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Click for pictures“Revitalised Alfa
  Romeo launch new
  Brera 2+2 Sports
  Coupé. Don’t look!
  It’s got appeal to die
  for and once you’ve
  laid eyes on it you’ll
  just have to buy one”

REVITALISED TO THE TUNE of 6.5 million for their 'above
the line
' marketing activities, by the middle of the year
Alfa Romeo will also have a
revitalised UK model line-up.

With their relatively new Alfa 146 three- and five door hatchbacks achieving a modest growth in sales, it is the recently introduced Alfa 159 four-door sports saloon launched in February which will be its volume seller. But it is the striking-looking Alfa Brera sports coupé that is one of its new 'halo' models and the flagship of their new range.

Other important additions to the range will be the 159 Sportswagon due in May followed, in June, by the biggest 'halo' model of them all — the Alfa Spider.

Alfa Romeo say that the 159, the Sportswagon, Brera and Spider plus the considerable marketing activities — which includes television advertising for the first time in two years — should give the once-famous Alfa marque real impetus to improve its annual sales in the short-term. From 6,400 units last year to 8,000 units this year.

Alfa Romeo UK see 2006 as a period of consolidation following years
of decline in the UK — 20 per cent down last year, which made the
UK Europe's worst market for Alfa Romeo. The lack of direction from
the former Alfa Romeo UK management combined with lack of new products, lack of investment and disillusioned dealers caused the decline.

With a new UK management board, more marketing money, new models and a refocused dealer network, new managing director Christopher Nicoll said: "Our targets are realistic and modest and our ambition is to achieve around a 0.7 or 0.8 per cent share of the UK car market in the future. Initially, around 10,000 annual sales is the realistic target with the new models we have coming and these new products will deliver more growth for the brand in the UK."

Speaking at the UK media introduction of the three-door 2+2 Brera sports coupé, Nicoll said that out of the 8,000 sales the brand should achieve in the UK this year, the Brera and Spider models should account for 2,100 sales with a 50:50 split between models and with 25 per cent of these sales for the diesel variants. The 159 saloons and Sportswagons are targeted to reach around 3,500 UK sales this year, with the Sportswagon variants achieving 35 per cent of that total.

Alfa says the new Bera is a 2+2 sports coupé in the classic Alfa Romeo tradition. The production version remains remarkably true to the award-winning concept coupé design first shown at the 2002 Geneva Motor Show. Designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro and Alfa's own styling house and built by Pininfarina, the coupé is available in six versions priced from 22,800 to 29,850.

Initially the Brera will be available with two direct injection petrol and diesel engines. In four week's time another new petrol engine — a 260bhp 3.2-litre V6 — will be added to the Brera range, along with Alfa's Q4 four wheel drive system. For its debut this month, the Brera has the option of a new 2.2-litre 4-cylinder 185bhp petrol engine and Alfa's well-liked 2.4-litre 5-cylinder turbocharged 200bhp JTD MultiJet common-rail direct injection turbocharged diesel powerplant, fitted
with a 'for life' maintenance-free particulate trap filter in anticipation
of Euro 5 emissions regulations. All models use a six-speed manual gearbox, although automatic transmission options will be available by the end of this year.

There are two levels of specification — Brera and Brera SV — and Nicoll expects 90 per cent of customers to choose the SV package which includes: leather interior trim, stainless steel kick-plates, brushed aluminium centre consol and trim inserts and 17-inch alloy. The 3.2 Q4 models will also have 17-inch wheels as standard.

The Brera's comprehensive standard specification includes one-touch electric windows, Dual Zone climate control, remote central locking with alarm, seven airbags (including driver's knee airbag), electronic key and start button, stereo radio/CD with steering wheel audio controls and six speakers, leather steering wheel and gear knob, fog lights, rear parking sensors, cruise control, multifunction display, anti-lock braking, Vehicle Dynamic Control stability system incorporating Alfa's Hill Holder facility for smooth hill starts, centre rear arm rest with a ski tunnel/access hatch, 60:40 split folding rear seats and 16-inch alloy wheels.

Extra cost options range from a huge, full-length Sky View panoramic laminated glass sunroof with an electrically-controlled interior blind, Xenon headlights, SatNav, electrically-adjustable front seats, a BOSE sound system, Bluetooth mobile 'phone connectivity, 18-inch alloy wheels and bCONNECT — a ground-breaking, on-line system that connects the driver to an extensive range of services via either manual control or voice commands.

The 2+2 coupé body style provides for 300 litres of luggage space
with the rear seats in position, and a practical 610-litre load bay with the rear seats folded.

The Brera uses a shortened version of the new generation platform it shares with the Alfa 159 which, says Alfa, gives their new sports coupé an extremely safe and rigid bodyshell for predictable handling characteristics under all conditions.

With 1,000 orders already in the bag for the new registration plate — not just for Brera but for all Alfa models — I just hope Alfa are now (finally) heading in the right direction. The Brera is such a stunning car to look at it gives me real hope that the dark days for the marque in the UK are over.

The elegant 2+2 body's wide wheel arches and rising waistline towards the rear is perfect, but the beautiful front end is even better in real
life than in the pictures. The bonnet, with its legendary Villa d'Este style Alfa shield grille and triple light clusters either side, is stunning. Once again, the number plate is offset to the left — a style signature echoing past classics and unique to Alfa Romeo. If this coupé does not get people back to buying Alfa Romeos, nothing will.

The old problems of build quality, poor ergonomics and a bad driving seat relative to the position and distance from the steering wheel and pedals, have all gone. The driver benefits from a height-adjustable seat allied to a rake and reach adjustable, leather-wrapped steering wheel. The new coupé feels strong, well built and very stiff — not rigid — and provides a sound dynamic platform for its double wishbone front and sophisticated new multilink rear suspension. Handling, consequently, is predictable and gives good feedback.

The ride is compliant and comfortable, but not too harsh. The diesel models appear to ride better over typical undulating British A- and B-roads due, I gather, to fact that the five-cylinder diesel engine is a little heavier. Being a front-wheel drive car, the extra weight also improved both the front-end grip during cornering on wet roads and
the feel through the steering.

The new all-aluminium, 2.2-litre 185bhp petrol engine — which is some 20 per cent lighter than the unit it replaces — is very free revving,
but as it produces its maximum power at 6,500rpm (its 170lb ft of torque peaks at 4,500rpm) it needs to be worked hard with liberal use of the 6-speed gearbox to get the best out of it. Pushed hard under acceleration it felt a tad lacking in the real power surge department. But once on 'the cruise' on open roads it was fine, running to 138mph and despatching the 0-62mph sprint in 8.6 seconds.

For me, the 2.4-litre turbodiesel engine with 200bhp developed at 4,000rpm and — more importantly — 295lb ft of torque at 2,000rpm,
is the real gem. It is quiet, extremely responsive and a true sports diesel. Whilst the petrol model returned just under 24mpg on our test route, the diesel recorded an impressive 39mpg — comfortably close
to the official 41.5 combined figure. Touring is given as 52.3mpg. For
good measure the diesel is faster too, taking just 8.1 seconds for the 0-62mph dash before going on to reach a top speed is 142mph. But — and it's a very big 'but' — if you choose the diesel engine option it will cost you between 3,000 and 3,600 more than a 2.2-litre petrol models.

There will be those who disagree, but I think it is much too steep a price jump to justify. So, although the diesel's the better model, in reality the 24,500 2.2 JTS SV petrol version would be the model to go for. About the only other criticism I have is the somewhat restricted rear quarter visibility. However, if your heart rules your head — as Alfa is justifiably confident it will — then you'll learn to live with it. The standard-fit rear parking system will certainly help.

Whichever model you decide on, there is one thing you can be absolutely sure of. You'll be getting a three-door 2+2 coupé with looks to die for. Better still, it's also practical and well equipped. Perhaps it's a case of 'See Alfa and Buy!' — David Miles

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Alfa Romeo Brera 2.2 JTS SV | 24,500
Maximum speed: 138mph | 0-62mph: 8.6 seconds
Test MPG: 24mpg | Power: 185bhp | Torque: 170lb ft

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----------------------------------------------------------------- Alfa Romeo Brera