Alfa Romeo Tonale 2023 review – 276bhp Speciale version tested
The Tonale scores highly for its design and tech, but it's missing the dynamic class of the Giulia and Stelvio
On the one hand the Tonale Speciale is a 276bhp, four-wheel drive Alfa Romeo with an intriguing powertrain and much to tickle the curiosity of anybody who loves to drive. On the other it’s a compact crossover that shares a great deal with a Jeep Compass 4xe. What is a Jeep Compass 4xe? Exactly. Perhaps the more interesting question is whether there’s anything here to excite other than the romanticism attached to the Alfa name?
The spec sheet is promising at a glance but delve a little deeper and it’s not exactly going to set you pants on fire. The Speciale is the launch edition of the Tonale plug-in hybrid (also available in Ti and Veloce trim levels). It costs £44,595 and comes with sporty additions like 20-inch alloys, a gloss black body kit and red Brembo calipers. Power is provided to the front wheels by a 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 180bhp, with the rear wheels driven by an electric motor rated at 120bhp and 184lb ft. The maximum combined output is 276bhp and Alfa claims 0-62mph in 6.2sec, an electric top speed of 84mph and range of 49 miles (providing a total range of 372 miles), and the Speciale can reach 128mph. It weighs 1835kg and is similar in size to a BMW X1.
The good stuff is that the Tonale looks and feels like a quality item. There are a few slightly dodgy interior materials but overall there’s a nice impression that you’re in something different, yes, but also that you’re not making a sacrifice in terms of fit and finish. It as does the sensible things really well – for example it’s pretty practical and the EV range seems to translate into the mid 30s in the real world.
From a dynamic standpoint the Speciale is a bit of a mixed bag. I like the slightly firm ride on the 20-inch wheels, which quickly smooths out at speed but at least creates a suggestion of sportiness. However, the incredibly light, quick steering is a bit of a mess. I’m sure it’s developed in order to impart agility and an Alfa-specific sensibility, but actually it’s so lacking in feel that the artificial alertness makes it very difficult to drive the Speciale smoothly. It’s also rather out of step with the chassis, which is secure enough but doesn’t have the control and sharpness to match the steering response.
The little turbocharged engine feels very much like a little turbocharged engine. It revs nicely but has to work hard against the weight and even with the assistance of the electric motor the Speciale rarely feels the full 276bhp. It should be noted that our test car didn’t come with the optional Handling Pack, which comprises Alfa Dual Stage Suspension and aluminium shift paddles. Perhaps that setup would help body control and connect the driver to the powertrain in a more satisfying way. As it is, even as you click from Advanced Efficiency to Natural and then Dynamic mode, the Tonale never feels in total harmony with the driver’s input.
In terms of balance, the Tonale Speciale is neat enough but it does feel heavy and the promise of the e-AWD system doesn’t add much to the way it flows through a corner. The integration of the engine and electric power is refined and well managed but the Speciale feels mostly front-driven, albeit with an impressive amount of traction. To be honest it’s not a car you tend to hustle, anyway. This is a car that satisfies its overall brief but doesn’t exactly transcend the class.
Is that an issue? Probably not for those looking at the Tonale PHEV as family transport with a little sprinkle of Italian intrigue. It looks pretty good (although doesn’t have quite the visual punch of the taut Stelvio), is competitive in all the sensible ways and feels premium enough to not leaving you yearning for a bit of German-spec quality. So, a perfectly fine way to get around with a little bit of Italian design goodness thrown in to the mix. Oh, and the infotainment system is easy to use and relatively quick, too. It’s just a shame the Tonale doesn’t share the dynamic polish of the Giulia and Stelvio.