The plug-in hybrid version of the new Alfa Romeo Tonale has the potential to divert company car drivers from key rivals
4.0 out of 5
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The plug-in Tonale is definitely the best version yet of Alfa’s smaller SUV. It’s surprisingly comfortable and composed, the powertrain has sufficient punch and there’s probably just enough of a sporty flavour to its steering and handling to live up to its badge. UK prices are likely to play a key role in its adoption by company car choosers here – but that in itself is an achievement, because there are plenty of other reasons to persuade you to consider it.
This is the moment when things get serious for the Alfa Romeo Tonale. We’ve driven mild-hybrid editions of the Italian brand’s BMW X1 rival up to now, but this plug-in hybrid is the Tonale that really will allow Alfa to compete with the Germans and Volvo, thanks to its much-reduced Benefit-in-Kind tax.
The technical make-up looks promising enough. There’s a 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol engine producing 177bhp, a front electric motor designed to assist the engine and work as a generator, a six-speed automatic gearbox and a further 121bhp electric motor on the back axle to help deliver four-wheel drive, plus a 15.5kWh battery.
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The overall output is some way north of the mild hybrid’s, at 271bhp. This punch is partially swallowed up by a kerbweight that exceeds 1,800kg, but even so, this is the fastest Tonale to date, with a 0-62mph time of 6.2 seconds.
Alfa claims it can travel up to 43 miles on electricity. This is important, because it tips the Alfa into the same eight per cent Benefit-in-Kind tax band as BMW’s latest plug-in X1s, well clear of the 14-per cent sting on Volvo’s XC40 T5 Recharge.
There’s further good news from behind the wheel; Alfa’s engineers have done a good job of masking the car’s origins.
The steering feels fast, but it’s pleasingly responsive, giving you the sort of sharp turn-in that might set an Alfa apart from, say, the XC40. The Tonale backs this up with commendable body control, too.
Indeed, the heavier PHEV feels more planted and less likely to be unsettled overall than the mild-hybrid Tonale. There’s a little bit of patter on high-frequency sections, but larger road scars are swallowed with impressive readiness.
The PHEV’s extra shove really makes its presence felt, too. There’s enough punch to cope with the car’s bulk without feeling strained; the system makes intelligent decisions on when to cut the engine in and out (the car can travel at up to 84mph on electricity alone) and the transition between power sources is smooth unless you’re brutal with the throttle pedal.
It’s easy to find yourself at a comfortable motorway cruise with the engine just a distant hum at a little over 2,000rpm and the worst noise a little tyre roar from the rear. So it’s a pretty refined thing overall.
You can use the DNA toggle to move between three vehicle modes, but in practice, we’d flick between the regular setting and Advanced Efficiency, which basically puts the car into EV mode, while dulling its response a little in a bid to eke extra mileage from the battery.
Dynamic, on the other hand, is too keen to hold on to revs. This exposes the fact that, while the 1.3-litre engine is actually a comfortable enough companion when it’s being supported by the two electric motors, it’s less useful and more vocal in the higher reaches of its rev range.
The cabin is the same as on non-PHEV editions of the Tonale, so there’s enough space for four strangers or five friends. Boot capacity takes a hit because of the hybrid installation, however, down to a Volkswagen Golf-sized 385 litres with the rear seats up, and from 1,550 to 1,430 with them folded.
With so few obvious dynamic flaws, pricing could well be the key factor, and the way Veloce pricing has been going so far, the car tested here is likely to cost similar to the higher-powered BMW X1 xDrive30e.
|Model:||Alfa Romeo Tonale Veloce Plug-in Hybrid Q4|
|Engine:||1.3-litre petrol, 2x e-motor|
|Transmission:||Six-speed automatic, four-wheel drive|
|Electric range:||43 miles|
|On sale:||Early 2023|
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