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Alfa Romeo Brera V8

 

It's not easy replacing a legend, but that's what the V6 powerplant under the Alfa Romeo Brera's bonnet is trying to do.

The outgoing 3.2-litre V6 has a long and illustrious history. It first appeared as a 2.5 in 1979's Alfa 6. A 60-degree V6 with light alloy heads and block, it was bored to various capacities and fitted to numerous models over the years.

As time passed it gained fuel injection and a string of European Touring Car and Italian rally wins.

The polished chrome inlet manifold arrived in the 164; but the engine achieved its peak in 3.2-litre form in 2001 for the 156 GTA, and in 2002 for the 147 GTA.

This 3.2-litre unit really grabbed your attention thanks not just to its power delivery, but to its gut-grabbing soundtrack, and I donned black armbands at news of its passing.

The fact that its replacement comes from Holden didn't help. Okay, it's only the block, and it's GM's world engine manufactured in Melbourne, Australia, for export worldwide. Okay, the cylinder head, pistons, induction and exhaust are all from Alfa.

But where's the history?

Arguably it's in this car's designer, for Giorgetto Giugiaro was selected as Designer of the Century in 1999. He created the Alfasud, the De Tomaso Mangusta, the Lamborghini Cala and the Lotus Esprit, as well as more prosaic fare like the VW Golf, the Daewoo Matiz and Fiat's Punto and Panda.

The Brera was a concept he penned for Italidesign's stand at the 2002 Geneva Motor Show. A roadgoing concept, it wasn't built for Alfa but to showcase Italdesign's work. It proved a sensation - Alfa just had to build it. After all, such an edgy design must have seemed tailor-made to launch the heresy of a GM-based engine in an Alfa Romeo.

So, what's it like? The Brera itself is a lot sexier in the flesh than photos might indicate. Described as a coupe it's more like a liftback on designer drugs. Alfa took a 159 platform, chopped and changed it and dropped this lower, lighter body on; beefed up the brakes, and put the most powerful Alfa engine ever under that bonnet.

The new 3.2-litre V6 uses Alfa's JTS direct petrol injection system and variable valve timing. Injecting fuel directly into the combustion chamber rather than the intake ports cools the intake air, increasing the engine's efficiency and allowing an increased compression ratio - here to 11.25:1.

The result is 191kW at 6200rpm and 322Nm at 4500 put to the ground via Alfa's Q4 all-wheel drive.

The mechanical system with its Torsen self-locking centre diff sends up to 57 percent of thetorque to the back wheels for a heady rear-drive bias.

Threading through Sydney's gridlocked motorway in light rain I wasn't aware of this, or the 6.8-second 0-100km/h claim. I was aware of the engine's flexibility - with 90 percent of peak torque on tap from 1800 to 6250rpm. I rarely had to stir my way through the six-speed manual gearbox.

The interior may be more highly specced than its 159 donor, with iPod ports and airbags aplenty, not to mention that glass roof, but the evocative design is just as useful, the leather sports seats as comfy. The boot may be hard to access without scraping heavy bags over the lustrous paint of that sloping lip, and the rear seats are token pews at best, but the Brera does a decent job of everyday tasks.

However, as the road opened up I soon realised this engine lacks that certain something. Where once you'd have blipped the throttle at the lights (hell, you'd have blipped it in your driveway) for the pure pleasure of the thing, now it
sounds disappointingly tame unless you're going feral. Nice enough, but nice enough ain't good enough.

Matters barely improved after negotiating the Galston gorge and Wiseman's ferry, when high-speed corners were offered. The engine's deep-throated howl near the limit says "yee-ha" eagerly enough to please most; that touch of rear bias and the traction control's hands-off sporting tune gives this car a handling feel that's delightful. But - not as delightful as I could wish.

For a start, at 1630kg, the Brera is hardly a lightweight, even if it's 50kg lighter than the larger 159. It's fun to drive hard, there's enough feel - but it's not quite the hooligan I'd hoped for. And that engine may sound keen enough at high revs, but it's never the knee-trembler the old engine was.

Worse still, the "old" engine's still available in the sexier GT - at 14 grand less than the 3.2-litre Brera's $96,990. There's a much cheaper 2.2 Brera of course, but do you pay $76,990 for a car this edgy and live with afour-cylinder engine under the bonnet?

Unlikely. You'd buy the $82,990 GT for a head-turning soundtrack that matches the car's lines.

Overall - I love Brera's looks. If you want in-your-face design, a long features list and style aplenty, you'll be happy. But if you want a lightweight sportster with the gut-tingling soundtrack of the old Alfa, you won't.

 

 


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