Exterior styling is stunning
On looks alone Alfa Romeo's Brera should fly out of the showrooms. Continuing the styling trend started by the Italian firm's 159, the extrovert Brera is a fitting car to replace the popular GTV. Looks can be deceiving, though. For all the car's sporting pretensions, it boasts a traditional and surprisingly practical hatchback boot.
When you see Alfa Romeo make cars like the Brera, it's then that you really want the company to succeed. It has come close in recent years with various models, but the these cars have never managed to tick all the boxes all of the time.
The Brera takes many of its design cues from the 159 saloon. The headlights, grille and wide stance are all familiar. However, it's at the rear of the car that things get really interesting. The Brera's wide, curvaceous rump is in complete contrast to the understated rear of the old GTV.
Things are a little more restrained inside the Brera, as it uses much of the 159's cabin. On the whole this is no bad thing as it's a good design, but thanks to the car's sloping roof and the high mounted front seats there's not a lot of headroom available.
At least it's difficult to find fault with the engine range. The two petrol units (2.2 and 3.2 V6 JTS) plus the powerful diesel (2.4 JTDM) work well and possess very different, entertaining characters. Although the flagship V6 variant also gains four-wheel drive, it's clear from the start that the Brera is more of a rapid GT than an all-out sports car. Power delivery is as smooth as the car's ride.
If you expected the Brera to be a snorting, popping and banging sports car to rival the likes of Nissan's 350Z, your disappointment is understandable. However, this is not what the Brera – and Alfa Romeo – is about. Grand styling gestures coupled with high levels of refinement are now the order of the day. Cynics would say this is another 'nearly' car, but the truth is that the Brera is a welcome alternative the hard riding, testosterone-fuelled German opposition.
Opting for a well equipped Brera isn't a cheap exercise. Although you get a lot of standard kit, there more than a few tempting options to help inflate the final asking price. Also bear in mind that the petrol variants will prove thirsty if driven hard, making the diesel model a more cost effective all-rounder. Servicing costs should mirror that of Alfa's 159, though.
In space terms the Brera's cabin is on the modest size. There might be two rear seats present, but getting in and out plus dealing with the distinct lack of legroom is another matter. Cabin headroom is also modest, thanks in part to the car's sloping roof and high mounted front seats. Cabin width is fine though, as is the space available for storing oddments. At the rear, the car's hatch is practical, and will swallow a decent amount of shopping.
Clear main dials and a centre console boasting large, intuitive controls are a good start. Supplementary controls on the steering wheel are a welcome bonus. The car's manual gearshift is a little long but is precise, while the steering is fluid if lacking in feedback. The car's column stalks are less impressive, though. Too many functions are packed onto them – the result is an ergonomic disappointment.
Front seat occupants fare reasonably well in the Brera, the seats are comfortable and supportive. The fabric ones feel more grippy than the leather items – making them a better choice if you're an enthusiastic driver. Headroom is not great though, thanks to a high mounted seat and low roofline. Overall refinement is, however, good as road and engine noise has been expertly suppressed. For anyone who ventures into the rear seats, they will be met by a disappointing amount of legroom.
Given the Brera's substantial kerb appeal, it's good to see a comprehensive alarm and immobiliser system present. Remote central locking is via the key fob, while there is no external release for the rear hatch. A visual deterrent, such as a steering lock, would be a wise but small investment if you want to dissuade the casual thief.
You get all the usual safety features with the Brera, which means airbags and a plethora of electronic stability aids. The good news is that the latter gadgets only make their presence felt if things go badly wrong, ensuring keen drivers can still have some fun.
Despite the Brera's racy looks, the car is no out and out sports car. More a rapid grand tourer, this Alfa boasts a smooth ride and high levels of refinement. It does lack a little feedback – hence the GT comparisons. That said, in its favour is a range of engines not lacking power. The diesel unit in particular offers seamless and effortless performance, making it ideal for rapid cross-country jaunts.
This is not a family car. Period. The boot might be able to hold a few shopping bags but a pushchair would be stretching things a little. There's also the issue of restricted space in the rear – which wouldn't help when attempting to belt in a toddler. If you like the Brera's looks, Alfa's 159 saloon or estate would be a better option.
The Brera is one of those cars that looks good but wouldn't be practical to own. It's not a difficult car to drive, it's just likely to be expensive to run as a first car. It's also not that easy to reverse park, thanks to wide pillars and small glass areas. And it's not a slow car – even in diesel trim – which means novice drivers would be better off with one of Alfa's 147 hatchbacks.
Image-wise Alfa has had its ups and downs. The latter includes sub standard products, while the former includes a recent – and welcome – revitalisation and the launch of the 156 replacement. The company has always been thought of as a racy brand, and the recent additions bear that in their looks and if not always their performance. Quality issues have impacted negatively on the brand, but recent efforts have stemmed most problems.
The Brera's big doors open wide, but the car's low roof means it can be a squeeze to get in if you're tall. On the plus side getting out is a little easier. At the rear the car's hatch opens to reveal a surprisingly spacious boot, although the load lip is high.
The audio unit takes pride of place in the large fascia. It boasts large buttons and an easy to see display. Minor controls are duplicated on the steering wheel for ease of use. Sound quality is good, with the predictable upgrades improving the performance further. Satnav is also an option, and it comes with a clear, generous size display.
It's got to be red if you're considering an exterior colour. Famously linked with the Alfa brand, this hue best shows off the Brera's form. Silver doesn't look as good, while darker options help the car blend in – if that's your thing. Inside the Brera is nearly identical to the 159. Dark plastics prevail, but the bright centre console helps to lift the ambience. Leather seats are recommended, if only because they just look right.
The view out the front is pretty good; you sit higher than expected and the windscreen is big. You can't quite see the nose of the car, but you soon learn to compensate. The view rear is less good, as the rear window is small and the rear pillars are quite thick. At least the steering is light at low speed and rear view mirrors are a good size.
Space saver fitted as standard.
Petrol engines: 2.2 JTS (185bhp); 3.2 V6 JTS (260bhp). Diesel engine: 2.4 JTDM (200bhp). Six-speed manual gearbox fitted across the range. 3.2 V6 comes as standard with Q4 four-wheel drive system. Trim levels: base and SV.