Since returning to the U.S. market in 2015, Alfa Romeo has struggled to build an identity, something it finally hopes to achieve with the launch of its newest product, the 2023 Tonale.
While smaller than the current Stelvio model, Alfa has big aspirations for the compact SUV. Not only is it expected to become the brand’s biggest seller, but it also will become the Italian automaker’s first electrified model, with both conventional and plug-in hybrids coming for different global markets.
The 2023 Alfa Romeo will become the first step in what the automaker is billing as its “Metamorfosi,” or metamorphosis, which will see it abandon internal combustion engines entirely by 2027, migrating to nothing but battery-electric vehicles.
Tonale will make its way to European showrooms by mid-year, with the U.S. to follow by the first quarter of 2023. The global rollout is a year behind schedule. That reflects a variety of factors, including the COVID pandemic which initially struck Italy hard, the worldwide shortage of semiconductor chips, and concerns about the plug-in hybrid drivetrain which, in its initial form, didn’t deliver the sort of performance that Alfa is known for.
Something for every market
The automaker will offer an assortment of different powertrains, including a diesel specifically meant for Europe, and a 2.0-liter turbo-4 punching out 256 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. That gas engine will be mated to a 9-speed automatic and push power to all four wheels.
But Alfa is hoping buyers will go for the three electrified options coming for Tonale.
European buyers will be offered a choice of two conventional hybrids, both using a 1.5-liter GDI gas engine paired with a 48-volt electric motor assist system. The base package makes 130 horsepower and the upgrade 160. Simply too low in terms of performance, there are no plans to bring either hybrid to the U.S.
What’s coming, instead, is a revised plug-in hybrid that finally meets consumer expectations for Alfa. It starts with a surprisingly compact 1.3-liter turbo-4 gas engine paired with a 90 kilowatt electric motor. It’s mated to a 6-speed automatic and also will be offered exclusively in all-wheel drive, the gas engine driving the front axle, the electric motor the rear.
The combined output is 272 horsepower, making this the most powerful version of the new Tonale that will be offered — at least for now. There’s no word on whether Alfa will eventually introduce a Quadrifoglio package, as it does with the Stelvio and Giulia sedan.
The electric motor draws power from a 15.5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery which, the automaker says, is expected to deliver about 30 miles of all-electric range. It’s unclear, for now, if that’s using the global WLTP standards or the more stringent U.S. EPA test cycle.
Part of the family — but different
At their most basic, the underpinnings of the Alfa Romeo Tonale are shared with the similarly sized Jeep Compass, though the Italian SUV has undergone a “strong evolution,” according to Domenico Bagnasco, Alfa’s director of high-performance vehicles.
Changes have been made to the steering system, as well as the suspension which, in the Alfa, uses a McPherson strut design, front and back. The basic suspension uses Frequency Selective Damping shock absorbers, but drivers can upgrade to select-valve, dual-stage electronically controlled dampers.
The Tonale also features a wider track, something that enhances both its handling and its looks, giving the SUV a more sporty, planted appearance than the Jeep offering.
That’s enhanced by the Italian SUV’s overall design, starting with Alfa’s classic “Trilobo” grille which here is framed in what the automaker calls “3+3” LED headlights. The look is mirrored on the back end — though the taillights are linked by a cross-tailgate light bar. To enhance aerodynamics — and boost all-electric range, the SUV spent plenty of time in the wind tunnel, easily apparent by the steep rake of the windshield and back glass, as well as the rear spoiler.
Tonale features a subtle, coupe-like curve to its roof line, echoed in a single character line running from front to rear wheel wells. Gentle sculpting to the door panels add to the sensuously Italian look and feel. The aim, said design chief Alessandro Maccolini, was to “balance light and shadows.”
Picking up on classic Alfa cues, Tonale is offered with 19- and 20-inch tires which, said the automaker, “reproduce the Alfa Romeo style canon of a telephone dial.”
Pretty on the inside
As for the cabin, the wider track is apparent here, as well, but there is an asymmetric shape to the instrument panel, noted Macolini, during a media backgrounder. “The priority was to put the driver at the center,” he explained.
The driver faces a reconfigurable 12.3-inch display that adapts to individual driver mode settings. Atop the center stack sits a 10.25-inch touchscreen operating the latest Uconnect 5 operating system. It’s significantly faster than the old Alfa display technology and more intuitive, once you get the underlying concept that allows a motorist to mix, match and move various functions, much like on a smartphone.
Parent Stellantis is betting big on software and connected car technologies going forward and Tonale will feature not only wireless versions of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — and a wireless charging system — but the ability to use smartphone-style over-the-air updates. That will allow it to remotely update and upgrade software and even upload new features, including revenue-enhancing subscription services.
Add to the tech list for Tonale:
- Level 2 semi-autonomous driving capabilities, including Traffic Jam Assist and semi-automatic parking;
- Numerous advanced driver assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, traffic sign recognition and more;
- Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant which will let a driver control numerous vehicle functions by voice; and
- That technology also will let a driver connect with the vehicle remotely by using both Alexa and Google Home devices.
The 2023 Alfa Romeo Tonale will debut in Europe first, launching around mid-year. U.S. dealers will begin taking delivery during the first quarter of 2023. Alfa hasn’t announced — nor likely yet locked down — final pricing, though the SUV is is expected to start at around $36,000 or more.
One of the questions sidestepped during the lengthy media backgrounder was whether a fully electric version of the Tonale is in the works. What CEO Jean-Philippe Imperato did confirm is that Alfa will launch its first battery-electric model in 2024 — though a hybrid version also will be available. A BEV-only model will launch the following year. And, as of 2027, Alfa will offer only all-electric models, Imperato said.