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Alfa Romeo First: New Tonale Plug-In Hybrid Crossover

by Ron CoganFebruary 23, 2022
Alfa Romeo is a brand unfamiliar to many, but that will change as the 2023 Tonale plug-in hybrid joins the automaker’s U.S. lineup late this year.
Alfa Romeo Tonale driving.

The all-new Tonale is a big deal for Italy’s Alfa Romeo. This automaker has been around the block – and the track – for some 110 years now, but we understand if Alfa Romeo is a name that’s escaped your new car shopping list. This storied brand offers intriguing style, a sporting nature, and the kind of attractive Italian design that calls for a second glance as one passes by. It’s just that Alfa Romeos don’t pass by nearly as often as, say, other mainstream European brands like Audi, BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Volkswagen, or even MINI. British and especially German brands are ubiquitous on our highways. But Italian cars? Not so much in the scheme of things.

That isn’t to say that Stellantis, parent company of the Italian Fiat, Maserati, and Alfa Romeo brands, wouldn’t like to change that, especially when it comes to its hopefully rising star Alfa Romeo here in the States. It’s just that this nameplate isn’t ingrained in the American psyche like Stellantis’ indigenous-to-the-U.S. brands Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and RAM. So, Alfa Romeo sells in quite small numbers here relative to most of its European competitors.

Alfa Romeo Tonale crossover SUV.

There’s change in the wind. Alfa Romeo’s champion for an evolving auto market is its all-new 2023 Tonale, a compact all-wheel drive crossover SUV that expands the brand’s offerings here in a most important way. SUVs are huge sellers these days because of their desirable functionality and style. Compact crossover SUVs in particular are top-of-mind with buyers as fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions play a larger part in the decision making process. Add to that the availability of a plug-in hybrid powerplant – a first for Alfa Romeo – and things really start to get interesting.

The All-New Tonale

The Tonale is a statement of high-fashion Italian design, perhaps not unexpected from a company born in Milan, Italy’s hub of fashion and industry. Attention to the senses pervades this SUV. The model is eye-appealing with its fluid, aggressive, and sensuous lines that take the expected compact SUV form and add artistic depth, contour, and flair. Of course, its distinctive nose features the marque’s signature, shield-like ‘scudetto’ grille that’s been integral to Alfa Romeo since its 1948 models. This grille is accented by a pair of horizontal grilles below and flanked by a three-LED headlight design at either side. Wrap-around taillights deliver an appealing look at the rear. Capping this off are very distinctive alloy wheels that further the aggressively stylish persona of this new model.

Inside is a driver-focused cabin finished in leather and Alcantara suede accented by aluminum trim. The black Alcantara on the well-bolstered seats integrates laser-drilled holes with red backing and contrast stitching to enhance the interior’s sporty and high-end look. Leather headrests are accented with contrast red stitching and red Alfa Romeo logos.

Drivers will appreciate the Tonale’s readily accessible controls on the instrument panel, center console, center display, and steering wheel, the latter also offering available aluminum shift paddles. Driver information is presented on a 12.3-inch instrument cluster screen ahead of the driver and a 10.5-inch center touchscreen display with Uconnect 5 infotainment features. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, and over-the-air update functionality come as a matter of course.

Advanced electronics is part of the package, as expected. Among the most desirable driver assist systems are standard  adaptive cruise control, intelligent speed assist, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist, with Level 2 autonomous driving and traffic jam assist available. Also standard are safety and convenience features including blind spot and rear cross path detection, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and traffic sign recognition.

Two Engines, Including a Plug-In

This Alfa’s base powerplant is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s said to provide best-in-class standard horsepower, delivering 256 horsepower and 295 lb-ft torque. It connects to a nine-speed automatic transmission. As is the case with many combustion powerplants today, engine stop-start technology is integrated to increase efficiency, though we don’t yet know what that fuel efficiency number will be. It connects to a nine-speed automatic transmission.

The big news is the Tonale’s plug-in hybrid powertrain that reportedly makes it the most efficient crossover PHEV in the segment. This hybrid system uses a 180 horsepower, 1.3-liter MultiAir four-cylinder turbo and high-voltage belt starter-generator to power the front wheels. Power at the rear axle is provided by a 121 horsepower electric motor that ups the ante to 272 total system horsepower for expected levels of performance. This power is delivered to the road via a six-speed automatic transmission. Both plug-in hybrid and conventionally powered Tonales offers standard Q4 all-wheel drive.

Tonale’s plug-in hybrid drivetrain is energized by a 15.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack the maker says is good for a 30 mile all-electric driving range. After that, as battery power wanes, the Tonale reverts to its efficient hybrid drive. Three selectable driving modes – dual power/dynamic, natural, and advanced efficiency – are offered to tailor the driving experience via a DNA control. ‘Dual power’ is the performance mode, with both the motor and combustion engine providing maximum power. The ‘natural’ selection optimizes efficiency and driving performance with a balance of electric and mechanical power. All-electric driving, with variable range depending on current battery state-of-charge, is delivered with the ‘advanced efficiency’ mode.

Alfa Romeo’s new Tonale will be offered in base-level Sprint, uplevel Ti, and more sport- and luxury-oriented Veloce trim levels. While cost has yet to be disclosed, the aim is to be priced competitively in its compact crossover segment, which means a likely entry point in the mid-$30,000 range, rising to perhaps $50,000 or so for the top-of-the-line Veloce. We’ll know more as the model gets closer to its official launch expected late this year.