The Alfa Romeo Tonale will arrive in Ireland in early 2023 and marks a fresh start for the Italian car brand, now under the stewardship of Stellantis and a new Irish distributor, Gowan Auto.

The Tonale is one of the most important models for Alfa Romeo in years, a stylish new compact SUV to take on the likes of the BMW X1, Audi Q3 and the Volvo XC40.

While pricing for the Irish market is yet to be announced, we do know a few things about the new Tonale. In Ireland, it will be available as a petrol hybrid and a plug-in hybrid with an electric driving range of up to 69 kilometres.

But what’s it like to drive? Caroline travelled to Milan with Alfa Romeo Ireland to drive the new Tonale plug-in hybrid ahead of its official arrival in Ireland.

The new Alfa Romeo Tonale is expected in Ireland in early 2023
The new Alfa Romeo Tonale is expected in Ireland in early 2023

Styling

The new Tonale is a classy Italian compact SUV, with flamboyance and flair to its design that makes rivals look positively square. At the front, there is Alfa’s characteristic V-shaped grille flanked by a striking set of LED headlights and customary offset number plate, lending the Tonale a serious face should you find one in your rear view mirror. Alloy wheel sizes will be available from 18-inch to 20-inch, with a classic Alfa ‘telephone dial’ style available. There will be two trim levels for Ireland – Ti and Veloce – with 18-inch alloys fitted as standard. The sporty elegant look is finished off with a dramatic LED light bar at the rear. There’s a range of eye-catching metallic shades to choose from, showing off the Alfa’s sleek surfacing.

Interior

Inside, the Tonale offers a snug and sporty cabin. It feels quite distinct for the segment, with a driver-focused layout that will have you aching to press the start button – conveniently located on the steering wheel. Quality takes a step up from the Giulia and Stelvio, with most of the touch points feeling good. You will find some cheaper plastics lower down and some of the buttons below the infotainment screen feel a little basic for a premium car. But generally, the Tonale lives up to its billing and feels far more special than anything we’ve seen from the brand in the last decade. There’s a cowled digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel and a new 10.25-inch touchscreen.

The interior of the new Tonale
The interior of the new Tonale

Practicality

The Tonale is roomy in the back for a mid-size SUV, with good-sized footwells and plenty of headroom too for adult passengers. Petrol hybrids get the largest boot at a competitive 500 litres but plug-in hybrids can only muster 385 litres, which is about the same as many hatchbacks.

Engines

The new Tonale will be available in Ireland with a 1.5-litre petrol hybrid engine with 160hp (front wheel drive) or as a range-topping plug-in hybrid with 280hp and all-wheel drive.

Charging

It will take about 2.5 hours to charge the plug-in hybrid Tonale’s battery to full at 7.4kW.

The Tonale is the first ever plug-in hybrid Alfa Romeo
The Tonale is the first ever plug-in hybrid Alfa Romeo

On the road

The Tonale feels immediately sporty and driver-focused behind the wheel – despite its height. It’s one of the sharpest handling mid-size SUVs on the market. The Tonale plug-in hybrid feels agile and athletic though bends, with plenty of grip from the Alfa Q4 all-wheel drive system. The cabin feels nicely insulated, offering good refinement at high speeds on the motorway but it is quite firmly sprung, so can thud over imperfections in the road surface.

There is a classic Alfa ‘D.N.A’ driving mode selector and the Tonale is at its most comfortable in the Natural (N) setting. But in this mode the steering errs on the light side. So for any enthusiastic driving, you’ll want to slip it into the Dynamic (D) mode, where the steering feels better weighted and the throttle response is sharper. The plug-in hybrid’s 280hp feels fast with the 0-100 km/h sprint done in just over 6 seconds. But plant your foot on the accelerator hard in Dynamic mode and the engine does thrash a bit.

But in more relaxed driving, the Tonale is a perfectly behaved car that feels great on the road. When running in hybrid mode, it’s quite efficient too. But plug-in hybrids are generally at their best when you have the desire and facilities to keep the battery charged and make use of the electric driving range of up to 69 kilometres.

Rear seating in the new Tonale
Rear seating in the new Tonale

Pricing 

Pricing will be announced closer to launch of the Tonale in Ireland. At the moment, Alfa’s larger Stelvio SUV goes on sale from about €64,000.

Summary

The Alfa Romeo Tonale is a significant comeback for the Alfa Romeo brand in Ireland and Europe. When it arrives in Ireland in the first few months of 2023, it will be the brand’s most competitive model in the Alfa line-up. There’s great demand for mid-size SUVs and the Tonale will be a stylish alternative to more established rivals from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo. What’s more, it’s competitive in key areas like practicality and interior technology. It has a snug and sporty cabin, though some rivals do feel more premium. While I’m yet to drive the petrol hybrid entry into the Tonale range, the range-topping plug-in hybrid offers a smooth and powerful drive with the flexibility of driving electric for a limited range. All in all, the Tonale is a stylish and fun to drive compact SUV and the brand’s best chance yet to regain a foothold in the Irish market.

The new Alfa Romeo Tonale is a stylish and fun to drive SUV
The new Alfa Romeo Tonale is a stylish and fun to drive SUV

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Written by Caroline Kidd

Founder and Editor of Changing Lanes, Juror for Irish Car of the Year