Car reviews - Alfa Romeo - Brera - coupe range
Alfa Romeo models
Looks, lovely V6 growl, steady torque delivery, all-wheel drive dynamics
Room for improvement
Cramped rear seat
1 Aug 2006
By CHRIS HARRIS
IT’S a moment of suspended belief. Surely – surely - this can’t be the same engine we are starting to become familiar with in Holden’s Commodore.
Where’s the almost complete lack of character that personifies the Alloytec V6 that didn’t quite live up to the pumped-up expectations when it was installed into the VZ Commodore a couple years ago? Where’s the torque curve so linear it’s almost impossible to pick a peak surge, and where’s the stifled out of existence engine note?
To be honest, it’s difficult to say.
Certainly the 3.2-litre version of the same basic engine that appears in Alfa Romeo’s glamorous new Brera coupe doesn’t show any apparent sharing of DNA with the Holden.
What can be achieved with all-new cylinder heads, direct fuel injection and different engine management systems is, in a word, remarkable.
The smaller-bore, same-stroke version of the Holden-built V6 growls like an Alfa should, and delivers useful torque way down in the rpm range even if the maximum doesn’t come in until 4500rpm. Alfa says its engine is producing 90 per cent of its peak torque by the time it is spinning at 1800rpm.
It’s not just the sound, or the bottom-end grunt either. The Brera V6 is redlined at 6700rpm and doesn’t mind going there, unless it’s in first gear where the revs are electronically limited to about 6200rpm.
In the new, V6 version of the Brera coupe, which gains what it loses in weight over comparable, longer-wheelbase 159 models via its all-wheel drive, this is enough to reach 100km/h in 6.8 seconds and run out to a speed limited maximum of 240km/h.
On a varied test drive at the Brera’s launch through the winding and often poorly surfaced roads north of Wiseman’s Ferry and into NSW’s Hunter Valley, the new Alfa V6 showed that its chunky good looks and 4WD chassis combine with the ready power to create a very quick, agile sports coupe with better inherent balance than its larger sedan brethren.
The 191kW V6 announces itself with a barking grumble from the moment it is fired up, and does not disappoint when given a bootful.
The torque is strong enough that the tightly-packed coupe will walk away with ease from 1500rpm in any gear. No driveline snatch, no deep hole as the torque builds up, just a steady, smooth pulse from the dual exhausts accompanied by a steady push in the back.
The feelings of solid strength are backed up by the Alfa’s on-road abilities too. The Brera steers with a certain surety, quick and nicely weighted for the driver and seemingly less upset by mid-corner bumps than its front-drive 159 four-cylinder equivalents.
And, with the full-time all-wheel drive delivering the higher portion of power to the back wheels, there’s a nice all-weather certainty about the car too.
The six-speed manual gearbox that is the only transmission available in Brera at the moment blends beautifully into the overall driving experience with relatively short throws, near-perfect weighting and admirable precision.
The Brera is a car that engenders confidence and tends to have average speeds creeping up on you because it does it all so smoothly and easily. Lucky there’s the omnipresent bass note of the engine to remind you how quickly you are going.
At 100km/h the Brera is loafing along at 2200rpm in sixth gear, but it says something about the lively, smooth nature of the engine that, if you’re not paying attention, it will cruise the freeway with a happy growl in fifth gear too.
For a strong-performing sports coupe, the Brera V6 rides comfortably, with enough suspension compliance to iron out sharper bumps and enough travel to prevent the rear-end thumping you get in some more focussed competitors. The Alfa feels strictly controlled, not harsh.
One is presented, in the Brera V6, with a very Alfa cockpit featuring deeply recessed gauges (a little difficult to read in daylight) and enough leather to keep you happy about your $90 grand-plus investment.
Like the Alfa GT, the Brera is a hatchback too, but nowhere near as commodious.
A high rear sill and a tighter hatch area mean a little more juggling is required to load bulky items. And the cramped back seat relegates it to two plus two status.
The Brera is seen as a competitor for the likes of Audi’s TT, which has a replacement coming its way, and the new BMW 3 series coupe.
It offers Italian charm, assured roadholding and handling backed up by the security of all-wheel drive, all underwritten by a return to that lively V6 growl Alfa is so adept at producing.
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