Road test 2023 Alfa-Romeo Tonale Veloce Plug-in Hybrid Q4 Type 965

Road test 2023 Alfa-Romeo Tonale Veloce Plug-in Hybrid Q4 Type 965

Alfa’s future is full-electric, but for now its first-ever plug-in hybrid – the 280bhp Tonale Q4 – plugs the gap. But is it going to excite Alfisti? We head to Italy to find out.

Words by Chris Rees

Images by Alfa Romeo/Simon Thompson

Plugging The Gap

ALFA TONALE Q4 280hp PHEV on test

Having spoken with many Alfisti over the last few weeks and months, we’ve yet to find a single one who likes the Tonale. We understand: the 160hp ‘selfcharging’ hybrid Tonale with front-wheel drive has left us a bit underwhelmed. It gets so much right – design, quality, cabin ambience and handling – but it simply lacks zing, with disappointingly sluggish power delivery and an inconsistent gearbox.

Road test 2023 Alfa-Romeo Tonale Veloce Plug-in Hybrid Q4 Type 965

But the ‘pukka’ Tonale was always going to be the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version with Q4 all-wheel drive. It’s finally arrived and we needed no prodding to head to Alfa’s testing facility at Balocco, near Milan, to find out just how it performs.

On first acquaintance, you’d be hardpressed even to spot the difference.

Road test 2023 Alfa-Romeo Tonale Veloce Plug-in Hybrid Q4 Type 965

Surprisingly, there are no Q4 badges to be seen, only a very subtle ‘elettro-biscione’ motif in the rear door glass identifying that you’re driving a PHEV. Even inside, the only differences are an ‘e-Save’ button on the console and a little ‘biscione’ light in the instrument panel, which glows different colours depending on how the battery is being used.

Those batteries are arranged in a T-shape under the central tunnel and rear seats, adding – when combined with the all-wheel drive gubbins – some 235kg to overall weight compared to the mild hybrid front-drive version. Luckily, they provide a major slug of power – in total, 280hp with the 1.3 turbo engine and 90kW electric motor combined.

Road test 2023 Alfa-Romeo Tonale Veloce Plug-in Hybrid Q4 Type 965

The headline maximum speed figure is actually 2mph slower than the 160hp Tonale (128mph) but you can forget that. The Q4 is a full 2.6 seconds quicker off the line (0-62mph in 6.2sec) and far punchier through the gears. Loads of pulling power is available from low revs and it even sounds great. It isn’t perfect, though: there’s still a noticeable lag initially when you press the accelerator.

The gearbox is another difference. While the 160hp Tonale has seven speeds, the Q4 has only six. Despite this loss of a ratio, the dual-clutch auto ’box actually works much better in the PHEV. That said, it doesn’t have quite the sharpness of some rival dual-clutch transmissions, and switching the DNA dial to Dynamic mode doesn’t improve things dramatically, and nor does using the paddle-shifters in manual mode. At least the PHEV is much more refined than the mild-hybrid Tonale.

The other major difference is the all-wheel drive system: petrol engine powering the front wheels, and the electric motor the rears. I had the ideal opportunity to test this at Alfa’s Balocco test track, where you can spot Giulia GTAs and Maserati MC20s circulating. The Tonale may not be a natural circuit car, but I have to say it performs extremely well here. Yes, there’s body roll (as you’d expect of an SUV) but it’s tremendously grippy around corners. I even tried the DNA dial in ESCOff mode and the rear end can be made to move around, without ever feeling out of control. The very quick-ratio steering is delightful, too.

At Balocco, I also tried some hill starts on a greased 20% slope, first with front wheels placed on the slippery area, then all wheels, then only the rear wheels – and the Tonale coped very well on all tests; better than a mechanical 4x4 set-up can, apparently (the Giulia Q4 can’t do it, for instance). That’s encouraging for the skiers amongst us. One interesting aside is that, in ‘A’ mode, the car runs purely on electric power, meaning only the rear wheels are driven. However, if rear wheel-slip is detected, the petrol engine immediately starts to provide four-wheel drive.

Unlike the mild hybrid, the Tonale Q4 has a meaningful electric range. You can travel up to 43 miles in EV mode; a bit more in urban use. But unlike a pure electric car, you have no range anxiety – up to 373 miles is possible on a single fuel tank and a full battery. CO2 emissions are tax-friendly, too: officially, just 26- 33g/km. As for recharging, it takes 2.5 hours using a 7kW wallbox, or 5.5 hours at 3kW.

The batteries do have an impact on boot space. Gone is the dual-step floor; you have only a small under-floor storage area, suitable for the charging lead. The bulky batteries under the rear seats mean the boot floor is quite high, but nevertheless luggage space is very generous. There’s no impact on passenger headroom and legroom, which remain excellent.

It’ll be February 2023 before the Q4 arrives in UK showrooms. Prices have yet to be confirmed but we think Alfa needs to compete strongly with the Volvo XC40 and BMW X1 plug-ins, which start around the mid-£40k mark. We’d be disappointed if the Alfa strays towards £50,000.

My verdict? It was always crucial that the Q4 PHEV should be much better than the 160hp Tonale – and it comes as a great relief to report that it is just that. This is the Tonale that Alfisti have been craving: sprightlier performance, a more resolved transmission, all the benefits of all-wheel drive, plus lower running costs. No, the Q4 isn’t perfect; but it is a genuine transformation.

Plug-in Q4 model is much nicer to drive than the 160hp Tonale. It’s even surprisingly good on track.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS 2023 Alfa-Romeo Tonale Plug-in Hybrid Q4 Type 965

  • ENGINE: 1332cc 4-cyl petrol-electric hybrid
  • MAX POWER: 280hp at 5750rpm
  • MAX TORQUE: 400Nm at 1850rpm
  • GEARBOX: 6-speed automatic, AWD
  • DIMENSIONS: 4528mm (L), 2082mm (W), 1601mm (H)
  • WEIGHT: 1835kg
  • TOP SPEED: 128mph
  • 0-62MPH: 6.2sec
  • EV RANGE: 43 miles
  • FUEL CONSUMPTION: 201.8-256.8mpg
  • CO2 EMISSIONS: 26-33g/km
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