Science & Technology



Sound Advice: Kicking the tires on Alfa hybrid vehicle

Don Lindich, Tribune News Service on

Published in Tech Advice

Q. I was entertained to see you were reviewing the Alfa Romeo Tonale plug-in hybrid SUV. As a long-time Alfa 164 owner, I was hoping to hear how the trial turned out. As a Chevy Volt owner, I was curious about whether an Alfa could approach the Volt's incredible drivetrain (acknowledging that many other aspects of the Volt are terrible.)

—M.W., San Jose, California

A. Hello, fellow Alfa driver! It was more than a mere trial because I signed on the bottom line to lease it for 36 months. This was spurred on by the very positive experience with my 2018 Alfa Romeo Giulia, an excellent deal ($359/month including tax with $3,500 due at signing for a $48,000 car) and the desire to report on real-world plug-in hybrid experience. I have also received reader questions about EV technology and car charging products, and having a plug-in car now makes that possible.

Just before I wrote this column I took a picture of Trip Odometer B, which has been running continuously since I drove the car off the lot in December. In almost exactly seven months I put on 10,907 miles and averaged 48.1 MPG, fantastic for a compact performance SUV. As you might guess from the 1,558 miles/month average, that includes a fair amount of highway driving. This makes my overall MPG even more impressive because plug-in hybrid vehicles are much more efficient in city driving, the opposite of a purely gasoline-powered car.

Having a 240V Level 2 charger at home really helps maximize fuel economy. It charges the Tonale battery from 0% to 100% in about two-and-a-half hours, compared to eight hours for the included 120V charger that uses an ordinary outlet. So, if I can get home to “touch base” before the 31 miles of pure electric range is gone I almost always start over with another 31 miles when I go out again later in the day. For primarily local driving, with a 240V charger you could barely use any fuel at all with a Tonale (or other plug-in hybrid with at least 31 miles of electric range.) Back in December I went 433 miles on 3.052 gallons, for a whopping 141.87 MPG. This calculates to a range of 1,589 miles from the 11.2-gallon tank, and it uses regular gas so a fill-up is cheap. The increase in my electric bill has been minimal.

Other than that? The car has been reliable, fun to drive and gets a lot of compliments. I’ll have more updates in future columns.


Q. Isn't fast charging with chargers like the Intoval 140W charger bad for the phone? I heard that slow charging is better for them.

—J.L., Minneapolis

A. Slow charging will cause less battery degradation over time, but life may not always give us the option of a slow charge. Even with fast charging, I think in the long term you will likely want a new phone before the battery degrades past the point of usefulness.

One of the beauties of chargers like the Intoval is you can choose the charging speed by the port you use. Need a fast charge in the middle of the day? Use a high-powered USB-C port. Going to be home for a while and adding power is not as urgent? Use one of the lower-powered USB-A ports. Charging overnight? You can use one of the USB-A ports for a slower charge, but most phones have an automatic optimized charging mode that slows down the current flow overnight to provide a slow, gentle charge while ensuring your battery is at 100% when you wake.


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