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Alfa Romeo Tonale PHEV review

We haven’t reviewed a plug-in hybrid model at Discover EV for a few years now – such is the broad range of fully electric models now available – but if you want something a bit cleaner at the exhaust pipe from Alfa Romeo your only option at the moment is a Tonale PHEV.

At first glance

Alfa Romeo only entered the world of hybrid technology in 2022 with the Tonale Hybrid and Plug-in Hybrid Q4, so it’s no surprise they don’t offer anything fully electric yet, which must make them one of the very few manufacturers left in the race to produce zero emission vehicles. Sitting at the top of the Tonale range, the PHEV Q4 may – in their words – represent a new chapter in the brand’s history, but in the wider scheme of things they’ve almost stepped back in time. The brand however has announced it will be unveiling the fully electric Milano to the international press in April 2024 and will be on sale in September. 

What are the pros and cons of the Alfa Romeo Tonale PHEV?

It’s eye-catching for a family SUV. The Edizione Speciale version we had on test includes a gloss black body kit with titanium side and front inserts, a SPECIALE badge on the wing and a black Tonale badge, 20 inch alloy wheels, metal pedals and red Brembo brake calipers and admittedly got a few admiring glances and compliments, but it’s also the best part of 45 grand!

While we personally aren’t a fan of the way the combustion engine works alongside the electric motor or the gearbox, if you’re still anxious over range (which you shouldn’t be now with the average range for all available electric cars now 236 miles, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in May 2023) then a Plug-In Hybrid strikes the perfect balance between electric motoring, charge time and fuel economy. It is the most efficient Alfa Romeo ever apparently, with CO2 emissions of 29g/km and an official figure of up to 217mpg – although you’d need to get the battery charged up to get anywhere near that!

Being a plug-in hybrid it has a smaller boot (385 litres vs 500 in the mild hybrid) and it’s not the most practical in its class – there are certainly more spacious and refined family SUV rivals to choose from. It may look similar in size to the BMW X3 from the outside but inside it’s more X1. The interior is well put together but not befitting of the price tag in terms of materials (too many hard cheap plastics), although every version comes well-equipped at least with autonomous emergency braking, auto headlamps, driver alertness and parking sensors, forward collision warning, keyless entry, intelligent speed assist, adaptive cruise control, lane support system and traffic sign recognition all standard.

What’s powering the Alfa Tonale PHEV?

The hybrid system combines a 180hp 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission to provide traction to the front axle, with an electric motor capable of supplying 90kW of max peak power and 199lb ft of torque to the rear axle – more than conventional larger-displacement engines would provide. This means it can provide instantaneous deployment of 100 per cent of available torque to either axle – which is a feather in the Alfa’s cap as most other PHEV crossovers are front driven. It accelerates from zero to 62 mph in just 6.2 seconds – pretty decent for a family SUV – and onto a top speed of 84mph in full-electric mode and 128mph in hybrid mode.

What’s it like to drive?

Not great we’re afraid. It lacks the traditional Alfa Romeo fun factor. The steering is too light and offers little feedback, it pitches and rolls round corners and the ride quality on poor roads is terrible, although that's probably not helped by the 20” wheels. Thankfully the DNA (Dynamic, Natural and Added Efficiency modes) switch on the centre console recalibrates the throttle, management of the transmission and stability controls, and steering, and really makes a difference.

To that end, for the best driving experience we’d recommend Dynamic, but for cheaper, cleaner motoring Added Efficiency switches the car to fully electric, and also activates a 'Sailing' setting which disconnects the engine when cruising. There's also a 'coast' system which is activated when going downhill to maintain a constant speed of 31 mph, and is actually rather good. Natural puts the car in hybrid mode, changing between engine and motor (or both) as it sees fit, and as with all PHEVs an E-Save driving mode will keep the battery at a defined charge level, or can recharge the battery up to a set threshold.

We personally found the car seemingly unable to decide when it needs to swap cogs, and that’s probably because it when you put your foot down it likes to use the torque of the electric motor first off, then blend it with the petrol power as the speed climbs. At times this meant loss of acceleration – often when you most need it like overtaking, and an engine that feels and sounds strained at high revs. Thankfully you can interject that with the column mounted paddles.  

The brakes are firm and progressive, but in Natural or Advanced efficiency modes it will quicken up the response of the brake pedal as the regenerative braking effect becomes stronger, which can take bit of getting used to for those who have never driven an EV.

What about range?

The 15.5 kWh lithium-ion battery supplies an electric range of over 49 miles in the urban cycle and more than 372 miles of total range. We struggled to get more than 30 miles (in December) and then once the petrol engine started doing all the work we saw an average of 40mpg. It takes two and a half hours using a 7.4kW charger, and you can choose to charge at home at a time when is cheaper for you through the vehicle’s infotainment system or My Alfa Connect app. You can control the climate control system, too. The car comes with a home charging cable as standard which can be connected to any domestic socket, but if you want a Type 3 charging cable that allows you to charge in public or from a wallbox you’ll need to pay for it.

What makes it unique?

Its on-board technology and connectivity make it the most hi-tech Alfa Romeo ever. The brand-new infotainment system receives over-the-air updates and features a 12.3 inch instrument display and 10.25-inch main touchscreen. Hilariously Alfa have totalled up the two (22.5 inches) to make the claim it is ‘the largest system in the segment’ presumably to hide the fact that the infotainment screen is on the small side. That said, the graphics are sharp and the system is intuitive and quick to respond, Apple CarPlay / Andrioid Auto and wireless charging come as standard, along with an Alexa voice assistant, although this means the kids can play their annoying music at will. 

Despite having the back up of a petrol engine Alfa has gone to great lengths to ensure owners make the most of the electric range, with drivers able to see destinations they can reach based on the battery charge but also find charging stations on the sat nav and check the charging methods and make payments.

Alfa fans will appreciate all the iconic visual references to the past, including Zagato SZ-style headlights, with three beams on each side, 'telephone dial'-style wheel design, and the curved rear screen, reminiscent of the Bertone Coupe from the 1960s.

The Tonale is equipped with NFT technology, which means that service history and any other work that’s carried out is stored in the cloud, together with battery usage and storage. This is a world first for the car industry and in theory means it is harder to forge records, Alfa also thinks it will help with residual values.

Should I buy one?

If you don’t want to commit to a fully electric car yet and you just love Alfa Romeo, then the Tonale PHEV will give you lower running costs, a quieter driving experience and zero emissions (when in pure electric mode) with the flexibility of a conventional engine for longer trips without having to worry about charging anxiety. It’s not cheap however, as previously stated with the exclusive Speciale edition model we had on test starting at £44,595 (or £445 per month on Personal Contract Purchase). For company a car owner that wants to save money (thanks to the low BiK rate), don’t need vast amounts of space and like the sharp Alfa looks, it’s a no brainer. 

Alfa Romeo revised its trim levels and pricing for Tonale in November 2023 to apparently ‘represent’ even better value across the range.  The trim line up now consists of Sprint replacing the previous TI version, which starts at £43,495 for the PHEV, Veloce from £48,495 or the new range topping Tributo from £51,995!

Sprint models benefit from sportier aesthetic enhancements over the previous TI variants, including black inserts on the body kit and skid plate, black and white wheel centre caps and a black painted front grille. Tonale is also available with a highly shock resistant, lightweight (15g) wearable key that is water resistant up to 15 metres – just in case you fancied open water diving with your car keys.

Alfa Romeo claims that the Tonale  will be its most popular model in the coming years – trebling the proportion of UK buyers who might consider the brand, with the plug-in hybrid accounting for at least half of sales. We’re not entirely sure about that considering the rivals offered by established brands, but time will tell, and who knows, it may indeed help convince drivers to make the switch to fully electric once the Milano hits our roads. 

Key Specs

Alfa Romeo Tonale Edizione Speciale 1.3 PHEV Q4

Price: £44,945
Top Speed: 128mph
0-62mph: 6.2 seconds
Power: 280hp
Torque: 199lb ft
Driving range: 49 miles (urban cycle)
C02 emissions: 32g/km
Combined fuel consumption: 201.8mpg
Home charging: 2.5 hours (7.4kW fast charger)
Insurance group: 38
Manufacturers’ warranty: Three year unlimited mileage

 

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