Alfa Romeo Brera 2.2 JTS SKYVIEW Selespeed Review
La Dolce Brera

Justin Lee
4 Oct 2006
 

The Brera continues Alfa Romeo’s wonderful tradition of building a beautiful GTs, but this time German standards of quality

It must to be handed to the Italians – no one is better at styling a coupé. In a tradition that goes back to the Giulietta from the 50’s, the Brera sets the heart pumping just standing still. From its pointed front with the classic Alfa Romeo shield, to the delicate triangular rear tail lamps, the Brera commands the drama and presence of a Ferrari or Lamborghini, something no German or Japanese coupé can ever hope to achieve.

After the elegant but anodyne GTV by Pininfarina, the Giugiaro-styled Brera once again returns styling of the big Alfa coupé to sharp, laser-cut lines that look like they could pierce solid granite! At the front, six headlamps, set within a classic black grille, flank the Alfa shield and stare unflinchingly forward. The lines that flow back from the front appear squat and hunched, heavy, but perfectly proportioned. At the rear, all the lines converge again, but not without some nice tapering and pinched rear lamps to give the Brera the weight and substance of a gorgeously tight Italian rear end. If looking at the Alfa Romeo GT made you swoon, the Brera will take your breath away. Credit must go to Giugiaro for giving the Brera such fresh and original styling, yet maintaining the familiar Alfa family look. Perhaps the fact that the Giulia Sprint (from the early-60s) and Alfetta GT (from the mid-70s) were also designed by Giugiaro play a large part in the Brera looking unmistakably like an Alfa Romeo.

Slip into to stylish interior, trimmed entirely in red and beige Momo leather on the black test-drive car, and one can’t help feel under dressed unless one is wearing Armani. Close the door, and there is a distinctly German sense of strength and substance. No nasty plastics or inconsistent gaps here and there. Everything is tight and fits well. On the centre console, there is a discreet panel of brushed stainless steel, echoed at the grab handles on each door. Definitely a new standard of fit and finish for an Italian car.

The key-less entry and push button ignition give the Brera a 21st century feel, but the engine note from the 2.2-litre JTS direct injection engine is slightly underwhelming, especially for Alfisti fond of the melodic Twin Spark engine, or listening to the down draught from twin Weber carburetors. Nonetheless, other than engine note, the new JTS engine does deliver. In true Alfa tradition, the Brera does without the aid of a turbo- or super-charger, or an addition of another two cylinders. Instead it gets “Twin Phaser” variable valve timing, a sophisticated mechanism that maintains the opening and closing of the valves for maximum efficiency and performance. At least it doesn’t sound like a diesel engine when idling, not something that can be said of a direct-injection engine from a rival German car maker. One can’t argue with 185bhp and 230Nm output from a naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder engine - the Brera certainly puts out the numbers to face the competition.

The JTS engine is mated to a six-speed gearbox, and even here, there is a new level of precision and tightness in the touch and feel of this box. Changing gears is no longer a vague, rubbery experience, and the rev-happy nature of the engine reminds us once again why Alfa Romeo continues to win fans despite so many new entrants into the market. The option of a slick, quick-shifting Selespeed semi-automatic transmission would suit the Brera very well indeed.

The other traditional aspect of the Brera is its dashboard – the instruments are the deep set with the speedometer and tachometer directly in front, while the auxiliary “olio”, “acqua” and “benzina” gauges are canted towards the driver from the centre console. Once again, to one familiar with Alfa Romeos, everything is where it should be, but re-interpreted in a thoroughly modern manner. The satellite switches for the hi-fi and cruise control on the steering wheel are another welcome 21st century feature, and paddles for the up- and down-shifting of the Selespeed gearbox would fit perfectly behind the chunky leather bound Momo steering.

Certainly the most dramatic aspect of the Brera’s cabin is the Sky window, a sealed glass panel that brightens up the cabin and makes it seem more spacious. On the outside, it appears as if the windscreen extends into the roof, while on the inside, it makes one feel as if the Brera is a futuristic showcar. Even without pulling the sunshade, the tinting seemed to do a good job cutting out the heat penetration. In a way it makes the Brera a closed cabriolet, allowing one to experience the sun and sky, but in aircon comfort.

A distinct departure from the GTV is that the Brera is a hatchback, which makes it a much more versatile proposition. The GTV’s bulky multi-link rear suspension robbed its boot of most of its volume, but the Brera’s 300 litre boot is well-shaped and useful, and as an added bonus, can be doubled in capacity by folding the rear seats.

It is this combination of practicality and glamour that makes the Brera an undeniably attractive proposition. As a sexy and dramatic GT, only cars that cost twice or three times more can match it for presence and head turning ability. Performance-wise, the state-of-the-art JTS direct-injection is impressive, even though it has less character than the less powerful Twin Spark unit it replaces. On the other hand, it is extremely practical – it is a genuine 2+2, and the Sky Roof really helps to create the feeling of spaciousness. In terms of quality, the hand of ex-BMW guru Heinz-Harold Kalbfeld is evident everywhere as the Brera feels better put together than any Alfa Romeo in history. The inclusion of cutting-edge features like keyless entry, push-button ignition and a comprehensive trip computer show that the Italians can be every bit as up-to-date as any German car maker. If anything, the Brera is a little too good, and it lacks the problematic eccentricity that helped to separate the true, hardcore Alfisti from the wannabees and posers. But that, I suppose, is progress. The Brera is definitely more accessible than any previous Alfa Romeo gran turismo.   

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