Alfa Romeo Tonale Plug-in Hybrid UK first drive

‘Zero to zero’ is the slightly self-deprecating slogan that Alfa Romeo is using to promote the fact that it’s going from offering zero electrified cars in 2022 to selling only zero-emission EVs by 2027. The new Alfa Romeo Tonale Plug-in Hybrid is the first step on that road.

The Tonale PHEV’s powertrain is an upgraded version of the one in the Jeep Compass 4xe, with the same 177bhp turbocharged four-cylinder 1.3-litre petrol engine driving the front wheels through a six-speed automatic gearbox. The electric motor driving the rears is more powerful than the Jeep’s, at 121bhp.

The battery is bigger too, with a capacity of 15.5kWh (12kWh usable). That allows for an impressive 43-mile EV range, opening up the fleet market, in which Alfa Romeo hasn’t been able to play for a long time.

Much of what we’ve experienced in other Tonales is the same here, while PHEV-specific features include the ability to save or even charge the battery for a zero-emissions zone and a downhill coast function that holds 31mph and recharges the battery in the process (which works particularly well).

The rear suspension has been tuned to take the extra weight of the hybrid system, which contributes to a hefty total kerb weight of 1835kg.

Even so, Alfa talks up the Tonale PHEV as the sportiest model in its class. It certainly has a keen front end, plus quick steering that can catch you out with a combination of startling directness, lightness and lack of feedback. So while the Tonale may initially seem sporty, it doesn’t actually reward all that much.

The weight is just as detrimental to the Tonale’s sporty aspirations as the steering. Handling is a bit stodgy, and it’s hard to get a good flow through a series of bends, even with the DNA drive selector set to D (for Dynamic). On the Veloce, which gets adaptive dampers, that also firms up the suspension, but even then the Tonale struggles to control its weight over bumps and crests.

Ironically, considering the car’s positioning, the Tonale is at its best when you’re taking it easy. Even in N (for Natural, rather than Normal) mode, the suspension is firm, but it’s very nicely damped and not crashy, which actually makes it quite comfortable. It settles down on the motorway and its seats are remarkably comfortable.

The weight influences the drivetrain, too: this only really feels like a 276bhp car when you floor it in Dynamic mode. While the more powerful electric motor somewhat reduces the mid-range lethargy that hobbles the Compass 4xe, there’s still plenty of it in the Tonale, as if the software will only call up the motor at big right-foot inputs, rather than give you easy electric shove whenever it can.

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