Alfa Romeo’s New Hybrid Tonale SUV Is a Snooze on Wheels

Stellantis is hoping the 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale is the start of its electric revolution, but there’s no spark.

(Bloomberg) — If you have an affinity for Italian design, you’re rooting for the 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale. 

It’s the first plug-in hybrid from Alfa Romeo, the 113-year-old brand that produced champion postwar racers, the adorable mid-century Giulietta, and the excellent Stelvio and Giulia. It’s the first of five new vehicles expected from Alfa by 2030, when the company will become the first of the brands owned by Stellantis NV to become all-electric. With a starting price of $42,995, the Tonale should pose exciting competition to the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, both of which cost less.  

But a week of driving a Tonale Veloce, the top variant available, in Los Angeles leaves me unconvinced. With anemic performance and an interior better suited for an economy car, the Tonale costs too much and offers too little to be a serious contender for the role of best small, premium SUV. 

Endearing Exterior 

When I first see the Tonale parked outside my house in Hollywood, I like many of its design details. Making it feel special are cherry-red paint (a $500 upgrade), green serpentine logos and 20-inch wheels defined by their five cookie-shaped holes ($2,000). The grille retains the traditional Alfa Romeo V shape, and its LED daytime running lights on the front undulate like curlicue waves. Alfa has made the fangs of its signature snake badge look like the prong end of an electrical plug. Clever. 

Inside, the central focus is on a 10.25-inch central touchscreen that juts from the dashboard like an afterthought. It connects to such standard features as Apple CarPlay, wireless charging and Google Android Auto. With more than 50 cubic feet of storage in the rear and ample headroom and legroom, the space inside is competitive among the small SUV set. 

But it has taken several costly upgrades to elevate the feel of this Tonale’s otherwise-basic interior. Some of this has to do with timing: The Tonale concept debuted in 2019 and took years to get to production; its cabin no longer seems that fresh.

Making it feel like more than just an economy car requires a Harman Kardon sound system and perforated leather and ventilated seats ($2,500), auto-dimming mirrors (part of a $2,000 parking package), and the power moonroof ($1,200). These and other add-ons bump the price of the Tonale Veloce I’m driving to a final cost of $57,290, from the initial $47,495.

Still, as I drive the Tonale down the street to dinner, I’m hoping to discover that the modest interior belies a powerful engine.

Shallow Power Plant

I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up. Pressing the accelerator in the Tonale is a study in futility. After one failed attempt to pass traffic after an on-ramp to U.S. 101, I learn not to try again. This is a momentum vehicle—a euphemism for slow, except when its piloted by a skilled driver who can use the car’s weight and inertia to urge it forward. “All right, then—no fast moves,” I mutter. 

To be fair, the Tonale’s four-cylinder engine and hybrid system produce a combined 285 total power and 347 pound-feet of torque. Although maddeningly scrawny, those figures beat the entry-level versions of the 228-hp Q3, the 241-hp X1 and even the 261-hp Porsche Macan; this is the going rate. The difference in feel, however, reflects the fact that the Tonale weighs 4,133 pounds—more than both the 3,750-pound X1 and 3,902-pound Q3.  

One silver lining: The small powerplant achieves an EPA-estimated 77 mpge, or combined mileage between its 32 miles of all-electric and its 360-mile total range. All-wheel drive comes standard (no other option exists), as do adaptive cruise control, lane assist and blind-spot recognition. I tell myself to calm down, this isn’t the worst setup ever. “Think of how much money you’re saving on gas!”

I merely have to keep the pedal to the floor any time I want to go fast. 

Lackluster Handling

As the days of my loan pass, the rudimentary steering, soft feeling when braking and wobbly ride start to grate. I drive the Tonale back and forth to the newsroom in Century City. I tool down to eat at Musso & Frank, numbed by the SUV’s monotonous lumbering. I take it to buy books on Hollywood Boulevard, feeling so disconnected that I inadvertently leave it running after parking it roadside while I thumb through memoirs of dead Tinseltown stars.

It doesn’t help that the Tonale shares a common platform and some components with the $28,400 Jeep Compass and $30,735 Dodge Hornet. Stellantis owns all three marques (having acquired Alfa-Romeo in 2021) and shares parts among them to cut costs. 

I resent that I am driving a $57,290 vehicle that’s marketed as European luxury but—underneath its shell—is partly interchangeable with far cheaper propositions, such as that Dodge. If it were a little less expensive, the Tonale would be an SUV suitable for a college student or my mother-in-law. I happen to want more, and I think you should, too.

“This is what happens when behemoth corporations acquire antique boutique brands, then neutralize them to maximize profits,” I muse, after tossing a Richard Burton tome into the back seat and heading home. The allure of the original marque remains—fading—with little else to charm. 

More stories like this are available on

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.