Mountain Wheels: Alfa Romeo’s Tonale plug-in hybrid offers a stylish restart

Sadly, no Italian castles were involved in a drive of the 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale crossover, but it’s a fun, small ride for Colorado.
Courtesy photo

I do very much wish the best for the North American marketing team hoping that the all-new Alfa Romeo Tonale will be the compact plug-in-electric hybrid crossover that elevates the brand to high Gen Z awareness.

The sprightly and distinctively designed Italian-made vehicle is not only a new direction for the 110-year old company, but it shares its innovative components (and a factory) with the G/T hybrid rendition of the equally new Dodge Hornet G/T.

Both vehicles represent the first steps in an upcoming move to more comprehensive vehicle electrification for Stellantis cars in North America. And both are built on an expanded version of the Jeep Renegade platform, if that gives you a better idea of their true size (178 inches in total here).

Tonale (pretend there’s an accent on that last “e”) is supposed to conjure tonality — though the blazingly metallic green paint color on mine (“verde Fangio”) also apparently conjured a surprising amount of hostility on my C-470 drives in Denver, coupled with its Mackinac Bridge Michigan plates and a very fish-out-of-water presence.

My test Tonale, the more performance-oriented Veloce model with electronic all-wheel drive and red brake calipers, starts at about $47,500 and was a slightly tallish $58,990, including ultra-stylish $2,000 five-hole 20-inch wheels — and that $2,200 paint job.

It’s the first automobile to be sold with an NFT (non-fungible token) connected to blockchain, which evokes maybe Minecraft or the Kardashians if you are not connected to that space, but is again indicative of the new, non-traditional Alfa audience the vehicle is seeking. In the United States, that’s a niche of an already small niche, but this is again a whole new idea.

While Tonale’s three-pointed face and a sleek mix of styling cues (I liked the little eyelet hooks on the tops of the rear doors) make it look like an ultra-racy automobile, the reality is just a little more austere, for a purpose. Power here is just a 1.3-liter turbo mixed with a 90-kilowatt electric motor fed by a 15.5-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery, the result being 285 horsepower and a more fulsome 347 pound-feet of torque.

When fully charged (or, occasionally, when recharged by a downhill stretch of road, as a trip from the top of Flagstaff Road into Boulder almost did), Tonale is EPA rated at 33 all-electric miles and an electronic mpg rating of 77, or 29 mpg in largely gas mode.

Tonale allows that power to be used in three modes, from entirely electrified, which will immediately cause you to notice a fair amount of road noise from the more performance-oriented tires on the Veloce model, to a full-blown dynamic performance setting that’s best wrung out with the oversized, metallic shift paddles and the vehicle’s six-speed automatic.

Simply leaving it in automatic mode, I discovered, created a lot of unpredictable buzziness, with shifts often held perceptibly too long and intermittent and peculiar pulses of gas and electric power, often at the same time.

I probably gave the poor little car more of a thrashing than three-quarters of its owners ever might, treating it like its canyon-carving cousins, the Guilia sports sedan or the larger Stelvio SUV, and then tucking into the dirt on the Gross Reservoir Road. That works, to an extent, though its Renegade-sized wheelbase means pretty edgy turns, and a very rigid overall ride quality, which may be less of an issue on the two, somewhat softer versions of the car.

And if you go too hard, Tonale will let you know its limitations, and its full-blown Itallian-ness includes a rally horn noise and flashing displays if you suddenly get up behind someone too close. It’s also pretty easy to hit the rev limiter while trying to pass someone uphill, so remember to keep pulling those paddles. My guess is that kind of driving will not be the norm here.

The interior displays, technology and design are pretty sharp with a lot of data on two small screens — also, occasionally some buggy European speed limit signs popped up, which made it feel even more foreign, delightfully — and its compact cabin is comfortable for Tonale’s overall size.

Yes, there’s a wheel-mounted ignition button and some of the world’s smallest gas and brake pedals, just for more Italian charm. Upgrades to my test vehicle included a Harmon Kardon premium audio system, a power moonroof and the advanced active assist package, including a surround-view camera and parking and driving assist tools. Is all of that what your standard Gen Z urban influencer-type buyer is seeking, nowadays? You’ll have to ask one, if you know one. According to the glossy car magazines, the Dodge rendition will give you much of the same experience, just with a little less straight-up brio.

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