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In-depth reviews

Alfa Romeo Tonale review - Engines, drive & performance

Fantastic handling isn’t matched by a slightly lethargic transmission

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3.8 out of 5

Owners Rating
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Engines, drive & performance Rating

4.0 out of 5

Let’s start with the good news. Keen drivers will find a lot to like in the Alfa Romeo Tonale, as it’s obvious plenty of work has been done to deliver engaging and agile handling. There’s no hint that the comparatively agricultural Jeep Compass uses the same underpinnings, nor that the platform isn’t particularly new.

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It sounds like a simple thing, but the Tonale’s steering is reactive and responsive, with a reassuring heft through corners. Not all rivals manage this, and it enables the Alfa Romeo to feel agile and confidence-inspiring. The car is well-balanced and stable through a series of corners, plus there’s very little body roll. In terms of dynamic appeal, the Tonale is up there with close rivals such as the BMW X1 and Jaguar E-Pace.

The two main trim levels have different suspension setups, but you might find that the ride on both is quite firm. However, the top-spec Veloce gets adaptive dampers as standard, which does at least offer a ‘Soft’ setting that’s less harsh over bumps – we found the sportier Dynamic option too firm for British roads, with a crashy feel that reduces confidence in the car. It’s a good thing, then, that you’re able to select the various settings separately, so you can have the suspension in Soft and the engine in its more responsive and pleasant Dynamic mode.

Alfa Romeo Tonale hybrid engine

The range-topping plug-in hybrid actually has the smallest engine – a 1.3-litre petrol borrowed from Fiat and Jeep – but it’s joined by a powerful electric motor on the rear axle. As denoted by its Hybrid Q4 badge, the Tonale is four-wheel drive, and its two power sources combine for a total of 271bhp.

That’s as much as you get in hot hatchbacks such as the Hyundai i30 N and Ford Focus ST, so it’s not surprising that the plug-in hybrid takes just 6.2 seconds to get from 0-62mph. It’s also surprisingly vocal for an SUV powertrain, with some audible sounds from the turbo and electric motor being either engaging or unrefined, depending on your point of view.

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While it offers plenty of pace, our impression of the six-speed automatic gearbox is that it’s rather hesitant to shift. You can take over proceedings with the tactile column-mounted paddles, but the changes aren’t razor sharp.

Alfa Romeo’s ‘D.N.A’ drive selector has been tweaked for the Hybrid Q4; Natural balances the petrol engine and electric motor to give the best efficiency, while Dynamic is a sportier mode that gives full performance when you’re in the mood for it. Despite being the heaviest version of the Tonale available to buyers, the more-powerful plug-in hybrid is able to get the most out of the car’s finely tuned chassis thanks to the extra grunt that’s on tap. Advanced Efficiency sees the car use its battery and electric motor when there’s charge available, dulling throttle response to reduce consumption.

Petrol engines

You can also choose a new 1.5-litre petrol engine with 158bhp. While the plug-in hybrid gets a six-speed automatic gearbox, the petrol gets a seven-speed dual-clutch version. No manual transmissions are available.

Thanks to the addition of a 48-volt electrical system – which means the petrol is a mild hybrids – the Tonale can creep forwards and park without using its petrol engine. You’ll notice the system working if you listen carefully, or watch the display on the instrument cluster, but the Tonale doesn’t let you choose to drive in fully electric mode like hybrids with bigger batteries.

The engine posts decent performance figures, with 0-62mph covered off in 8.8 seconds. But most of the time the Tonale doesn’t feel all that quick, which is partly down to a slight hesitancy from the engine and automatic gearbox. There’s a noticeable delay when you press the throttle before the engine responds, which isn’t just noticeable on a brisk B road drive, but even when trying to join traffic on a roundabout.

The aluminium paddle shifters taken from the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Giuila feel great to use, but the shifts aren’t as fast or exciting when you pull them: instead, the gearbox majors on comfort, being smooth but slightly sluggish – which doesn’t match the Alfa’s sportier handling setup. Unlike many of the brand’s older models, the engine also sounds bland rather than sporty, so it’s a good thing that most of the time the Alfa Romeo is quiet and refined. The brakes are effective too, but even moderately heavy braking causes the hazard lights to flash, which may confuse other road users.

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Which Is Best?

Cheapest

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Andy is Carbuyer's managing editor, with more than a decade of experience helping consumers find their perfect car. He has an MA in automotive journalism and has tested hundreds of vehicles.

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