Alfa Romeo has never produced anything like the Tonale Plug-in Hybrid Q4 before. This compact SUV is the first-ever vehicle from the long-lived Italian car maker to have a charging port.
It’s the first stage in Alfa Romeo’s “Zero to Zero” plan. The aim is to make the transition from building zero plug-in models in the first part of 2022 to building only zero-emission battery-powered vehicles by 2027.
No other car maker in the world will complete the shift from internal combustion engines to EVs faster, says Alfa Romeo. So the Tonale Plug-in Hybrid Q4 is a big deal.
Though deliveries to customers in Europe will begin early next year, the Tonale Plug-in, in top-end Ti and Veloce equipment grades, won’t reach Australia until very late in 2023. In other words, more than six months after the plugless low-voltage hybrid versions.
Alfa Romeo product chief Daniel Guzzafame names the Volvo XC40 Recharge Hybrid as the most obvious rival in the compact SUV PHEV niche. Expect the Tonale Plug-in to sell Australia for similar money, about $70,000 before on-road costs.
The Tonale Plug-in has what’s known as an axle-split hybrid powertrain. A turbo 1.3-litre four drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Power for the rear end is provided by a single electric motor mounted between the wheels.
Though this layout makes the Tonale Plug-in all-wheel drive, earning the “Q4” in its name, there’s no mechanical connection between the two systems. Computer software instead co-ordinates everything.
The system is basically the same tech as the 4xe PHEV versions of the Jeep Compass and Renegade sold in Europe and made in the same factory in the south of Italy that builds the Tonale Plug-in (both brands are owned by Stellantis). But the Alfa’s engine is more powerful and its underfloor and underseat battery pack a little larger.
Maximum combined output of the Tonale Plug-in’s hybrid powertrain is 206kW, a big jump from the less costly front-drive low-voltage hybrid models. Alfa claims it can zip from 0-100km/h in a snappy 6.2 seconds. The almost 16kWh battery will deliver more than 80km of purely electric urban driving, but less when going faster. Top speed in electric mode is restricted to 135km/h.
While the Tonale Plug-in’s electric-only performance is fine for city driving, the rear motor doesn’t add a lot to its open-road liveliness. It lacks the low-speed shove that some other PHEV systems deliver.
The turbo four lacks charisma and refinement, too. Though eager and able when the engine and motor are working together in the Dynamic and Natural driving modes, the hybrid system fails to deliver the excitement expected from an Alfa Romeo.
The same goes for the Tonale Plug-in’s chassis. The PHEV hardware adds weight and reduces agility. While wide tyres ensure good grip, and the steering is quick and direct, this SUV doesn’t hit the cornering heights expected from an Alfa.
Still, there are positives aplenty to consider. Firstly, the Tonale Plug-in is arguably the best-looking of the compact SUV bunch.
It’s also roomy inside. There’s great rear-seat space for two tall adults and the large, wide-opening door makes getting in and out easy. The cargo compartment is usefully large and regularly shaped.
Best of all, the Tonale brings a big improvement in Alfa interior design and tech. Alfa’s Guzzafame says quality is now the brand’s number one priority and the effort is obvious from the comfortable and supportive driver’s seat.
The instrument panel is attractive, though the instrument display screen could use a bit of decluttering. There’s nothing wrong with the Android-powered infotainment touchscreen, which is responsive and intuitive to use.
So the Tonale Plug-in is a mixture of hits and misses, like many other Alfas before it.
It also highlights that PHEV is a stopgap technology that’s not going to endure.
And while Alfa is rushing to switch to 100 per cent EV production by 2027, others are already offering SUV EVs that cost around the same today as the Tonale Plug-in is likely to in late 2023. The base-grade Tesla Model Y, to name just one example.
ALFA ROMEO TONALE PLUG-IN Q4
PRICE $70,000 (est)
SAFETY 5 stars (Euro NCAP)
ENGINE 1.3-litre 4-cyl turbo and single rear 90kW e-motor plug-in hybrid; 206kW and 520Nm
THIRST 1.1 to 1.4L/100km (WLTP)
0-100KM/H 6.2 secs