I’m behind the wheel of a 2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale at the company’s Balocco Proving Grounds outside of Milan, Italy, and I’m about to do something no Tonale owner will ever do: drive on a racetrack. The track’s rules state our speeds should never exceed 90 kph (56 mph), but how often do Italians follow the rules?

The Tonale is a new subcompact crossover SUV and the first new Alfa in five years. It’s also a rule breaker for the brand, reaching downmarket into the territory occupied by the Audi Q3, the BMW X1 and X2, and the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class. Alfa Romeo is seen as almost exotic, yet the Tonale’s platform has its roots in the thrifty Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X, and the Tonale is a sibling to the new 2023 Dodge Hornet. However, Alfa Romeo gives it some equipment to differentiate it from the Hornet and allow it to perform in a controlled environment on a racetrack without falling on its face.

The lead driver in a Giulia GTA (why couldn’t the U.S. get this extreme version of the Quadrifoglio?) heads out on the track and almost immediately we’re exceeding the 90-kph limit. The little SUV gets up to speed quickly, too, and it takes a tandem of power sources to get there. A 1.3-liter turbo-4 spins up 180 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque and sends it through a 6-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels. An electric motor on the rear axle contributes 121 hp and 184 lb-ft and provides all-wheel drive. Together they make 285 hp and 347 lb-ft and represent Alfa’s first step toward an electrified future.

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Alfa’s DNA selector makes an appearance in the Tonale, but its modes are redefined to reflect the plug-in hybrid powertrain. I’m running in D mode, which stands for both Dynamic and Dual power. It’s tuned to get the most out of the engine and motor. Following the 532-hp GTA, the Tonale’s little engine growls, the rear motor engages seamlessly, and the 4,133-pound crossover sprints from 0-60 mph in a quoted 5.6 seconds. It tops out at a modest 125 mph and won’t be mistaken for a sports car, but the Tonale is more than quick enough to get out ahead of traffic, pass without a care, or provide ready power in the straights on a canyon road.

The Tonale isn’t a track machine, but it’s holding its own here. A 13.6:1 ratio gives the steering quick responses, even if the feel though the wheel is light. Though a crossover, the Tonale sits just 5.6 inches off the ground, 0.1 lower than a Toyota Camry. That means it doesn’t have excessive lean in corners, a fact that’s aided by this model’s adjustable dampers, which ramp up to a sport setting in D mode. A short 103.8-inch wheelbase aids agility and helps the Tonale rotate quickly through corners. This model’s 235/40R20 all-season tires provide only decent grip. No summer performance tires will be offered in the U.S.

Alfa gives the Tonale strong brakes, too. It has standard 13.5-inch front rotors with 4-piston Brembo calipers and 12.1-inch rear rotors with single-slot rotors. They’re doing a good job in this limited exercise, hauling the Tonale down from 134 kph (83 mph) as we approach corners. These brakes will be more than up to the task for the vast majority of street driving, but I wouldn’t trust them for a full track day. I would also expect to get a hefty ticket for going 83 mph in a 55-mph zone.

Then again, speed and track capability are not the Tonale’s purpose. This track experience was just to highlight the Alfa influence on an otherwise utilitarian vehicle.

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2024 Alfa Romeo Tonale: Practical and efficient

The Tonale’s practical side is embodied by its two other drive modes, N for Normal and A for Advanced efficiency. Normal is more efficient than Dual power, and Alfa Romeo says it doesn’t compromise power; it just takes a heavier throttle foot to access it.

Advanced efficiency is the mode for all-electric driving. It draws from the 15.5-kwh battery pack that’s shaped like an L and located in the center tunnel and under the rear seat. EPA ratings aren’t yet available, but Alfa Romeo says it will have more than 30 miles of electric range. Owners can drive that way, too, as the engine won’t come on unless you get deep into the throttle or exceed 85 mph. It’ll essentially act as a 121-hp crossover in this mode, but that’s enough power for most commutes and you can always tap into the little engine when needed.

The battery never loses so much charge that it can’t aid the engine, and an e-Save mode keeps a state of charge for instances when you may want to drive exclusively on electric power, such as in city centers. When it’s time to charge, a 240-volt outlet will top up the battery in 2.5 hours.

The practicality extends to the cabin, where the Tonale has more room than its subcompact footprint would suggest. At 178.3 inches long, it’s 6.3 inches shorter than the compact Stelvio crossover, and its wheelbase is 7.1 inches shorter. Still, it has a better back seat with a very acceptable 38.0 inches of legroom, which will let 6-footers sit front and rear. It also offers 22.9 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat and 50.5 cubes with the rear seat folded flat. Both are on the small side for a crossover but still quite useful.

The experience in the front seat is much the same as in other entry-luxury crossovers: attractive, soft-touch surfaces and screens up top with signs of cost-cutting down low. The Tonale has a standard 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster behind its small-diameter steering wheel and a 10.3-inch touchscreen on the center of a curved, cascading dash. Running parent company Stellantis’ Uconnect 5 interface, the center screen is easy to use despite a low profile, reacts quickly to inputs, and offers programmable screens for up to five drivers.

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2024 Alfa Tonale prices and features

Like its rivals, the Tonale charges a lot for a little vehicle. When it goes on sale at the end of May, the base Sprint model will start at $44,590 (including a $1,595 destination charge), which is within spitting distance of the Giulia sport sedan. For that money, buyers get a combination of basic and luxury features, including cloth upholstery, manually adjustable heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, built-in Amazon Alexa, navigation, ambient interior lighting, wireless smartphone charging, and 18-inch alloy wheels. Every Tonale also comes with a healthy helping of safety features, including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot monitors, rear cross-path detection, a driver-attention monitor, and active lane control.

Buyers have to move up to the $46,590 Ti model to get the adjustable dampers, as well as a hands-free power tailgate and aluminum interior trim to contrast an otherwise heavily black cabin. The top Veloce costs $49,090 and comes with paddle shifters, Alcantara upholstery, 8-way power front seats, and 19-inch wheels, Options such as a 14-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, leather upholstery, a surround-view camera system, automatic parking, and 20-inch wheels can send the price into the mid-$50,000s.

Alfa Romeo says the goal of its brand is to offer the best dynamic vehicle in every class, wrap it in beauty, and when possible, paint it red. The 2024 Tonale has the handling to meet that challenge, and it wears a stubbier version of the company’s curvaceous design language—highlighted by the “Scudetto” triangular grille up front—that’s attractive but doesn’t quite live up to beautiful. Buyers can paint it red if they like, but it’s also offered in a variety of other colors. By moving downmarket to offer the Tonale, Alfa Romeo adheres to some of its rules but breaks others. That’s the Italian way.

Alfa Romeo paid for travel and lodging for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report.

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