mild hybrid engine both common between the two Stellantis models.

However, the Jeep certainly can’t match the dynamic promises of the Tonale, as Alfa Romeo has used aluminium stamping for the body construction and features frequency-selective dampers, optional adaptive suspension, a specific steering rack and column with an improved ratio, and even 50:50 weight distribution despite being front-wheel drive.

Ti models ride on 18-inch alloys as standard, while the Veloce boosts that to 19-inch wheels although a set of 20-inch rims are available for an extra $1500. Speaking of options, both test cars here were fitted with quite a few. The Ti you see boasts the $2500 Technology Pack which adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, Level 2 semi-autonomous driving, a 360-degree camera, and auto-dimming side mirrors – all of which are standard on the Veloce.

The Veloce, however, was fitted with the $4500 Lusso Pack which is offered on all variants and brings eight-way powered front seats with heating, ventilation, and memory functions, a heated steering wheel, perforated leather upholstery with grey stitching, a 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, and heated windscreen washer jets. The colours on both cars charge a $1600 premium, while if fitted, the panoramic sunroof would add an extra $2500 as well. Thus, as you see them here, the Ti would set you back $55,000 and the Veloce $66,500.

While the interior looks and feels as driver-focused as you’d expect in an Alfa Romeo, the finishes in the Tonale are a bit of a mixed bag. The leather used for items such as the door cards and shifter boot feels every bit as synthetic as it is, the side air vents feel a bit flimsy, and there’s plenty of scratchy black plastic to contend with. Mind you, both the ‘carbon cloth’ and perforated leather seats feel like quality items, the flat-bottomed steering wheel is beautifully sculpted, the Veloce’s big column-mounted paddle shifters feel supercar-esque, and the driving position is right on the money, so Alfa has the key elements all right.

With Alfa Romeo being part of the Stellantis family, the Tonale benefits from its own version of the Uconnect 5 infotainment system on its 10.25-inch central touchscreen which is one of my favourites on the market. It might look a lot like the older system found in the Giulia and Stelvio, but it’s far more responsive, the graphics are crystal clear, and it even adds wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 12.3-inch digital instrument panel ahead of the driver is also crystal clear and offers a few different designs mimicking the dials in other Alfa Romeo models both classic and modern.

Despite its relatively compact size, there’s a decent amount of room in both the front and rear seats for all but the tallest of passengers, while the boot measures in at a roomy 500 litres for these mild hybrid variants, expanding to 1550 litres with the second row folded, and it has a flat-loading floor for easy access. Considering how small the Tonale’s footprint is, it must be said that Alfa has done a good job of maximising the amount of space on offer.

Powering the standard Tonale Hybrid is a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine which comes paired with a 15kW/55Nm electric motor, with the two combining to deliver 118kW at 5750rpm and 240Nm at 1500rpm. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic and front-wheel drive is standard, with Alfa claiming this drivetrain can get the Tonale from 0-100km/h in 8.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 212km/h.

The ‘Hybrid’ billing is perhaps fitting as the electric motor alone can drive the wheels at up to 40km/h, although in the real world, its operation is a lot closer to a mild hybrid as it doesn’t offer enough to really power the wheels by itself, nor enough to allow the engine to switch itself off more regularly while driving.

Certainly, there’s a decent chunk of accessible torque on offer when you put your foot down, with both the variable geometry turbo and electric motor aiding low-speed performance, but this drivetrain is left wanting for power in the upper reaches of the rev range where it can feel and sound a bit out of puff. The dual-clutch transmission does at least reduce drivetrain loss, also aiding its pickup when you lay on the throttle, although I found in my Ti tester it wasn’t the smoothest. Curiously, the Veloce’s DCT felt a bit less clunky in traffic, which is interesting to note.

Ride quality is particularly impressive in the Ti, though, as the chubby tyres on its 18-inch wheels and composed suspension – thanks to its clever frequency-selective dampers – combine to deliver an effortless ride. However, the adaptive dampers of the Veloce are more to my taste even with the optional 20-inch wheels as it feels truly sporty – firm without being bone-jarring. This becomes particularly apparent when you flick its ‘DNA’ drive mode selector into Dynamic, which in an instant changes the Tonale’s character entirely.

Its drivetrain starts to feel more eager, the transmission shifts more aggressively, and the Veloce’s adaptive dampers firm up to help it deliver the sort of handling you’d expect from an Alfa Romeo. It remains balanced and taut through the corners, while the steering feels particularly responsive, quick, and engaging, and has the ideal degree of heft to it to offer a solid degree of control.

It’s particularly impressive considering the age and origins of the Tonale’s core platform, as there’s clearly a good dose of Alfa genes on display here. The fact it only weighs around 1500kg certainly helps in this regard as well.

Really, the way it drives fits the bill perfectly for how a small SUV wearing this prodigious badge should, and Alfa’s engineers should be proud of what they’ve done with the components they had at their disposal. The same characteristics that make the Stelvio one of the best SUVs to drive are on clear display here. I’d much rather it had a conventional auto rather than a dual clutch, so the six-speed PHEV may offer a slight advantage in that regard, not to mention the much needed additional power as well, but whether it’s worth the big premium over this Hybrid remains to be seen from my perspective at this point in time.

Considering the Tonale’s billing as a full-blown hybrid, it does deliver relatively impressive fuel economy. Alfa claims fuel consumption of 5.6L/100km on the combined cycle, although I saw a return of 7.4L/100km in the Ti after 544km of testing, while the Veloce returned 7.6L/100km over the course of my 564km stint in it.

The Tonale is covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty as with all Alfa Romeo models. Servicing is required every 12 months/15,000km, with capped pricing for the first five services, although the cost is relatively high at $3675 in total across those five years, with the 48 month service alone costing a steep $1345.

In terms of pricing, the entry-level Tonale manages to undercut its other European rivals from the likes of Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Volvo by at least a good few thousand dollars as well, with most starting in the mid-$50k range although the Merc stretches that to nearer $70k. In this sense, the Alfa offers very good value, particularly with a more efficient electrified powertrain as standard, although you will find a tad more refinement in its rivals.

On the whole, the Tonale makes for a quite compelling package even if it does have its shortcomings. Yes, the interior materials aren’t quite up to scratch and it definitely needs more power, not to mention the at-times clunky gearbox, but the way it drives delivers a hint of that Alfa charm, it’s affordable next to its rivals, and the technology and interior ergonomics are bang-on.

Really, like most Alfas, this will appeal to buyers who are after something a little bit different, and for that crowd it delivers precisely what it needs to. For me, the Veloce looks the pick of these two Hybrid variants thanks to the more driver-oriented features such as paddle shifters and adaptive dampers, but the Ti presents a very compelling package as well.

I’ll reserve my full judgement until I drive it, but I feel like the plug-in hybrid could offer an even better experience with its additional power, conventional auto, and improved efficiency, but for now, I can say that the Tonale does manage to hold its own in this crowded corner of the market.

2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Hybrid Ti: $50,900 | Veloce: $58,900
  • 7/10
    Performance - 7/10
  • 7.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 7.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Practicality - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Slick design for the class, well-designed interior space, slick Uconnect infotainment system, impressive driving dynamics give it a clear Alfa feel
Cons: Dual-clutch transmission isn’t the smoothest, electric motor can’t cut it alone in reality, questionable interior materials in some areas

2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Ti Hybrid

2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce Hybrid

Full Disclosure: The vehicles tested here were provided by Alfa Romeo Australia for one week each, both with a full tank of fuel upon collection.

Patrick Jackson
Latest posts by Patrick Jackson (see all)
Share this article: