Alfa Romeo Brera - The Verdict

Fast, sexy and fun, Alfa's road-hugging, assertive diesel wins hearts - even if heads are banging against the roof. Melanie Bien tells all....

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Price: £26,400
Engine: 2.4 litre turbodiesel
Performance: 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds, 41.5mpg
CO2: 179g/km
Worth considering: Mazda RX-8, Nissan 350Z, Audi TT

Although Alfa Romeos have a - perhaps now unfair - reputation for unreliability, the Brera could be forgiven even if it were prone to breaking down from time to time. This Italian coupé is stunning, with a dynamic road presence that sets it apart from other cars in its class, and a choice of great engines that make driving any version a treat.

The three-lamp headlight clusters give an assertive, mean appearance. From the side, the smooth lines make a sexy, memorable profile. The full-length, laminated and tinted glass roof is impressive, giving the cabin an airy feel, although how much better it would have been had it opened. Stability is the reason,but it remains a real shame.

Four chrome exhausts contribute to an impressive, muscular rear, while the satisfyingly wide tyres ensure it sits snug on the road.

But it isn't just in the looks department where the Brera's designers have been generous: the engines and drive quality don't disappoint. Petrol engines come in a 2.2-litre 185bhp four-cylinder unit or 3.2-litre 260bhp V6 petrol guise, while there is a 2.4-litre 20v 200 bhp Multijet diesel, which our panel tested.

The diesel was quiet and smooth, surprising us with its quality and range. The six-speed gearbox is easy to get to grips with, although it was felt that the sixth gear was rather superfluous.

It is fun on corners but while the steering was mostly precise, it tended to drift at times, with feedback muted. The ride is comfortable despite the sportiness of the car.

The Brera doesn't come cheap. Prices range from £22,800 for the entry-level version to £27,500. But as well as an impressive engine, you get impressive build quality. There are no rattles or squeaks, with a good standard spec, including "follow me home" headlamps, alloy wheels and trip computer.

Despite its road presence, it doesn't feel like a big car once you are inside, particularly if you are in the back. One wonders why they bothered with the cramped little back seats - if you want a vaguely comfortable seating position in the front you sacrifice all legroom in the back.

It's a bit tight in the front as well, particularly if you are tall. Legroom is unimpressive, while the panoramic roof gives a whole new meaning to hitting the glass ceiling as your head is likely to brush against it, which happened to all of the readers on our Verdict panel.

Yet the Brera is a sexy, fun car to drive. And the convertible, out later this year, may solve the lack of headroom problem for taller drivers, with the advantage of looking even sexier - if that's possible.

Dave Bradley, 58, Broadcaster from Malvern

USUAL CAR: PEUGEOT 106

It's not built for a tall driver with a fuller figure; the seat feels narrow and my head is brushing against the roof. But it is nice and easy to drive and would be perfect for nipping down to Devon for the weekend. I like the powerful engine; it picks up well, is extremely smooth and holds beautifully on corners. I would lose my licence if I had one, as it would be very difficult to stick to speed limits. I hadn't noticed it was a diesel, as it is lovely and quiet. It is a lottery winner's car really, more a luxury than practical. It is not my sort of car because I couldn't put garden stuff in the boot. It's a dream to drive after my 106, but I would imagine someone younger driving it.

John Cable, 55, Retired from east London

USUAL CAR: RENAULT MEGANE SCENIC

It is a two seater. I don't know why they bother with token seats in the back. Nobody but a small child could sit there comfortably. The boot is a fair size but they should have cut back on it and moved the back seats further back. The car looks good, smells great and the colour is brilliant. I can't fault it for looks. The interior layout is well thought out and little touches like the blind on the panoramic roof make all the difference. If I had the money, I would buy one if it wasn't for the seating position. Even when it is as low as it can go, my head is touching the roof. Visibility is the other issue; it is very hard to see out of the rear window.

Robert McFarland, 43, Finance director from north London

USUAL CARS: AUDI A4 TURBODIESEL, PORSCHE 911

I have had enough of the Audi and am thinking of buying one of these, so I was glad to be giving it a try. I initially wanted to buy the petrol version but the refinement of the diesel surprised me. The clutch is smooth, while the acceleration is good for a diesel, as well as being nice and quiet. It has a positive gear change. I like the shape - Alfa has got the styling right. It feels like an expensive car, with an impressive finish inside and out, but is good value for money. I could do with a bit more headroom, but the driving position is good. Other gripes are that it is hard to park with thick pillars at front and back, and I am disappointed that you can't open the roof.

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