It’s been almost a decade since Alfa Romeo made its return to the North American market, with a slow rollout that’s come up short of early aspirations.
The brand’s leadership promised eight new models by 2018. Instead, the 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale arrives as just its fifth, with the 4C long since discontinued. This subcompact is something of an entry-level offering to complement the larger Stelvio sport utility that came before it, as well as the Giulia sedan. With an available plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version, Alfa is looking to jump-start its electrification efforts, too.
But first, the pronunciation of the name. No, it’s not like toenail, so repeat after me: toe-nah-lay, which is Italian for tonal, as in having tonality.
The little Alfa is a tale of two countries: the Dodge Hornet is a more mainstream-oriented entry that’s built on the same platform and uses the same powertrains, while the Tonale is geared towards those looking for more styling, substance, and a little more of that dolce vita. However, both look remarkably similar and roll off the same assembly line in Italy.
Setting the Tonale apart is its unique front end that’s undeniably Alfa Romeo. Still, the rear could easily be confused for a pricier Hornet. The main visual advantage of the Tonale lies in its fantastic wheel designs. The classic Alfa phone-dial alloys make an appearance here in 18-, 19-, or 20-inch diameters, adding tons of appeal to an otherwise conservative design (signature nosepiece notwithstanding). There’s also a sexy Verde Fangio Metallic paint job, which is one of the better shades of green on any modern car.
ICE or PHEV – You Decide
The 2024 Tonale is available in the choice of Sprint or Veloce trims, both of which come with all-wheel drive and two powertrains to pick from. The gas-electric PHEV version boasts an estimated 48 km of range and will account for about half of the 1,000 or so Tonales coming to Canada this year.
The gas engine is a 1.3L turbocharged four-cylinder coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission, while a 15.5-kWh battery pack is used to store energy for emissions-free motoring. Total system output is 285 hp and 347 lb-ft of torque, and acceleration from zero to 100 km/h is nominally rated at under six seconds. Meanwhile, charging at a 240-volt Level 2 station can be done in a little less than three hours.
We found the switch between the gas and electric modes to be seamless during this test. When driving in warm, sunny weather with the air conditioning running, the 48 km of range appeared to be easily attainable. Of course, there will be a nominal impact on range during colder months.
For gas-only models, a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder pumps out 268 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission, and while we found the engine to be a responsive, gutsy unit that pulled well throughout the rev range, the transmission tended to be quite jerky and unrefined at lower speeds.
(Fun fact: the gas version is a Canadian exclusive – the Tonale is PHEV-only in the United States, while both powertrains are offered in the Hornet in Canada and the U.S..
A Drive All Its Own
To give it more of the signature emotive Italian driving experience, the Tonale gets a series of chassis and powertrain improvements. Regardless of powertrain, dynamic torque vectoring that can adjust the split for sharper cornering performance is standard. Four-piston fixed Brembo calipers handle braking up front, and the Veloce adds adjustable shocks that are selectable via the drive mode dial.
The gas-only version features sharper handling and a more controlled ride on the road. Most of this is attributed to a 275-kg (606-lb) weight advantage compared to the PHEV. Gas-only versions also get a faster steering ratio with better weighting and feel.
The PHEV is no slouch, but we did notice a bouncier ride on rougher backroads and overboosted steering at low speeds. However, the differences aren’t as extreme for day-to-day driving. We were hard-pressed to notice a significant difference during highway cruising.
Interior and Equipment
The inside of the 2024 Tonale is a nice place to spend time, although black is the only shade available. The Veloce’s leather seating surfaces and interior materials feel premium, and there’s minimal use of glossy black plastic that attracts fingerprints and scratches far too quickly. PHEV models get beautiful steering column-mounted aluminum paddle shifters. The circular vents, contrasting textured silver trim on the dashboard, and upgraded speaker grilles set the Tonale apart from the Hornet.
The 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen features UConnect 5, which is one of the industry’s better and more intuitive systems. In the past, we might have had a few more ergonomic gripes with some of the Tonale’s siblings, including the relatively modern Giulia, but that’s not the case here.
Versus the Germans
The Tonale stacks up well against the BMW X1, Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, and Audi Q3 – its main rivals in this subcompact class. All four are similar in size inside and out, and the Alfa Romeo’s $44,995 base price for the Sprint trim is right in line with those competitors. Moving up to the $46,495 Veloce adds features that push the Germans above the $50,000 mark. For the PHEV, the Sprint and Veloce start at $54,995 and $57,495, respectively. Thanks to government incentives, the PHEV works out to be the same or cheaper than equivalent non-PHEV rivals, depending on where you live. (British Columbia and Quebec get big rebates that can be combined with the federal one, for example.)
As a package, the Tonale is a more extroverted product than the subdued and almost sterile luxury of its German rivals. Those may perform better on paper, but the Tonale adds a touch of the typical Alfa Romeo passion and quirkiness. Meanwhile, rear legroom is tied for best in class with the GLA-Class and loses to only the X1 for rear cargo volume.
The 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale eschews most of the traditional criticisms of Italian vehicles – ergonomics, build quality, bizarre design decisions – while still being a fun-to-drive little SUV. The option of having a PHEV with nearly 50 km of driving range is a very welcome addition. However, the superior driving dynamics of the gas-only version mean it deserves a look, too. It may be related to the mainstream Dodge Hornet, but the Tonale belongs in its more prestigious segment by being set apart just enough.