About 24 hours into our time with the Alfa Romeo Tonale, the main info screen went dead and defied all attempts at resurrection. It was an unwelcome but useful way of getting to experience a car’s analogue heart, shorn of all the digital trappings provided by slick graphics, smart mapping and copious entertainment and connection options. All that was left to do was drive.
For decades, this kind of focus was what an Alfa Romeo was all about. The manufacturer is one of the most storied brands in all motoring, with a history that spans from motorsport domination to small-car wizardry, taking in some of the most beautiful automotive designs along the way. Even issues of reliability or quality could be overlooked in the face of supreme elegance and superb driving experience.
Alfa’s undeniable emotional appeal looked increasingly parlous as the auto industry upped its game and banished blights like rust and fragile mechanicals. There was no place for wayward eccentrics. These days, Alfa is sheltered by the far-reaching Stellantis umbrella, scooped up with the lion’s share of the other major Italian manufacturers, Fiat, Abarth, Maserati and Lancia, as well as many others.
Alfa Romeo Tonale Plug-In Hybrid Q4
The Alfa Romeo Tonale Plug-In Hybrid Q4 finds itself walking a tightrope between the shared technology and platform of a massive parent company and the need for a little visual boldness and dynamic zip to maintain the tradition of the brand. Our initial criticism of the Tonale was that it fell way short of classic Alfa status.
Unfortunately, introducing a plug-in hybrid system hasn’t added the necessary spark. One of the most enduring criticisms of hybrid cars is that they’re inherently compromised pieces of engineering; the additional weight of the battery and motors offsets the benefits of running at zero emissions or lower engine speeds. Modern PHEV systems have largely overcome this, with longer EV-only ranges (up to 49 miles in this case) and a boosted overall power output (280hp). On paper at least, the Tonale Q4 has a combination of range and power that should make it an accomplished all-rounder.
Except that historically, Alfa Romeos have never really been all-rounders. They are cars with specific skills that just about muddle by when asked to be something else. At a push, we’ll concede the Tonale Q4 is still a leftfield choice in comparison with even sister marques like Fiat. There are welcome flashes of ‘Alfa-ness’ in both interior and exterior design, from the hooded instrument binnacles to the ribbon-like LED lights, front and rear. Even the wheel design is classic Alfa.
However, the upright stance of a compact SUV can never replicate the proportional perfection of a classic Alfa, regardless of how good the details are. On top of that, even the combination of electrified assistance and the Q4 all-wheel-drive system adds more weight than entertainment, making this modern Alfa distinctly unmemorable to drive.
In theory, the connectivity has also been upgraded, bringing Amazon Alexa into the fold so you can ask the assistant about the car’s state of charge from your sofa, for example. The Tonale Q4 also showcases new EV-centric functions that will soon become ubiquitous across an electrified range, including mapping that shows the range relative to battery charge, as well as the inclusion of charge stations in the navigation.
We’re still expecting big things from Alfa Romeo, a brand that has a lot of residual affection left to shed. The next-generation Giulia promises to be an elegant and powerful all-electric saloon, and there are also long-standing rumours of a new supercar in the works. To offset these riskier economic decisions, the Tonale and its forthcoming electric siblings have to play it straight.
Alfa Romeo Tonale Plug-In Hybrid Veloce, from £48,495, AlfaRomeo.co.uk
Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.
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