Alfa-Romeo Tonale too good to fail

Alfa-Romeo Tonale too good to fail

Our new Italian columnist – design critic Matteo Licata – explains why the new Alfa-Romeo Tonale needs to succeed at all costs

I'll turn 40 this year, and I've been hearing bold Alfa Romeo revival plans for as long as I've been alive. Yet, to put it mildly, success has proven elusive. Arguably, there have been times when it seemed the ‘Biscione’ was back for good, for instance between 1998 and 2002 when the 156 and 147 posted record sales and Alfa dominated European Touring Car racing. Unfortunately, the Fiat Group failed to build on that momentum, and there's no denying the brand has been punching well below its weight ever since. So here we are, finally laying eyes on the much-awaited Tonale crossover, the latest in a painfully long series of ‘make-or-break’ product launches for Alfa Romeo.

Will it work this time around? Well, I'm pretty confident it will. Contrary to the excellent yet sadly sales-proof Giulia, the Tonale enters a burgeoning market segment with plenty of competition but where conquest sales are, at least, a possibility. Moreover, it seems the Tonale has finally closed the gap on the all-important ‘infotainment’ front, where Alfa Romeo has been something of a laggard. Hard-core enthusiasts may scoff at gizmos like Amazon Alexa integration, but that's what it takes if you want to measure sales volumes in hundreds of thousands rather than hundreds. But even that would count for nothing if the Tonale lacked visual appeal, and I'm delighted to see that Alfa's Centro Stile has delivered the goods, big time. Having been a car designer myself, I could already ‘see’ what could stay and what would change on the way from the 2019 Geneva stand to the Pomigliano D'Arco production line. Yet I'm pleased to report that the definitive Alfa Romeo Tonale retains most of the original concept's charm, at least to my eye.

Although the front-wheel drive platform makes for a different stance and proportions compared to the big brother Stelvio, the Tonale is easily among the most attractive compact crossovers out there. Why? Because it retains the vaguely nostalgic, almost biomorphic design language we know from the Stelvio, but with a more refined treatment of the surfaces and more convincing graphic elements.

Turin's Centro Stile successfully reinterpreted Alfa's iconic ‘trilobo’ (the Alfa ‘shield’ grille and the two intakes beside it) and integrated it with a distinctive six-element light signature. Speaking of lighting, it is the area where I expected (and feared) the most significant deviations from the successful 2019 prototype, but thankfully, Alfa Romeo and Magneti Marelli have developed pleasantly modern, sharp-looking elements front and rear. The daytime running lights pay a nice homage to Alfa's past without mindlessly repeating old themes: a world away from the somewhat uninspired, old-fashioned look those elements have on the Giulia and Stelvio. It remains to be seen whether this front-end design will become a ‘family look’ on future models.

There's indeed a lot resting on the Tonale, as the world is full of Alfa Romeo fans, yet painfully short of actual Alfa Romeo customers. But it does look like this is the right car to change that.

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