Alfa Tonale 1.5T Hybrid Speciale

The Tonale. Pronounced Toe Nah Lay. And that’s all you need to know about the name.

We have here Alfa’s smaller SUV offering that slots in below the Stelvio which is considerably bigger, more powerful and of course a lot more money. Think of this as being to Alfa what a Macan is to Porsche.

But as a hybrid. And this is the main point of the Tonale. It’s not about blistering performance and out smoking everything at the lights in a robot to robot frenzy of fuel consumption. This is a car that seeks to tread a little lighter on the planet by using less of it’s fuel reserves so that there is more to go around for everyone.

Whilst it may not appease Greta, it’s a start and Alfa are showing that they get it, that their European markets are demanding it and that actually its not all bad news.

You get a medium sized front wheel drive 1.5l turbo petrol hybrid eco friendly fuel efficient Alfa, with 118kW and 240Nm in total on tap and an interesting name.

You also get exterior looks that are bite the back of your hand gorgeous with the front end triple beam headlight array hearkening back to the days of the Brevia – and followed at the rear in similar fashion. The Tonale is a classic Italian fashion statement of unbelievably good styling that should never age badly. To be clear, I am of the opinion that looks wise it’s a knockout. 

My Speciale sported 20” rims shod with Pirelli 235/40 P Zeros no less. These are sporty any which way you look at it. Perhaps though this combination of steel and rubber appears designed to write performance cheques of grip that in all honesty the rest of the Tonale is not fully able to cash in, at least not with those performance figures.

Well…

Yes, another 100kW of power would easily be well within the tyres and the accompanying Tonale suspensions grasp on physics. But, and this is the point, the Tonale is a hybrid and the overall design ethos is one centred around fuel efficiency. It is not possible to have both, no matter what the wonks may try and tell you. If you want to go faster you are going to burn more fuel in the process. End of.

And once you make peace with this the approach that you can take with the Tonale changes. You’re not expecting to win drag races against an M3. But you can give a GTi a go when it comes to cornering and in tight handling situations where guile and experience will outdo horsepower and youthful enthusiasm all day long. Push the Tonale into eking out the best of its handling and using the astonishingly easy to access flappy paddles to keep the engine on the boil and you will do well. Even if you do lose, it will be with a smile on your face.

I found the gearbox to be excellent – which I believe to be at odds with some others. I drove the car both in sedate mode and then with some enthusiasm because, well, the Tonale can and does deserve to have its leash let off every now and then. In N for normal mode on the Alfa ‘DNA’ drive mode selection options, yes, maybe the Tonale is a little slow to react to the throttle – again this is the POINT of economy, but in D for Dynamic mode the car really wakes up and sharpens up its responses accordingly.

On the hybrid face of things the idea is that you use a battery harvests energy that would otherwise be lost as heat in the brakes, or vented as heat into the atmosphere from excess engine reserves. This stored recovered energy is then used to propel the car forwards.

It is fairly new tech to Alfa and it shows – the market leader in this field has to be Toyota who are already in their Gen 5 of hybrid tech in the latest hybrid Corolla’s for example. It’s worth noting that the Prius being the poster child for hybrid is now 26 years old.

But the Italians don’t do a bad job. Yes one might get the feeling that the battery pack could be a little bigger and the seamless switch between engine and battery is not as suave as Toyota have it, but it is so marginal that it is not enough to make it sufficiently an influence in the negative when it comes to a purchasing decision.

The upside is that with careful driving I was able to get the Alfa down to just over 6l/100 in the urban cycle, which for a vehicle of this size and 1486kg in weight is not bad. Push it the way it wants to be pushed though and you’re going to be north of 9l/100 in short order.

There is a lot in common here with the excellent Honda Civic RS if you think about it. Both of  these cars excel under being driven hard, and both give more and more when pushing on harder and harder. That all said, the Tonale is still an Alfa after all is said and done and the brand as a driver’s car is not tarnished by the Tonale, a difficult juggling act that Alfa have managed to pull off with some finesse.

The safety suite of things in the Tonale takes, shall we say, some getting used to. I think it’s a bit of resentment inflicted on Alfa by the wonks and powers that be and I do get the sense that Alfa have put in because they have to. It bongs and screeches at you and I suppose the kindest way of putting it is that it’s delightfully unpredictable. Italian flair, in other words.

That’s really about the worst thing one can say about the Tonale. The safety systems do  work at a functional level despite appearances to the contrary and over time you’ll learn their foibles quickly enough. The rest of the interior is properly luxurious and you will not want for anything from a creature comfort point of view.

It has, as we have come to expect from Stellantis locally, a high level of spec that crosses all the Ts and dots all the Is. The Harman/Kardon sound system for reference is pretty good – at over R800k for this iteration it had better be but the same holds true across the cabin with a sense of quality that oozes across the digital dash and infotainment modules, through to air motion controls and the balance of switchgear you’re going to encounter in your day to day engagements with the Tonale.

Yes. It’s not cheap. But it is epically distinctive and it is competitive. Along with all the offerings, spec and Alfaness of the vehicle one can’t help but sense that the Tonale delivers  and delivers well. There are lesser cars for more money available that trade on other purchasing pressure points but really, you should ignore these and focus on what the Tonale offers you when you’re in that seat. It astounds me that there are not more of them on the road. Astounds me.

Don’t live with regret. Test drive one. Thank BizNews later.  

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