You name it, Alfa Romeo nails it with the Tonale

Peter Atkinson |

The new Alfa Tonale SUV will be offered in two variants for the Australian market.
The new Alfa Tonale SUV will be offered in two variants for the Australian market.

What’s in a name, Shakespeare once famously asked.

And the answer, in most cases, is “not much”.

But it always pays to be careful as things can often get lost in translation.

Take much-admired Italian marque Alfa Romeo’s latest model to reach Australia – the Tonale.

Named after a famous Italian mountain pass – just like another of its vehicles named after the famous Stelvio Pass.

But this is where you need to be careful.

The Tonale is pronounced to-narl-ee – preferably said with a cultured Italian accent and perhaps a big, bushy moustache.

But in Australia it’s likely to get all manner of other pronunciations. Too-Gnarly is one.

Or, as one wag suggested: To-Nale (Toe Nail). That would never do.

Let’s be honest, the Europeans have a bit of a history when it comes to car names. Maserati’s magnificent flagship is called the Quattroporte, which simply means it has four doors (how romantic). 

Further afield you have Citroen’s oddly-named Cactus (kid you not) which is a good car if you’re okay with people pointing and giggling at your French hatchback.

Alfa Tonale
An upgrade offers heated front seats and steering wheel and eight-way electric leather driver seat. (HANDOUT/ALFA ROMEO)

But on to the Tonale (which is also the Italian word for tone or music).  As it happens that name was perfectly accurate (not the toenail bit) because it makes an engaging sound, as Alfas tend to do. 

Slotting into the mid-size SUV segment, the Tonale joins its bigger, more powerful sibling the previously mentioned Stelvio.

It’s a welcome arrival because the fabled brand has been quiet of late. 

Like the country that makes it, the Alfa is all brash and bravado – you can almost picture a bushy moustached man in white shoes behind the wheel with a fantastic looking young lady in the passenger seat heading off down a sweeping ocean-front road for an Aperol Spritz.

And appropriately so, because the Tonale carries the same DNA its big-brother model – good looks, smart performance and, pleasingly, very generously priced.

The model will be offered in two variants for its first swing through the Australian market – the high-spec and slightly sharper Veloce and the tested Ti.

The entry-level Alfa can be had for $49,990 plus onroads (the Germans won’t even be able to see you coming from that far behind); or if your wallet is a bit fatter the high-end Veloce adds  additional gear and more power, courtesy of a mild hybrid system, at an extra price of about $7000.

A “Lusso” pack (the name is borrowed from Ferrari) brings heated front seats and steering wheel, eight-way electric driver’s seat wrapped in stylish black leather and a 14-speaker Harmon Kardon audio.

Inside the Tonale is pure quality and European style – putting it closer to the market-leader X1 than any of its other SUV rivals. 

It’s all Alfa Romeo, too, although its performance was a little short of what was anticipated. 

Alfa has always been all about adding some panache to your driving but the slightly more sedate Ti was lacking when measured against expectations.

It’s easy, when driving an Alfa, to get swept away with the romance of the brand. It is, after all, a direct descendant of Ferrari, built not far away in Modena.

The Alfa business plan is a tricky one – occasionally rolling out a wave of new models followed by not much at all for years.

Happily, the badge is being seen on the bonnet of an increasing price and performance range. 

That situation is likely to grow, too, as Alfa is under the watch of the Stellantis group, formed by merger of a rather random collection of makers from the Alfa to Chrysler, Jeep, Maserati, Citroen, Peugeot and truck-builder RAM. If you can’t find something in that lot you’re probably not looking hard enough.. 

This latest release from the always interesting Italian marque is a bagful of fun and is compact, sporty and engaging in just about every way.

Its 118kW is a decent output for a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine, which benefits by the inclusion of a mild hybrid electric system that assists the engine when needed.

Italian cars are often, let’s say, quirky. While the Tonale feels right at home when cruising along, it gets a bit forgetful at low speeds about which gear might work best.

The answer, as you might expect from Alfa Romeo, is that the car comes to life the harder you drive it.

The Tonale rides, handles and stops with all the assurance of a true sports car, even if it also can cart around 500 litres of cargo space in the rear.

Best of all is the fact that the Alfa claims official fuel consumption of just 5.6L/100km.

As has been the case for a few years, you can customise the car’s performance via the DNA system.

On the upside it absolutely looks the goods, especially those models with 20-inch wheels – so it will get you noticed, not least because of that famous Alfa-style grille and bonnet forming that fabulous triangular splitter.

Toe Nails indeed.


HOW BIG: A step down from its sibling the Stelvio, the Tonale is nonetheless reasonably spacious with plenty of creature comforts.

HOW FAST: Acceleration from 0-100km/h in 6.2 seconds in the Veloce model (pretty good) to 8.8 seconds (a bit dull) in the Ti.

HOW THIRSTY: Officially it sips 5.6L/100km.

HOW MUCH: A starting price of $49,900 will get plenty of attention. The slightly sharper Veloce at $56,400 might be a better pick, though.