The Alfa Tonale will always be a car close to my heart. Not least because I stood by its cradle, I have literally seen it born.
I was invited at the Centro Stile Alfa Romeo by Chief designer Klaus Busse and his team when the plaster and wood prototype of the Tonale was just finished. We admired its typical proportions in tune with the higher stance of an SUV, with a horizontal accent line reminiscent of the styling language of the famous ‘Disco Volante’ two seater, created by Carrozzeria Touring back in 2013 and the original Disco Volante 1900 C52 born 1952 also designed by the Milanese coachbuilder Carrozzeria Touring…
In these columns you can also read our driving impressions of the 4WD Tonale Hybrid, which we tested on the Balocco proving ground and its surroundings. This time we took the ‘Mild’ hybrid FWD version for you on a road test through France. Does it offer the unmatched panache of a true Alfa?
Just read on…
Hans Knol ten Bensel
Sliding behind the wheel one is immediately engulfed by the Alfa atmosphere. Behind the classic Alfa three-spoked steering wheel, your fingers meet two very large gearchange paddles, the very same as one finds on other Alfas and Maserati’s. Round dials greet you, embedded in two large clusters. Nice! The starting knob is nestled on the left branch of the steering wheel, the DNA selector sits close to the driver’s side on the centre console. All this befits a true thoroughbred.
Pushing the start button will fire up the 48 V hybrid system, and the first few meters are driven on EV power from the 0.8 kWh battery. From the size of this battery one can really understand this is a (very) mild hybrid. Just to put things in perspective, the battery on my Lexus CT 200h, a model which was launched in 2011, is a 1.3 kWh nickel-metal hydrid (NiMH) one. The Audi Q5 Hybrid – launched back in 2014 – also had a capacity of 1.3 kWh. By the way, the big Mercedes E400 Hybrid, launched back in 2014, had (only) a battery with a capacity of 0,8 kWh, the same as the Tonale.
A smaller capacity battery has of course its advantages is size and weight. The battery here has a volume of about 11 liters and does not affect the size of the trunk because it is installed under the central tunnel, between the front seats. It weighs only 13,5 kg by the way. The “dual voltage” system with DC/DC converter from 48 to 12 Volts manages the interface with the electrical architecture of the Alfa.
In the Tonale, the battery drives a 48-volt 15-kW and 55-Nm “P2” electric motor. (135 Nm thanks to the 2.5:1 transmission ratio). Indeed, after the initial start, very soon the 1,5 litre four cylinder sets in. The transition from E-power to engine power is very smooth indeed, as the 1.5 liter-gasoline engine with a variable-geometry turbocharger is paired with 7-speed Alfa Romeo TCT dual-clutch transmission as well as the electric motor. In stop start situations at traffic jams, the Tonale is able to drive solely on E-power, but indeed, not for long, due to the limited capacity of the battery. Also as soon as one depresses the throttle a little bit deeper because more traction power is wanted, the engine sets in anyway.
One can choose between two power levels of the engine, either 160 HP or 130 HP. The “edizione Speziale” equipment version of our test car can be had with both power versions. We would think that performance wise, the Tonale leaves nothing to be desired. In the 160 HP version, you will shoot from 0 to 100 km/h in merely 8,8 seconds and reach a top speed of over 210 km/h. With the milder 130 HP version, the Tonale is no sluggard either, as our test car amply showed. The acceleration time from 0 to 100 km/h is 9,9 seconds, and the top speed is a good 195 km/h. The engine sound is marvelous, and very well dampened. It never is obtrusive, on the contrary, it is quite melodious, and will please not only the Alfa aficionados.
The iconic DNA selector lets you choose between Dynamic, Naturale and the Advanced efficiency modes…
The engine, which redlines at 6500 rpm, is also turbine-like smooth and exempt from any vibrations. At cruising speeds, it is almost inaudible. Alfa quotes an average WLTP consumption of 5.6 – 6.2 l/100 km. We managed an average consumption of 6,9 liters. Higher (cruising) speeds cost some fuel, and the Tonale invites to it… On secondary roads and slower urban speeds, the consumption hovers with some anticipative and smooth driving easily between 6 and 6,5 liters. We can only repeat ourselves that the driving style greatly influences your fuel consumption…
Acceleration at intermediate speeds is excellent and smooth, with the large gearchange paddles of course inviting you to intervene manually and let the engine “sing” in its ideal rev range when hurtling up and down mountain passes. Pulling power of the engine is quite good, as it develops 240 Nm of torque.
Indeed, on winding roads the Tonale really comes into its own, with its direct steering, (Alfa tells us it’s the most direct steering in its segment with a 13,6:1 ratio) and excellent suspension. The Tonale Hybrid has the Alfa Romeo Dynamic Torque Vectoring and FSD (Frequency Selective Damping) shock absorbers as standard equipment. We drove this Alfa on the mountain roads in the French Massif Central, also on the legendary Col de Burzet and the stretch towards the plateau at Lachamp Rafaël, an iconic stage in the Monte Carlo Rally, and it was a delightful experience. Stable, precise, virtually no body roll and excellent responsiveness, these were the ingredients which put a smile on our face.
Also the brakes earn a word of praise. The Alfa Romeo Tonale adopts the Integrated Brake System (IBS), an electromechanical system that combines stability control with conventional servo brakes. The system guarantees instantaneous brake response thanks to the integration between electronics and mechanics, together with weight optimization, optimal feeling and the total absence of pedal vibrations. In addition, the IBS manages the imperceptible blending between regenerative braking (to maximize energy recovery) and dissipative braking (achieved through the braking system).
What’s more, the Tonale adopts standard fixed calipers by Brembo, with 4 pistons and self-ventilated discs at the front and full discs at the rear.
…with dynamic vectoring
The front-wheel drive Tonale has standard an electronic self-locking differential. The system is built into the DNA selector and exploits the effect of the braking system by simulating a limited mechanical differential. It certainly works beautifully. It brings effective driving dynamics by controlling the vehicle stability, and by redirecting the power to the wheels when accelerating on corners. The system also provides improved greater control on slippery surfaces, as well as greatly reducing understeer, transferring torque from the inner to the outer wheel, ensuring better longitudinal acceleration and consequently better road holding. This Alfa feels truly nimble and can be thrown around corners in total confidence.
Alexa assists you on (all) the way…
The Tonale has Amazon’s Alexa voice system built in. So you enjoy hands-free, voice-initiated interactions. Infotainment is further of course top notch with a customizable Android operating system and 4G connectivity with Over-the-Air (OTA) updates. This system includes a fully digital 12.3” screen, the main 10.25” touchscreen unit which is totaling 22.5”. The Alfa Romeo Tonale enables Level 2 autonomous driving by combining the “Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control” (IACC) and “Lane Centering” (LC) systems and the forward-facing camera, which longitudinally and laterally monitors all the car’s surroundings.
We also appreciated the dual-zone air conditioning, pleasant ambient light, sophisticated infotainment system, ventilated and heated front seats, and a formidable 14-speaker sound system by Harman Kardon. The reception of the radio is also quite good, even on FM. We were able to listen to France Musique and France Culture with crystal clear reception in mountainous areas… The Tonale also has an electric tailgate and a wireless charging pad.
The Mild Hybrid Tonale is every inch a true Alfa, which is an excellent drivers’ car with formidable handling, combined with mechanical sophistication, docility and very good urban manners. It is also reasonably economical, provided you adopt a more sedate driving style. Finish and build quality is up to scratch, and equipment in our tested “speziale” equipment version is lavish to say the least.
Hans Knol ten Bensel