BRERA S - ALFA'S BEST YET.
WHEN Alfa launched the Brera coupe a couple of years ago I was one of many who felt frustrated that yet again, one of the most emotionally-charged brands had made a beautiful looking car that made all the right noises but failed to deliver in the most critical area of all - the driving experience.
It was too heavy, too sloppy, the steering was neither especially accurate nor communicative and the lack of fine-tuning magnified the relative inadequacies of pitting a front-wheel drive car against rear-drive rivals such as the Mazda RX-8. True, the Audi TT (bar the quattro version) is also a puller rather than a pusher but the unique chassis Audi makes for it is just brilliant.
Put simply, the Brera was way below par and the negative image was hurting Alfa which aspires to regain the high ground in the sports car sector. Credit where credit is due, the new management at Alfa has recognised this and is taking positive steps to improve matters. Last year it launched the 147 Q2 which is now one of the best handling sports hatchbacks and at the other end of the scale is the sublime 8C supercar which is just plain gorgeous.
Both cars add lustre to the rest of the range but now Alfa has taken another step - a very big one - on its road back to sportscar credibility with the new Brera S.
Developed jointly between Alfa and Prodrive, one of the leading car development consultancy firms, and at the cost of £1 million, just 500 of the `S's will be made - and they are all exclusively for the UK.
Lighter, stiffer in roll, pitch and damping and with revised suspension geometry to improve steering feel, the S is an absolute revelation.
I tested them at Prodrive back-to-back with the standard car and the difference was actually quite shocking. I drove the new car first, a 3.2 V6 (there is a 2.2 as well) and found myself instantly at home behind the wheel.
The Alfa responded to me, it went exactly where I pointed it, it remained stable even over a bump through a very fast flowing bend, and it changed direction instantly through a switchback section of tightening right-left-right flicks.
At last, the Brera has become a sportcar and when I swapped to the standard car, one lap of roly-poly sloppiness was sufficient both to remind me how poor the original one is and to reinforce the respect for what Alfa and Prodrive have done with the S.
But there is more. This is no trackday special because the Brera is a GT and that implies a degree of everyday comfort and practicality, suitable for high speed, long distance journeys. So while the bulk of my driving was on a track exploring its sports credentials, I was increasingly aware and pleasantly surprised that while it certainly cuts the mustard on the track, it is also blessed with a very respectable degree of ride comfort and civility.
Suddenly the Alfa becomes the complete package, a dual-purpose car that gives everything a keen driver looks for yet which is not so stiff from welded-solid suspension that it shakes itself and the occupants to pieces on our appalling roads.
At last, at long last, Alfa Romeo seems to have rediscovered how to make a modern GT and if that takes a bit of input from Prodrive then so be it. If this is the future of Alfa, then bring it on.
Alfa Romeo Brera S
Price from £24,950 (2.2) or £28,450 (3.2)
0 to 62 (including weight of driver and 30 kgs) 8.6 seconds
Top speed 139 mph
Average mpg 31
CO2 218 g/km
0 to 62 7.0 seconds
Top speed 155 mph
Average mpg 26
CO2 260 g/km