The metamorphosis… that’s how Alfa Romeo names the release of its new compact SUV, with an emphasis both on connectivity and electrification. In addition to the brand’s one hundred and twelfth anniversary, 2022 is also the year of the 60th anniversary of the Giulia and the 50th anniversary of the Alfasud. These two models made a lasting impression and are still emblematic for their noble engineering, sporty handling and versatility. The new Tonale follows the same path, while putting the customer first. It is a direct competitor of the Audi Q3 and BMW X1. Its dimensions (4.53 m long, 1.84 m wide and 1.60 m high) are similar and its prices should be lower than those of its German rivals. (Text: Dimitri URBAIN, photos: Media.Stellantis.com)
The Tonale’s prototype was on display at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show and the final version is very close to it. The most notable differences are the larger headlights, exterior handles and the removal of chrome lashes on the windows. The Tonale is modern but remains faithful to the company’s traditions: the central grille (the ‘scudetto’) and the triple headlights recall the 159, the SZ and the Proteo concept car. The family link is there, but it is definitely up to the minute and in harmony with the rear light signature. The Tonale’s mission is clear: reinventing the typical Alfa sportiness for the 21st century. The ‘GT line’, inspired by the Giulia GT, runs along the sides and links the (LED) headlights to the rear lights. The shape of the rear window is a tribute to the 8C Competizione’s, while the « telephone dial » wheels are inspired by those of the 1967 33 Stradale. Aesthetically, the Tonale aims to appeal to a young, dynamic, city-dwelling audience, while at the same time featuring several references to the brand’s historic models. This is also why the launch was filmed at the museum, to show the link.
Alfa Romeo highlights a unique driving experience and high residual value… the Tonale is the very first NFT (Non Fungible Token) certified car in the world. Using blockchain technology, the NFT certifies the car at the time of purchase and records its use as well as all the work carried out during the life of the vehicle, thus preserving its residual value. The Tonale’s connectivity is obviously very high, as is compulsory on any new car. It has two TFT screens measuring a total of 22.5″ (a 12.3″ digital screen acts as the instrument cluster, combined with a 10.25″ central touchscreen), which is bigger than any of its rivals. Over-the-air updates are planned, and it also features Alexa, Amazon’s personal assistant. What’s more, thanks to the Secure Delivery Service, the Tonale can become a delivery point for your Amazon parcels… it is possible to remotely unlock the car.
Such integration also allows the driver to control the lighting or heating in his home. A range of ADAS Level 2 equipment is standard: adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance and traffic jam assistance automatically adjust speed and trajectory while ensuring safety and comfort. Other features include emergency brake assist to avoid collisions with pedestrians and cyclists, drowsiness detection, blind spot detection and a 360° camera. The all-round LED lighting is adaptive and detects other incoming cars to avoid dazzling. An integrated function improves lighting in bends.
Engines: electrification with an Alfa touch
Alfa Romeo had to launch an electrified model… However, in order to respect the brand’s DNA and its tradition, the Tonale is available from the outset as both hybrid and Plug In hybrid ‘Q4’ versions. The latter being a 4-wheel drive version combining a combustion engine up front and an electric motor on the back axle. The brand insists that the Tonale is an Alfa first and then, a hybrid… and that electrification is there to reinforce the Tonale’s characteristics and dynamic qualities. The Tonale is the first Alfa to receive the new 1500 cc high compression four cylinder engine with high pressure direct injection, variable valve timing and variable geometry turbo. Called VGT (variable geometry turbo) hybrid, it is available in two power levels: 130 and 160 HP.
According to Alfa Romeo, this engine is as frugal as a diesel but offers very linear acceleration, with the advantage that the electric motor and its instantaneous maximum torque comes into play right from the start, before the turbo takes over. The 48V hybrid drive system is able to propel the car on its own, without the internal combustion engine switched off. Unlike most light hybrids, an electric motor is used here, rather than a starter-alternator that simply increases the available torque and recovers energy while controlling the start and stop system. Alfa Romeo engineers have worked differently: the electric motor is placed on the main shaft of the seven-speed dual-clutch TCT gearbox. It develops 15 kW and 55 Nm of torque, enough to drive the front wheels when starting off, in a traffic jam, at low speed or when parking. Another advantage is that it can even do without the combustion engine on the motorway, while also recovering more energy than a conventional starter-alternator. The 275 hp Q4 plug-in hybrid version uses the now familiar FIAT 1300 cm3 MultiAir turbo four-cylinder engine and accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 6.2 seconds. It offers a range of 60 to 80 km in electric mode. The range also includes a two-wheel drive version equipped with a new 1600 cc diesel engine (130 hp and 320 Nm), mated to a 6-speed TCT gearbox.
Premium quality and sporty interior
For as much as we can see, the Tonale respects tradition inside too, while adding a welcome touch of class. The dashboard is largely centred on the driver. A double pod binnacle houses the tachometer and rev counter… The front passengers get bucket seats that should prove comfortable and supportive. Alfa Romeo insists on high quality level details, space and comfort, emphasising the very high standards of fit and finish.
The Tonale is first and foremost an Alfa Romeo and, as such, must offer a driving experience worthy of the brand… something we will verify very soon! The Tonale is the latest Alfa to be based on an FCA platform, in this case the « small wide » that underpins the Jeep Compass and Renegade. A full electric version is feasible, if demand (and/or legislation) justifies it. According to Alfa, the Tonale is the most dynamic offering of its class.
The suspension uses MacPherson struts on four wheels, with FSD (Frequency Sequensive Damping) damping and electronic control (standard from the Veloce version), in the DNA switch. The weight distribution of the rechargeable hybrid version (50-50) is worthy of a sports car. The steering is, according to Alfa, the most direct in its class too. Braking is by vented discs up front and solid ones at the rear, pinched by Brembo calipers (4-piston at the front) on the Veloce. An electronic self-locking differential is fitted on the hybrid and diesel versions.
Top notch customer experience!
Facing premium competitors like the BMW X1 and Audi Q3 means Alfa Romeo emphasises strongly product and customer service new high standards. Starting with a digital experience (customers can order cars directly from home, in three simple steps and using the same interface as the brand’s dealerships). On top of that, the newcomer benefits from a 5-year warranty and even an 8-year or 150,000 km warranty on the batteries. This will reassure prospective customers and improve residual values on the company car market. The Alfa Romeo Certified programme will cover the Tonale once it reaches the second-hand market. The brand wants its customers buying a used car to feel just as privileged as those buying a new one.
Each car will be checked on 120 points, will easily be tested before purchase (and many personalised financing solutions will be on offer) and if the customer is not completely satisfied, he or she can even get a total refund within 10 days or 1,000 km! A warranty equivalent to that of a new vehicle with 24/7 roadside assistance throughout Europe will also be part of the package and… no maintenance costs will be incurred for one year or 15,000 km! This is a real opportunity to reposition Alfa Romeo among the most prestigious brands, with first-class services to reassure customers. Come maintenance time, the workshops will use video to explain the work required to the customers and ask for their agreement, in whole or in part, after sending them a digital estimate. Prices have not yet been released. The range consists of four versions: Super, Sprint, Ti and Veloce. The Tonale is produced at the Pomigliano d’Arco plant near Naples… the site was the former Alfasud factory. The complex has recently been renovated and adapted to new technologies, as well as reinforcing its environmentally- friendly credentials.
Rebuilding a range
The Tonale marks the rebirth of Alfa, now integrated into the Stellantis galaxy. The survival of the brand is at stake, and the manufacturer has a good ten years to prove itself. Alfa plans to have a 100% electric range by 2027. There should be a new car launched every year between now and 2030… A small Alfa derived from the 500 is not (or no longer?) on the agenda, but an all-electric compact SUV should arrive in 2025. After the Stelvio and Tonale, it should also celebrate a famous mountain and take the name of « Brennero ». Let’s dream… and imagine a successor to the Giulia, a 4-door coupé, perhaps? And if sales are strong enough, why not imagine the return of a convertible? Alfa could very well launch the first electric convertible on the market and push other manufacturers to bring competitors to the market… Italy, Alfa Romeo and Dolce Vita are synonyms !