Alfa Romeo, Brera S

Alfa Romeo's new Brera S was made with our notorious roads in mind. But there's still some work to be done
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It wasn't that the promise was broken. Let's just say expectations were not quite met. Alfa Romeo's Brera coupé is the production version of a dramatically wedgy concept car by Giorgetto Giugiaro's Italdesign styling studio. Launched two and a half years ago, the Brera you can buy has a shorter wheelbase than the concept car and lacks its V8 engine. But it's a striking object nevertheless.

Gaze upon a Brera and fantasies of the perfect carefree drive flood through your mind. But British roads, with their particular types of hump, bump and disintegration, are not kind to it. They show up a nose-heavy feel, a tendency to heave and wallow and a sad lack of feeling in the steering. Quite why Fiat Group cars' suspension systems have more difficulty with our roads than those of other manufacturers is a mystery, but it's true.

One solution would be to use British roads during a car's development. The next best idea is to make a UK-specific version, which is what we have here. The Alfa Brera S, which costs £28,925, has new suspension settings and new wheels, a transformation wrought by Banbury-based Prodrive.

The Brera, like the 159 saloon and estate car which share the Brera's front half, has always been overweight. So it recently underwent a slimming programme, which included making sheets of structural steel thinner in the middle than around the edges. In the S, lightweight wheels help further, and also look good with their five huge holes and anthracite paint finish.

For the 3.2-litre V6 version tested here, there's an even bigger weight saving. So much for the usual Q4 four-wheel-drive system and all its claimed advantages; it's put in the bin and we're back to front-wheel drive. Can it cope with the engine's 260bhp, or will the power spill untidily to the road with the nose tugging this way and that?

Time to find out. As well as the wheels, the Brera S gains reshaped exhaust pipes which release a deeper, meatier sound, plus lots of soft leather inside including dashboard and door trims. The seats have aluminium plates built into the headrests, proclaiming the Brera S's number in the limited edition of 500 and bearing a neat take on the Anglo-Italian partnership: a Union flag in which the blue is replaced with green.

This is a lovely interior, and despite the sleek coupé looks, the Brera can swallow four people – provided two are compact. But any Brera can do that. What they can't do is move along the road with the composure of this one.

Read the specification sheet and you might be surprised at that assertion. The suspension's springs are half as stiff again as the standard car's, and let the body sit a centimetre lower. So won't we now feel all the bumps instead of flopping over them?

No, and the secret is in the settings chosen for the Bilstein suspension dampers. These are particularly good at allowing the springs to soak up small surface imperfections while keeping big movements under control. The result is firm but comfortable, and the improvement in the feeling of precision and connectedness, helped by subtle changes in suspension geometry, is considerable. And you don't miss the four-wheel drive one bit.

Why can't all Breras be like this? Soon, more of them will be. When all 500 examples of the Brera S, including 2.2-litre versions, are sold, Alfa Romeo will bring in the Brera Ti which will have a factory-built version of the new suspension. A standard front-wheel- drive version of the regular Brera V6 was recently introduced, so with the Ti treatment you'll have a Brera S in all but name and leather acreage.

It's still not as good as it could be, though. It's too heavy despite its visit to the gym, and you feel this in the way the V6 lacks energy at lower speeds, even though it's deliciously smooth. Also, the steering still feels aloof and too light, depriving you of confidence on a wet road because you can't feel how much grip is left.

Brera to Brera S, then, is a big step forward. It's not perfect, nor could it be without a major re-engineering job. But an object of desire? That's a role it fulfils very nicely.

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