Our Rides: Yes, This Is An Alfa Romeo

Photos by Randy Stern
Photos by Randy Stern

When I say the name “Alfa Romeo,” what is the first thing that comes to mind?

Most likely, it is that roadster Dustin Hoffman drove furiously in the 1967 movie “The Graduate.” Forget about Mrs. Robinson for the moment and concentrate on that red Alfa Romeo Spider that is an accomplice in Hoffman’s quest to find meaning in his post-graduate life while chasing Katharine Ross for half of the film.

Some of us know Alfa Romeo for being iconic, but temperamental cars. They look beautiful – penned by the likes of Bertone and Pininfarina – but will give up the ghost by putting you on the side of the road.

After 113 years, Alfa Romeo continues as a luxury car brand of Stellantis. It has gone through acquisitions and mergers throughout its history. The brand has relevance, but not the cache it once had. After all, many potential customers have passed by an Alfa Romeo showroom en route to picking up a Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, or Lexus.

Still, they have a distinctive design that is undeniably full of heritage and tradition. Even though they have ventured onto the world of the SUV, you cannot ignore that badge and the shield grille that has been a part of its legacy for over a century.

While maintaining its history, Alfa Romeo must look forward into the future. The first result is a small plug-in hybrid crossover/SUV called the Tonale.

This is the brand’s first electrified vehicle. You might call it a “compliance” vehicle to meet both emissions and fuel consumption standards being imposed by global governments. Nonetheless, the Tonale is a reality check for those who want the lore of the Italian brand and the sustainability of a modern automobile.

Produced at the Pomigliano d’Arco plant near Naples, the Tonale is shaped by the artist-designers at Centre Stile in Milan. Its platform is derived from the Jeep Compass – a popular vehicle in Italy, in case you’re curious. In turn, the Tonale has spawned an American cousin – the Dodge Hornet. The Dodge is also built at the same plant in southern Italy.

Design-wise, it takes on the historic design of Alfa Romeo’s past. It does sit higher off the ground while taking on a scaled-down version of the Stelvio’s exterior design. Everything is in place: the curvy shape, the shield grille, and the iconic badge representing its Milanese roots. Even the 19-inch five-hole alloy wheels are keeping with Alfa Romeo tradition.

The interior also follows a mix of traditional references, along with modern touches. The cowl above the 12.3-inch Cannocchiale digital instrument cluster is a nod to older Alfas. Setting the cluster screen to Heritage mode, you get two main dials that would bring you back to the Spider of “The Graduate” era. Everything else is simply modern – the switches, the 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen, the steering wheel, the ignition button on the steering wheel, and the paddle shifters.

Another thing that is modern inside the Tonale’s cabin are its seats. The leather-upholstered seats felt firm, yet they offer plenty of bolstering and support. Realistically, the Tonale will fit four average-sized adults, even though the rear doors seems a bit small for some folks to enter and exit. Cargo space is flexible, starting with 22.9 cubic feet behind the rear seats. They fold down in a 60.40 split, giving you up to 50.5 cubic feet of cargo space.

What lies underneath the hood is not exactly what you expect from an Alfa Romeo. The plug-in hybrid system starts with a 1.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Add an electric motor and a plug-in receptacle to charge up the battery. Combined, this drive system puts down 285 horsepower and approximately 350 pound-feet of torque. This driveline sends power to all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.

Charging up the battery can be done up to Level 2. Using a Level 2 charger, Alfa Romeo states that it takes 2.5 hours for a full state of charge. By plugging it into your household outlet, expect charging to take over eight hours. Either way, the Tonale can give you around 32 miles of battery-only driving before the system kicks over to the gasoline engine.

As far fuel consumption is concerned, I observed an average of 32.0 MPG. That is on a combined gasoline-electric loop.

Another assumption that is made about Alfa Romeo is its driving experience. Granted, the Tonale drove quietly overall. It had a solid ride that absorbs rougher surfaces – just as you expect from any vehicle in its class. You can firm up the suspension by turning the DNA knob on the console to Dynamic mode. It may not lower the vehicle, but it will firm up the ride. Cornering, the Tonale felt fine. It is quite responsive in evasive maneuvers.

The steering system was also responsive, though you will feel some vagueness in the system itself. It yields a decent turning radius to get out of tight situations. The brakes were pretty decent with solid stopping power in normal and panic situations. Pedal feel was fine and responsive.

As for driver assistance features, the Alfa Romeo Tonale offers you practically everything. Key features include a Forward Collision Warning with Full Stop, Driver Attention Alert, and Lane Keep Assist. In all, the Tonale may look like a classic Alfa Romeo, but it offers the latest in safety technology for today.

How much does this small premium Italian plug-in hybrid crossover/SUV cost. Alfa Romeo offers a choice of three trim levels – Sprint, Ti, and Veloce. The Sprint starts at $42,995. My tester is the Ti model with a few upgrades in equipment. All told, my tester came with a sticker price of $55,950.

Our penchant for premium and luxury vehicles are duly noted. Alfa Romeo offers a lineup that fits in the wants of our desires. The Tonale is the new entry point for the brand, not just because of its size. If this is a way to introduce new customers to Alfa Romeo, you might as well pull out all of the stops – including offering a plug-in hybrid and all-wheel drive as standard.

If you appreciate the history and heritage of Alfa Romeo, the Tonale offers that mix along with modern touches made for today’s world. Give one a try!

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