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Alfa Romeo Brera S 3.2 JTS V6

Click to view picture galleryFew sports cars are developed
  specifically for Britain
s roads —
  those that are tend to become true
s cars. The question is,
  does Alfa Romeo
s Prodrive-fettled
  special edition Brera S fit the bill?”

THE BRERA HAS ALWAYS HAD THE LOOKS. But now, thanks to British performance specialists Prodrive, Alfa's grand touring coupé sports a 'stiff upper lip'. To be precise, it's the bits you can't see that have been stiffened…

About a year ago, Alfa UK decided that keen drivers would appreciate driving a Brera that had been fine-tuned to maximise its performance potential on UK roads. Consequently, they called in respected motorsport specialists Prodrive. Prodrive's mission: to bring Alfa's charming Italian contessa smartly into line like never before…

So, after all the time and effort put in by Prodrive's engineers (who also run Aston Martin's racing team), is the Brera S now as good to drive as it is to look at? By the bye, if you hazard a guess that the 'S' stands for Sport — you'd be wrong. It stands for 'Special' as in Special Edition. And the answer, we're pleased to report, is Yes, it drives as crisply as it looks.

Prodrive has made a number of significant chassis and suspension revisions, fitted specially-tuned, gas-filled, mono-tube Bilstein dampers and bespoke Eibach coil springs (stiffer by 50 per cent than the stock items they replace), lowered the ride height by 10mm and swapped the standard Brera's Q4 four-wheel drive for a front-wheel drive set-up.

Did I mention the set of gorgeous black lightweight 19-inch wheels inspired by the '5-hole' alloys that grace Alfa's oh-so-sexy 8C Competizione? Well, the Brera's new wheels were commissioned by Prodrive for performance rather than cosmetic reasons and unquestionably ramp-up the Brera S's eye-candy rating. More significantly, they also reduce the car's unsprung weight, which plays a key role in the way it steers, handles and transmits feedback to the driver.

And the cost of all this? Actually, given that Alfa are only planning to produce 500 of these cars exclusively for the British market, a very acceptable £28,450.

Get snugly comfortable behind this re-focussed Brera's leather-rimmed wheel and it won't take you very long to appreciate that — unlike a former British Prime Minister — the Brera S is definitely a lady for turning.

The steering is palpably sharper with more responsive turn-in to corners and when pressing on there's now less roll and, what little there is, is tightly controlled. In fact, tightly-controlled is the right description as the 'S' feels almost track-ready. In answer to your next question, Yes, the Brera S's ride quality now has a pronounced edginess to it that can, on poorer quality road surfaces, make it feel just a little too track-friendly.

Engine performance hasn't been increased per se but, thanks to the significant weight savings (100kg slashed from the kerbweight), the 3.2-litre V6's 260bhp feels more eager as the Brera powers off the line to 62mph in seven seconds dead. Accompanied, in traditional Alfa fashion, by a characterful aural score all the way to the red-line — although to hear it at its best you'll want the windows open. Top speed is 155mph; the official fuel consumption is 25.7mpg for the combined cycle, with 17.2 and 35.8mpg respectively for the urban and extra-urban cycles. Our week-long test's combined figure (over a variety of roads and traffic conditions) came out at 22mpg.

A big (and very welcome) surprise was the controlled manner in which the 'Prodrive' Brera puts down its 260bhp, given that it's now sent through the front two wheels as opposed to all four on the Q4 model. Although ditching the 4WD has undeniably saved weight, one wonders just how agile this sharpened new S would have been had it been retained — after all, Audi's brilliant 3.2 TT isn't in the least handicapped by its quattro all-wheel drive system.

Whatever, the power and the chassis mods come together nicely on demanding roads, where the S feels more agile and responsive — more coherent, in fact — than its sibling, the 4WD 3.2 V6 Brera. Doing their bit for traction are the 235/40 Pirelli P Zero tyres, their grip properties amply backed-up by powerful and progressive brakes, traction control and ABS with EBD and Brake Assist.

As already mentioned, the improved steering is both quick and positive enough to exploit the revised, more agile suspension and, as long as you are precise with your inputs entering fast bends, the Brera S will hold its line all the way through. Enhancing the driver's sense of being physically in control is the precise-action, satisfying-to-use six-speed manual 'box which completes the feeling of genuine involvement.

Externally there are a number of subtle enhancements to prevent those 'in the know' from mistaking the S for a stock model, superficially glammed-up with a set of stand-out 19-inch alloys. Look closely and you'll spot the Prodrive-badged front stone deflectors, a bespoke 'SV6' emblem on the C-pillar and, at the rear, four chrome-embellished tailpipes sporting the Prodrive logo and remodelled to mirror the shape of the Brera's rear lights.

Look inside the enhanced driver-oriented cabin and you'll find exclusive Brera S aluminium badge plates — sporting the Italian and British flags — housed in the headrest recesses. Black leather with red over-stitching is in plentiful supply: it not only covers the seats but also the fascia, door panels, steering wheel and gear knob. Red is also the colour used to illuminate the sporty-looking dials — all sport black faces and clear white graphics. Other smart touches include the drilled aluminium foot pedals and the discreet black race-style 'Start' button.

Driver and front passenger both enjoy good headroom and sit low to the ground in pleated leather-covered seats that have manual adjustment (including for height and lumbar support) but powered backrests. Covered in soft black Frau leather and deeply bolstered, they make travelling in the Brera S a comfortable business. For the one in the hot seat, the driving position is fine and well-sited for piloting the Brera along a challenging stretch of road. Other cabin plus points: vision out is good; the Brera is easy to place on the road; there's lots of height and reach adjustment for the steering column; and the three-spoke wheel is well-shaped and finished with perforated 'work' areas for driving comfort.

Behind the driver are two individual rear seats although, due to their upright backrests, the high centre tunnel and limited leg and headroom (don't be too judgemental: the Brera is, after all, a coupé in the strictest definition of the word) these are best viewed as occasional seats for smaller children or, more pragmatically, used as an adjunct to the deep, 300-litre boot that easily swallows four good-size squishy cases. Functionality is boosted by the 60:40 split/fold rear seatbacks that create a two level (if not absolutely flat) load bay floor when folded down. There's also a load-through hatch incorporated into the larger rear seatback section. A run-flat spare wheel lives under the boot floor.

The S comes well kitted-out, with dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, hill-hold, power steering, trip computer, electrically-adjustable, heated and folding (automatically on locking the car) door mirrors, rear parking sensors, decent sound system with large easy-to-use control buttons (remote audio controls are also mounted on the steering wheel), one-touch power windows, driver, passenger, front side, window and driver's knee airbags, electronic start/stop button, front armrest with temperature-controlled storage compartment and classy Frau leather interior.

We drove the V6 3.2 JTS version but you can also buy the S special edition powered by Alfa's 185bhp 2.2 JTS engine — both models are priced very competitively: £24,950 and £28,450 respectively. With its aggressive, hunkered-down stance emphasised by the lower ride height and bold, black 19-inch alloys, the head-turning SV6 really does look the business. And while still being a competent Grand Tourer for extended motorway journeys — on both sides of the Channel — it is a measurably more-focussed driving machine for UK roads. And, for that alone, driving enthusiasts will be grateful. — MotorBar

Alfa Romeo Brera S 3.2 JTS V6
| £28,450
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 7 seconds | Overall test MPG: 22mpg
Power: 260bhp | Torque: 238lb ft | CO2 260g/km | Insurance group 18