Can Alfa Romeo’s Tonale Thrive in a Sea of Crossovers?
- The Tonale crossover is Alfa Romeo’s last new internal-combustion-powered model, joining the larger Stelvio crossover and Giulia sedan in the US lineup.
- The US market will get one version of the Tonale, a plug-in hybrid with a 1.3-liter MultiAir turbocharged four-cylinder, at least 30 miles of all-electric range, and standard all-wheel drive.
- Alfa’s first all-electric vehicle arrives in 2025, but the automaker has not identified that model.
At first glance, the Alfa Romeo Tonale crossover faces big hurdles as the brand prepares to begin US sales in May. The Italian brand’s two cars in the US lineup—the Stelvio crossover and Giulia sedan—are barely making a dent in their respective segments. Alfa Romeo sold only 5000 Giulias and 7700 Stelvios in the US last year, representing a collective 30% drop from 2021. Despite the brand’s long legacy built over 113 years, it just doesn’t have much traction stateside.
Plus, Alfa Romeo is not on many shopping lists. The Cox Automotive Brand Watch survey found 2% of luxury shoppers considering an Alfa (compared to 22% for BMW, which ranked No. 1) in the fourth quarter of 2022. Alfa placed 17th out of 20 luxury brands in the study.
Still, Alfa Romeo’s top North American executive is amped up about the coming Tonale (pronounced ta-NAHL-ee) and its prospects as the launch draws near.
“It is by far the best-in-class performing CUV in the segment,” with 285 hp, a rapid-response frequency-damping suspension, and an ideal 50-50 weight balance, said Larry Dominique, senior vice president and head of Alfa Romeo and Fiat North America.
“From a standpoint of dynamic performance, when I’ve driven it back to back against BMW, Mercedes, Audi—it doesn’t matter who I’m comparing to—this vehicle stands way above them from a performance point of view. So to me, that’s what we’re really trying to shoot for,” he told Detroit journalists recently.
The US market will get one version of the Tonale, a plug-in hybrid with a 1.3-liter MultiAir turbocharged four-cylinder, at least 30 miles of all-electric range, and standard all-wheel drive. Canada and Mexico will get both the PHEV and a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, while Europe will get the Tonale as a mild hybrid, a PHEV, and diesel.
US pricing for the Tonale starts at $44,590 (including destination charges) in base Sprint trim, then steps up to the $46,590 Ti trim (“elegant and distinctive”), then the range-topping $49,090 Veloce (“sporty character and luxury”). Factor in the available $7500 federal tax credit (thanks to the fuel-saving PHEV-only powertrain), and the Tonale will appear affordable to some.
Pre-orders are already being accepted for the Ti and Veloce grades of the Tonale, while Sprint availability will start next month, by visiting alfaromeousa.com.
As shoppers raise their hands for the new Tonale, Dominique said 82% of those potential customers visiting the Alfa Romeo website are new to the brand.
The Tonale will not be offered with a battery-electric powertrain, but “the next vehicle that comes after Tonale is a BEV,” Dominique said. “And everything we introduce after that point is BEVs, starting in 2025.” So Alfa’s first all-electric vehicle arrives in 2025, but the automaker has not identified that model.
The cadence means the Tonale will be the last new vehicle in the Alfa lineup with an internal-combustion engine, the executive confirmed.
With the 4C roadster no longer in the lineup, the Giulia and Stelvio—both of them with gasoline powertrains—are the only US offering until the Tonale arrives, and Dominique is convinced both existing models “can be competitive for quite a while” in current form.
The Tonale will slot in below the Stelvio, which is classified as a midsize luxury crossover that starts at $46,200—a modest step up from the Tonale pricing. The Stelvio is at the bottom of a packed segment that includes the BMW X3, Acura RDX, Audi Q4, Lexus NX, and Mercedes GLC. The Tonale might end up in the small luxury crossover segment, where it would face much fewer competitors, such as the Audi Q3, BMW X1, Lexus UX, Mercedes GLA, and Volvo XC40.
Alfa’s Giulia sedan arrived in the US in 2016, and the brand has already confirmed an all-new flagship Giulia, which will be battery-electric, is in the works. The Stelvio came to the US in 2017, and Dominique said “it makes perfect sense” to replace it with an all-new battery-electric version.
Both the next-generation Stelvio and Giulia will spring from Stellantis’ new STLA Large platform, Dominique confirmed.
Beyond those two and the Tonale, Alfa Romeo Brand CEO Jean-Philippe Imparato has suggested the brand needs an executive-grade E-segment vehicle larger than the Stelvio.
While Dominique sees potential to grow Alfa Romeo in the US, don’t expect the dealer ranks to grow beyond the current 134 showrooms.
“You don’t need to plaster hundreds and hundreds of dealers around the country,” he said. “What you need are dealers that can produce high throughput, driven by what we provide them. We have to provide the cars and drive the media. What you need is the right size network, in the right location, with the ability to attract the right kind of customers.”
Dominique also leads the Fiat brand’s efforts in the US, which have yielded little fruit with the subcompact 500, which struggled to gain a foothold in the US market a decade ago.
In November at the LA auto show, the brand announced the all-electric 500e is coming back to the North American market in the first quarter of 2024. A version of the 500e offered in 2013 was deemed a failure in the US by then-Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who discouraged customers from buying the compliance car because the company lost $14,000 on each one.
Dominique sees potential with the new 500e, arriving with at least 150 miles of range in a market that is much more receptive to EVs. “This car is cool, it’s quiet, it’s fast, it’s quirky, it’s beautiful,” he said.
Is Alfa Romeo on the right track with its Tonale, which arrives soon? Please comment below.