Alfa male Michael Booth on a sports car that's lost its drive

Would suit: People with no BMW nearby
Price: £26,400
Maximum speed: 142mph, 0-60mph in 8.1 seconds
Combined fuel economy: 41.5mpg
Further information: 0800 718000

For as many years as I can remember - and on a rare alcohol-free day, we're talking at least 20 - the motoring press has been heralding the latest Alfa Romeo as the one that will, at last, signal a renaissance for the company. This speaks volumes for the passion and goodwill the brand inspires in car writers, most of whom grew up with ratty old GT Juniors and Alfasuds, as I did, but rather less for their impartiality. The truth is that like David Bowie, Alfa hasn't made anything truly great for about 30 years, since it stopped taking drugs and sleeping with men.

We heard it with the dire 164 luxury saloon, the erratic 156, and the last Spider and GTV, which were subsumed by the Audi TT hype. They all looked terrific, but failed to deliver as far as quality and reliability were concerned. The latest Alfa to herald a supposed turnaround for the company's fortunes is this juicy-looking Brera, styled by the living god of automotive design (and train design, and furniture design, and even pasta design, I seem to remember), Giorgetto Giugiaro.

The Brera is without question a sexy, desirable-looking car, just as an Alfa should be (although I seem to remember that in the early 1990s Zagato made a car called the Hyena, based on the Lancia Integrale, that looked strikingly similar, with the same curved, high waist, pert, stubby rump and long bonnet). To see a Brera is to want one and, I suspect, Alfa has survived for the past 30 years largely because its cars have inspired this none- too-rational response in buyers.

To drive a Brera is, however, is to want a BMW. My concerns about the car began with the iffy orange-peel paint, and when I sat in it I looked up, as if drawn by some deep-seated instinct for finding the worst in a car, to see the most shabby, embarrassing and disgraceful interior component I have ever seen in a motor car: the control panel for the sunroof and reading lights. This appeared to have been made out of used tinfoil hastily painted with Hammerite, which was already beginning to chip off. The rest of the cabin was better, but nothing like as accomplished as a BMW or Audi interior, with cheap brushed aluminium covering the centre console, flimsy stalks and very silly, small rear seats.

I'm being harsh, but only because I think Alfa has got away with flogging so much cack over the last few years - including the GT coupe which they will puzzlingly continue to sell alongside the Brera for a couple of grand less but with the same engines.

On a more positive note, the 159 saloon-based Brera rides and steers fantastically well and, as I've said, it is hypnotically beautiful, at least from some angles. Viewed side-on, the proportions don't quite work and the fat C-pillar makes it look like a van - which, I'm afraid, is something of an indication of how it drives.

The most expensive Brera comes with a V6 and four-wheel drive, and I bet that's great fun, but the diesel I tried was a bit of a power tease: I'd floor the pedal, wait for the turbo to pull itself together, the moment would pass, and then the power would arrive. Other times I would just hit a wall at around 4,500 revs where the diesel ran out of puff. For me, a sports car should be able to deliver all its power, all the time.

Not quite Ziggy Stardust then, more of a Laughing Gnome.

It's a classic: Alfa Romeo Sprint GT

Giorgetto Giugiaro designed the fabulous Alfa Romeo Sprint GT in 1963, and over the years it developed into the GT Junior, 1750 GT and 2000 GTVs.

The Brera owes a great deal to the gentle curves and purposeful stance of those 1960s coupes, several of which I was lucky enough to own in my teens. They cost me around the same as a battered Escort would have, but the insurance was cheaper because they were classic cars, and unlike my friends' Escorts and Fiestas, they had fruity twin-cam engines, the slickest gear change I have ever known, interiors that owed a lot to contemporary Ferraris and, of course, horrendous rust problems.

For me the rust and dodgy electrics were part of their charm and more than compensated for by the unique style and farty exhaust noises. As with all classic cars, these days it is only worth buying a fully restored one - the rest, as I know full well, will only bring misery in the long run.

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