At the close of his original review (evo 92), Henry Catchpole suggested that the V6 Q4 might fare better. As a Brera virgin, I have no preconceptions, but I do have expectations. Visually, it’s not quite as sleek and cohesive as I hoped. The hawkish front end looks superb, especially in the mirror, and the rear is similarly distinctive, yet the middle looks a bit dumpy, as if the wheelbase is a few inches too short, an effect not helped by the optional alloys which make the tyres appear rather plump.
Peering in through a side window, the cockpit looks classically sporting, with pleated leather seats and two-tone colours – here powder blue and terracotta – that give it the ambience of a convertible. It can feel quite like one, too, when you wind back the blind on the full-length glass roof. I confess that my heart sank a little when I spotted that it was a ‘Qtronic’ automatic model (which costs a further £1450) and that the steering wheel paddle-shift option wasn’t specified even though it’s just £100.
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A fully adjustable steering wheel and (optional) electrically adjustable seats offer just enough tailoring opportunities for those of average build. However, the driving position is a fraction high and the seat could be a little more supportive, so you feel a little uncomfortable, like you do when you put someone else’s shoes on. It’s a sensation that fades as the miles build.
The 3.2-litre V6 sounds very Alfa, with a lovely creamy growl at idle and into the mid-range. There’s decent low-down urge, yet it has a laid-back feel, and the auto ’box doesn’t exactly crack the whip, being very ‘old tech’ in feel, with lazy and slightly jerky upshifts and equally well telegraphed downshifts on coastdown. Combine this with a feeling of mass, a ride that’s firm and busy at a detail level and steering that is quick but lacks feedback, and it’s hard to tell whether the Brera wants to be sporting or cosseting. The last few miles to the meeting point offer the most interesting roads of the journey. Slip the gearlever across into the shorter ‘+/-’ gate and you have more control over the engine, and while the steering still feels numb, there’s surprising crispness and plenty of bite when you point the Brera keenly into a turn. The sense of inertia starts to drop away a little and as you power out of corners, you discover that the Brera shifts its balance and holds its line precisely while the four-wheel drive keeps all the V6’s urge hooked up to the road. I’m beginning to warm to it.
Brera at MillbrookThe Alfa's the heaviest of the bunch but it stll manages 7.2 and 19.1 for the benchmarks – respectable considering that it’s an auto and one that doesn’t feel particularly enthusiastic at that, although our 0-60 time is a few tenths slower than Alfa’s claim.
None of us expects the Alfa to gatecrash the top of the table, and it doesn’t, but it does reveal a hitherto undiscovered agility that the lazy-sounding V6, slow-witted gearbox and feel-free steering would never encourage you to discover. Tacking quickly into the left-right-left at the first chicane, the immediate response and whip-crack direction-change actually cause me to laugh out loud. A time of 1:35.9 only hints at its potential.
|Bore x stroke||89 x 85.6mm|
|Cylinder block||Aluminium alloy|
|Cylinder head||Aluminium alloy, dohc per bank, 4v per cyl, variable valve timing|
|Fuel and ignition||Electronic engine management, multipoint fuel injection|
|Max power||256bhp @ 6300rpm|
|Max torque||237lb ft @ 4500rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed Qtronic automatic (six-speed manual standard), four-wheel drive, ASR|
|Front suspension||Double wishbones, coil springs, dampers, anti-roll bar|
|Rear suspension||Multi-link, coil springs, dampers|
|Steering||Rack and pinion, power-assisted|
|Brakes||Vented discs, 330mm front, 292mm rear, ABS, EBD|
|Wheels||7.5 x 17in front and rear, aluminium alloy|
|Tyres||225/50 R17 front and rear, Pirelli P-Zero|
|Price as tested||£33,950|
|Extras fitted include||Qtronic automatic gearbox, electrically adjustable seats, metallic paint, satnav, CD player|