Usually, we explore concept cars launched several decades ago, but for this instalment we felt the need to talk about a car that was unveiled earlier this year at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show - the Alfa Romeo Tonale.
The first Alfa Romeo with a hybrid powertrain is (at least for now) just a design study, even though we all know it's a sign of things to come from the Italian brand.
According to Alexandros Liokis, Lead Exterior Designer, Alfa Romeo's goal was to create a pure, clean and sculpted design for the Tonale, which usually isn’t the case with most of the cars in the small SUV segment.
As you can see from the official design sketches, the team at Centro Stile Alfa Romeo, headed by Scott Krugger, drew inspiration from the rich heritage of the brand, incorporating several design elements from past models, but in a modern way.
Considering the illustrious past of the Alfa brand, the designers were able to choose from the works of the greatest design studios in the history of the automobile, including Italdesign Giugiaro, Bertone, Pininfarina and Touring Superleggera.
The front end of the Tonale is characterised by the monographic - a single shape surrounding the grille and the headlights - which continues the tradition of Giorgetto Giugiaro’s GT Junior (1965) and Alfetta GTV 2.0 (1980), also found in Marcello Gandini’s Montreal (1970).
The three element headlights are an evolution of the ones on the Alfa Romeo SZ (1989) by Zagato and the Alfa Romeo Brera (2002) by Italdesign Giugiaro. Thanks to the downward slope of their edges and the forward stance of the bonnet line, the end result is one of the most aggressive faces we have ever seen on an Alfa Romeo. The third part of the famous 'trilobo', which are the air intakes, bear a clear resemblance to the larger Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio (2016).
The grille of the Tonale is called the 'scudetto flotante' because it is hanging from the front edge of the bonnet without being connected to any body-coloured parts at the lower part of the front bumper.
At the profile, the sculpted bodywork gives the Tonale an athletic and muscular look, complemented by the large diameter wheels. The GT Line, inspired by the Alfa Romeo GT Junior (1965) drops slightly towards the back, making the rear end look lighter and sexier.
The second character line, and the volume above it which surrounds the whole car like a flying saucer, is reminiscent of the Alfa Romeo 1900 C52 Disco Volante (1952) by Carrozzeria Touring, and the Spider 1600 Duetto (1966) by Pininfarina. The headlights and the tail-lights sit on its front and rear edges, and both bumpers tilt inwards enhancing the lightness of the overall design.
The DLO (daylight opening) is a reference to the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione (2007) with chrome surroundings and almost invisible black pillars merging with the tinted windows. Just like most of the Alfa Romeo models since Walter De Silva’s 156 (1996), the rear door handles are hidden for a cleaner look. Behind them, is a glowing snake logo, transformed to look like a plug as a nod to the car's electrified powertrain.
The round elements in the wheels of Alfa Romeo were first introduced in the stunning Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale (1967), gradually evolving to the 'phone dial wheel'. The Tonale concept sits on 21-inch rims featuring a modern interpretation of this design, shod in custom Pirelli tires.
Moving over at the back, the v-shaped graphic of the rear window is inspired by the 8C 2900B (1937), just like the Brera (2002). The pronounced shoulders, the rear wing and the large oval tailpipes continue the sporty themed look of the Tonale.
The horizontally arranged tail-lights are connected, forming another monographic shape, similar to the one in the 164 (1987), the Proteo Concept (1991) and the GTV 916 (1993). Their LED graphics continue the three-element theme from the front, resembling an artist’s signature.
The interior of the Tonale, by Soohan Yun, Lead Interior Designer, has a 'pulsating heart' theme, referring to the passion of the Italian brand. When the driver selects the Sport mode from Alfa’s DNA switch, red lighting is visible on the centre console and on the door trim, with interconnected vein lines.
Other features include the black and brown leather upholstery, the classic three-spoke steering wheel with metal parts, the traditional round gauges elongated into a brand new digital instrument cluster, the minimal climate controls integrated into the round air vents, the four individual bucket seats, the comparably small touchscreen and the few physical buttons.
So, does it have a future?
Well, the short answer is, yes!
According to the latest strategic plan, officially announced in June 2018, by 2022 the expanded Alfa Romeo lineup will include a compact SUV, a large SUV, the GTV coupe and the 8C sports car alongside the successors of the Giulia, Stelvio and Giulietta. From that perspective it is very likely we are going to see a production version of the Tonale.
Judging from the public’s positive reaction at the Geneva Motor Show, we suspect the production model will retain most of the exterior design of the concept car, minus the enormous wheels, the over the top mirrors and the ultra-slim headlights and taillights.
After all, the concept car doesn’t look too far from production and the upcoming demise of the MiTo leaves a gap in the current lineup that could be filled by a premium SUV with compact exterior dimensions.
The Alfa Romeo Tonale is a stunning concept that could easily evolve into the most beautiful production car in its segment, evolving the design identity of the brand in the best possible way.
The integration of styling cues carefully picked from the rich history of Alfa Romeo has been successfully executed, resulting in a modern and emotionally charged design that doesn’t exploit the much hyped retro trend.
At the same time, Tonale is a part of a larger group of concept cars which reject the over-designed graphics, fake air intakes and the blatant aerodynamic components found in numerous production automobiles.