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Click to view picture gallery“Alfa Romeo’s new
  sports coupé is
  enough to turn the
  head of a saint.
  And that’s just its
  gorgeous body. With
  a saucy red-headed
  260bhp 3.2-litre V6
  under the bonnet and
  four-wheel drive, who
  could resist?”


WITH SOME CAR REVIEWS it's difficult to know just where to begin. In the case of Alfa's dazzling-looking new flagship, the V6 Brera, there's no question. It has to be at the back. The V6 Brera is undeniably slinky. And that's just when it's standing still. On the move, particularly if it's just stormed past you, it's as alluring as one of those sexy Wonderbra billboards. Be patient ladies, and cut us some slack as we drool over the Brera's tail. Remember, men are from Mars. The way it squats down tight on the tarmac emphasises its wide, let's-get-down-to-business track.

But you'd have to be from another planet — not just a dyed-in-the-wool Alfa fan — if you didn't appreciate the Brera's ultra-cool coupé looks. Check out the front — the rakish bonnet focuses your eye on the barred Alfa shield grille flanked by low-set, aggressive 'look at me' three-lamp eyes.

Fire up the V6 and you'll want to drop the driver's glass — it's an auto one-shot — and enjoy the hard, thrumming bass voice at tickover. You'll know you're in for some serious motoring even before you blip the throttle. But when you do, the soundtrack will be even better: a tune-fully sharp V6 song that gets better the harder you push it.

For too long now Alfa has been lost in the wilderness. Sales down; the cars inconsistent. But, judged on the Brera's sexy looks alone, you have to agree that Bravo! Things are starting to look up. At the risk
of dwelling on the Brera's looks, you'll have to agree that it has sub-stantial road presence. One colleague whose heart has long been set on a Boxster went for a spin in the Brera and now has a new goal in
his life: To own the Hot Totty from Turin.

The heart of his new love is a 3.2-litre direct injection, quad-cam 24-valve V6 developing 260bhp at 6,300rpm and 237lb ft of torque at 4,500rpm. If your head rules and you want to save money both buying and running your Brera you could, of course, choose either the 185bhp 2.2-litre petrol engine or the 200bhp 2.4-litre five-cylinder diesel. But then you wouldn't get Alfa's Q4 four-wheel drive set-up as that's only available on the V6. Lesser Breras are front-wheel drive.

Power is transmitted through a six-speed manual 'box, which can take the V6 Brera all the way to 149mph while posting an en route 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds.

Tipping the scales at 1,630kgs does the Brera no favours, especially as peak torque does not arrive until 4,500rpm. Alfa Romeo's most powerful engine, the V6 is a willing revver and lively enough under 3,000rpm — at which point it's really beginning to get into its stride Providing, that is, you make good use of the six forward ratios. No problemo. First gear, you need to know, is very short and gets you to second in record time. Fortunately second gear is flexible enough for rocket-ship acceleration.

Where the Brera's kerb weight makes its presence most felt is at the pumps — witness the official urban consumption figure of 16.7mpg. The good news is that touring routes should see that almost double, to 33.6mpg, while our hard-driven test average of 21.6 was close enough to Alfa's official combined figure of 24.6mpg to be representative.

In normal driving the Q4 set-up lays the emphasis on rear-drive, with 57 per cent of the power shunted to the rear wheels. However, when appropriate, this can change to as much as 78 per cent to the rear or 72 per cent to the front. Clearly Alfa intends Brera pilots to enjoy their rear-drive thrills safely tempered by front-wheel drive predictability.

Corners have traditionally been the playground of sporting Alfas. With four-wheel drive, hefty torque and a sporty suspension set-up com-prising double wishbones up front and a multi-link axle bringing up the rear, the Brera appears to be well-equipped for some fun on the twisty bits as well as down the straights. Sure enough, the Brera behaves as you'd expect, its all-wheel drive chassis exhibiting the expected under-steer at full chat yet always happy to tighten its line when you back off the revs.

In the wet — a sure thing here in the UK, however hot our Indian summers might get — you'll still be able to drive the Brera hard through rain and hail, confident that the Q4 system will dole out the power
to the right axles to keep the nose honest without upsetting things by kicking out the tail. And just to be doubly-sure, there's a traction-control and a stability system called VDC. You can't switch off the stability system but you can neutralise the traction control function, which resets the VDC to allow a degree more drift. Whatever you do, traction and torque-steer are never an issue.

Punting around traffic-worn urban blacktop, it can feel a tad al dento. But as the Brera's speed rises so the ride settles, subtly transmuting to the pliant quality you'd expect of a 'proper' sports coupé: composed and benign handling well matched to a controlled ride. Given the Brera's overtly sporting credentials, its agile and comfortable ride — even over bumpy surfaces — is an unexpected bonus and one of its key strengths.

The gearlever is closely placed for frequent changes and the shift is direct and meaty, although it respects a positive hand. Steering is well-weighted and directs the Brera's evocative cross-and-serpent liveried nose with enough enthusiasm to make a hard drive along winding roads rewarding. It's also incredibly direct, with a 'best in class' two and a quarter turns lock-to-lock. The tight turning circle is a
boon, both parking and out on the open road. And you can't fault the brakes: ventilated discs all round, with four-pot callipers at the sharp end. There's good 'feel' through the pedal and powerful retardation whenever and wherever you need it. Helping the Brera's act come totally together on the road is an intimate cockpit that feels as though you're part of it — or it's part of you!

Dashboard and instruments are focused towards the driver in the classic Alfa Romeo tradition. A digital display separates the deeply-cowled 160mph speedometer from the rev-counter, and informs the driver of everything he or she needs to know from the average mpg and range to the speed limit warning and external temperature.
The genuine aluminium centre stack — with a deeply recessed trio of secondary dials (olio, acqua and benzina), the tactile starter button, on-board computer and climate control module with large, self-explanatory buttons — is unashamedly angled towards the most important person in the car. The driver. All pure, refreshingly uncontrived Alfa.

Nice touches abound. To mention a few: door mirrors that auto-fold when you lock the car; instrument needles lovingly-finished in polished alloy with red inserts — and the delightfully subtle, woven Alfa Romeo motifs on the integral headrests. Externally, check out the harmony between the long slash of the chromed door handle and the almost identically-shaped silver-white repeater indicator on the front wing.

The Brera's cabin could only be Italian. The words 'classy' and 'brio' roll off the tongue. And there's plenty of kit. As well as the aforementioned brushed aluminium fascia, centre console and trim, you get full leather upholstery with ribbed leather centre sections and firm bolstering, dual-zone automatic climate control system, multi-function controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, a superb full-length panoramic glass roof with powered sunblind, engraved stainless steel kick-plates, folding and heated electric door mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels wearing 225/50 Michelins, tinted glass, one-touch electric front windows, rear parking sensors, a trip computer and a temperature-controlled storage compartment under the centre armrest.

While we pause for breath we must say that the Brera, fortunately, also has some very un-Alfa qualities. Settle into the driver's seat and you'll appreciate what's changed: the driving position should suit almost anyone. You sit low in luxurious leather-trimmed sports seats that are as supportive as they are comfortable. Plenty of steering wheel adjustment for reach and height and 8-way electric seat adjustment helps you find a comfortable driving position quickly and easily. Head and leg room is fine. And the full-length blue-tinted glass roof gives the cabin a wonderful, airy feel. The chic door mirrors not only look good; they also provide excellent rearward visibility. Long, frameless door windows keep the Brera's raked glasshouse aesthetically clean and make for uncluttered views out.

There is a price to pay and, as with all striking-looking 3-door coupés, it's the back seat passengers who cough up. The crafted leather rear seats are inviting to the adult eye but are only really comfortable for pre-teens travelling behind average-sized adults. That said, a friend's fairly tall 17-year-old was not unhappy in the back on a 40-mile trip and got out smiling. Very long doors (4' 6") and powered folding front seat backrests make entry and exit to the rear seats easy enough for those wanting to try it. Most owners will use them as additional storage to complement the decent 300-litre boot. Fold the 60:40 split rear seats and this doubles to an accommodating 610 litres of luggage space. There's also a practical ski-hatch.

Loading the boot gives you an excuse — as if you needed one — to admire again the cleverness of Giorgetto Giugiaro, the Brera's designer. Two narrow, inward pointing four-lamp rear light units and the 'V' of the tailgate's base command your gaze directly to the Alfa badge — which also acts as the tailgate handle. At night, the tail lights glowing blood red and the four rectangular-shaped chromed tailpipes gleaming in reflected light, the hunkered-down Brera looks suitably menacing.

One doesn't like to think about accidents but it's reassuring to know that, should the worst happen, then the Brera, with its seven airbags — including dual-stage front airbags, side and window bags which also protect the rear seats and a driver's knee airbag — is well-equipped to keep you safe. Active safety is covered by ABS with electronic brake force distribution and Brake Assist. There is also Vehicle Dynamic Control for stability control, ASR to prevent the wheels from spinning, MSR which intervenes in the event of abrupt gear shifts in poor road conditions and Hill Holder for easier hill starts. In addition, there's a built-in fire prevention system and the ever-present four-wheel drive.

Kerb appeal will sell many Breras even before a wheel has turned. It's hard to blame them — the Brera is the best-looking Alfa to hit the streets in many a long year and we soon got used to the approbation of strangers. It's also an attractive and highly-distinctive sports coupé in its own right. Adding the Alfa badge understandably cranks up the kudos, but it's fun to drive with verve and feels 'planted' however brutal you are with it. Cruising is refined, unmarred by wind or road noise. And while the V6 doesn't let you forget it's working for you under the bonnet, it never once becomes intrusive. All of which also makes the Brera a rewarding touring car. As we've already said: enough to tempt a saint.

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Alfa Romeo 3.2 JTS V6 Q4 SV
| £29,850
Maximum speed: 149mph | 0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Overall test MPG: 21.6mpg | Power: 260bhp | Torque: 237lb ft

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------------------------------------------------------- Alfa Romeo Brera V6 Q4