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ALFA ROMEO TONALE

Arriving on the back of a relative purple patch for current custodian, Stellantis Group, the second modern Alfa Romeo to be named after an Italian mountain range has now been introduced locally and carries with it high hopes for segment success.

Linked via a 65-km long stretch of road notorious for being closed during snow-covered winter months, on a clear day, the Tonale Mountains in Northern Italy can be seen from the peak of the famous Stelvio Pass. This is a significant detail for the renowned car maker based some 200-kilometres to the south of these ranges, in Milan. 

RAISING EXPECTATIONS

Six years after Alfa Romeo introduced its highly anticipated Stelvio SUV, the brand hopes to mimic some of the relative market success of that vehicle with its second raised ride height offering, the altogether more compact Tonale. 

While the new car shares its FCA-sourced underpinnings with the current Jeep Compass, at first glance, it is clear that this proud Italian brand was afforded every opportunity to ensure that its new C-segment SUV is an undisputed member of the familia.

From contour lines that pay homage to the legendary Giulia GT of the 1960s to its floating shield grille and Zagato-inspired, 3+3 LED head- and tail lamp elements, even with 152 mm worth of ground clearance, there is no mistaking the Tonale for anything other than an Alfa Romeo. 

Ranging in size from 18” to 20”, the car’s ‘Teledial’ alloy wheel designs round off an exterior profile guaranteed to get you noticed on the school run. While the locally available Tonale portfolio will be consolidated into two specification levels – Ti, and a flagship Veloce derivative – a limited edition, range-middling Speciale model is available at launch. 

With heated and ventilated leather upholstery included within a R39,700 options package throughout, the interior of the car nevertheless broadly fulfils a mandate of offering a healthy blend of sportiness with the level of comfort and convenience required to compete within this increasingly significant, premium-focused segment. 

Highlights include a suitably racy-looking steering wheel design that incorporates the ignition button of the car, as well as a 12.3” digital instrumentation display and crisp 10.25” infotainment touchscreen. Rear passenger comfort is acceptable for this segment, while a claimed 500 litres worth of luggage space for Tonale bests several of its modern rivals. 

Stellantis has confirmed that Alfa Romeo will lead its 14-strong car brand portfolio into an exclusively electrically powered future; the date for this first deadline is just four years away. Viewed as a stepping-stone towards this goal, the Tonale is the first model in this 111-year history of the hallowed brand to feature a hybrid powertrain.

A HYBRID FIRST

Fitted with a 1.5-litre turbopetrol motor and operated via a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, the inclusion of both a 48-volt electrical system and 0.8 kWh battery pack adds 15 kW and 55 Nm of supplementary performance. It also enables the car to tackle certain low-speed manoeuvres – including parking – in all-electric mode. 

Offering a combined 118 kW of power and peak torque of 240 Nm, despite what the exterior styling might suggest, the front-wheel-drive Tonale is happiest either ambling around town or cruising at highway speeds. 

While the substantial, all-metal steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters fitted to Speciale and Veloce derivatives would not look out of place in a vehicle produced down the road in Modena, it is unfortunate that their impressively visceral workings cannot call upon the kind of performance their inclusion deserves. 

Indeed, so impressive is the rest of the Tonale package in terms of its dynamically inclined ride quality, handling poise, and lightning-fast steering inputs that it feels as though the vehicle could easily handle significantly more performance. 

On the latter, and as introduced in the modern Giulia sedan, enthusiasts will savour the Alfa Romeo’s penchant towards a fast-reacting steering ratio (13.6:1 in the Tonale). Still, this setup can prove tiresome in real-world terms, especially while negotiating strong crosswinds. Perhaps one of the default DNA (Dynamic, Normal, Advanced Efficiency) driving modes in the Tonale should instead favour a more traditional (weighted) steering feel. 

LAST WORD

Missed performance potential aside, the Tonale feels impressively well put together and suitably standout in terms of its styling and attention to detail. While an enthusiastic test route drive returned an average fuel consumption of 9.8 l/100 km, the true advantage of this modern – if complex – drivetrain will undoubtedly be better realised away from a mountain pass.

Instead, it is in an urban setting where the Tonale looks and feels special among its more conservative peers. At the price there are plenty of rivals – including the forthcoming BMW X1 – that makes more sense in terms of a purchasing decision in this segment. However, since when has an Alfa Romeo enthusiast favoured sensibility over emotions when it comes to getting from A to B?

Prices: Alfa Romeo Tonale
Tonale Ti 1.5L FWD 7AT R739,900
Tonale Veloce 1.5 FWD 7AT R819,000
Tonale Speciale 1.5 FWD 7AT R799,900

Report by IAN MCLAREN | Images © STELLANTIS SOUTH AFRICA

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