5 reasons the Alfa Romeo Tonale is something special

The Geneva Motor Show 2019 isn't short on SUVs, but the Alfa Romeo Tonale concept manages to stand out by virtue of its combination of style and brand-firsts. Smaller sibling to the Stelvio, the new compact SUV previews a plug-in hybrid powertrain and a whole new selection of dashboard technology. Read on for what you need to know about the new Tonale.

The Tonale is Alfa Romeo's first plug-in hybrid

Electrification waits for no automaker, and Alfa Romeo is finally jumping onboard the battery train. The Tonale has the distinction of being the brand's first plug-in hybrid, pairing a gasoline internal-combustion engine with an electric drivetrain. However Alfa Romeo is playing coy with the actual details, beyond the fact that the gas engine is up front and the electric part is at the rear.

How big a gas engine does it have? We don't know yet. How many electric motors? Alfa isn't saying. How much horsepower and torque will the whole thing deliver? That, my friend, is a mystery.

Meanwhile that vital figure plug-in hybrid buyers always want to know, just how long it will go on a charge under electric power alone, is also unstated. Alfa Romeo just isn't ready to say.

It'll be the Alfa Romeo of hybrids

There are hybrids out there with sporting pretensions already, but Alfa Romeo believes the Tonale can still be something different in the category. "The electrification of Alfa Romeo comes at the service of sportiness and emphasizes the famous "Mechanics of Emotions" mission of the brand," the automaker insists. Key to that are the drive modes.

As with previous cars, there's the Alfa D.N.A. set of modes to choose between. However they've been given different interpretations to relate to a hybrid and the various methods of mustering propulsion. "Dynamic" becomes "Dual Power," for instance, cranking out the maximum from both the gas and the electric engines.

"Natural" mode leaves the balance between the two down to the Tonale, which makes selections based on a compromise between performance and economy. "This translates into everyday energy and fuel savings," Alfa suggests, "but not at the detriment of performance."

Finally, "Advance Efficiency" turns into "Advance E": it's the Tonale's fully electric mode. A new E-mozione buttoned the touchscreen adds different throttle settings, sharper braking, and a more direct steering response for "Dual Power" mode.

It's also Alfa's first compact utility vehicle

Alfa Romeo expanded into SUVs with the launch of the Stelvio in 2017, promising the performance of its sedans and coupes but in a more family-friendly form. The Tonale slots in underneath Stevlio in size, the automaker's first CUV or "Compact Utility Vehicle," and it's a handsome thing indeed.

Stelvio cues are there, of course, but this isn't just a mini-me of the larger SUV. The grille – which Alfa calls its "Scudetto" – has a new design, more three-dimensional than on previous cars. It's flanked by a "3 plus 3" lighting array, three sections either side. They squint aggressively, with the sharp curve of the hood's leading edge a permanent frown.

At the back, the rear window is topped by a suspended wing. That actually helps bridge the rear glass and the transparent roof Alfa Romeo has used. Heavily stylized rear lighting adds some movement.

As for the wheels, their 21-inches keep the phone dial design that the automaker has used since the 1960s, and they still look great. Exclusive Pirelli tires are used.

The Tonale cabin sees a big tech upgrade arrive

The current range of Alfa Romeo cars have fairly compact infotainment displays, operated by a circular control wheel. The Tonale, though, kicks things up to a far more technological level.

There's a 12.3-inch digital cluster for the driver, replacing analog gages with a more flexible, customizable display. In the center console, meanwhile, there's now a 10.25-inch touchscreen. That gets a new infotainment system to play with, including two new features for connected motoring.

Alfista is an in-vehicle app which promises to link drivers to lifestyle features around the car and the brand. That includes news and updates, along with access to different events, and even a way to win tickets to VIP Alfa Romeo-sponsored events. Paddock, meanwhile, is an in-vehicle garage and market. There, the automaker says, owners will be able to buy "the latest interior and exterior performance upgrades and equipment."

As for space, Tonale is designed for four adults. There's plenty of leather and Alcantara, paired with real aluminum and translucent backlit panels.

Tonale previews a production car to come

Alfa Romeo is calling Tonale a concept car, but it's also clear that the automaker has a production version in mind. That's likely to keep the general look of this compact SUV, though presumably lose some of the more show-friendly detailing like the slender side-mirrors and pop-out door handles. The interior, too, would undoubtedly be toned down.

When it might arrive at dealerships is unclear. Alfa Romeo is tight-lipped, unsurprisingly, though the general consensus in Geneva is that the production Tonale could only be a handful of years out. Given how popular the SUV segment is right now, Alfa arguably can't afford to wait too long to give the Stelvio a sibling.