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Alfa Romeo Brera S 2.2 (2008) review

Published:20 May 2008

Alfa Romeo Brera S 2.2 (2008) review
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
With the new Brera S, Alfa Romeo is hoping to tempt proper enthusiast drivers back to the marque. The Brera is a car that has always tempted, but ultimately disappointed. So by turning to Prodrive, just as it did during the successful Tarquini era of touring car racing during the 1990s, Alfa has found a partner with pedigree to rework comprehensively the Brera’s stodgy chassis. Built specifically for the UK, can the Brera S really deliver?

The Alfa Romeo Brera S? Doesn’t sound very traditional to me…


It’s not supposed to. The Brera S isn’t a ‘factory’ performance Alfa; it’s UK specific, developed by motorsport gurus Prodrive especially for British roads. Hence the S – for Speciale, in your best Italian accent – rather than a Cloverleaf or TI badge. Banbury-based Prodrive has an interesting record with this sort of thing. Genius with Subarus hasn’t always transferred well to other manufacturers; the Mazda RX-8 PZ was hard work, the Fiat Stilo Schumacher best forgotten…



What are the biggest changes?

During development of the Brera S, Prodrive’s engineers concentrated first on getting the spring rates right – something they reckon is seriously under-valued in many modern motors – then tuned the dampers to match. Tweaks to the geometry, ride height (the Brera S is 10mm lower than standard) – not to mention binning the Q4 four-wheel drive system on the V6 version – all help deliver a more focused package.

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All sounds a bit after-market to me!

It isn’t. At all. Although Prodrive has added bespoke Eibach springs and Bilstein gas-filled monotube dampers, all the work it’s done has been fully signed off by Italy – complete durability testing included (ahem). The Brera S even has its own stability control settings. Alfa UK and Prodrive have been working on this project for a year. Which seems a lot of effort for a run of only 500 cars. Each one will be numbered – with certificate! – and they are exclusively available in the UK.



Which engines are available?

The Brera S is a properly engineered chassis development of the regular car, already upgraded for 2008 with hollow anti-roll bars and aluminium suspension components. Petrol only, the S is available as 185bhp 2.2 four-pot or 260bhp 3.2 V6. There are no engine enhancements but both versions weigh less. A 35kg reduction for the 2.2 is fine, but 100kg off the V6 (it's missing Q4, don't forget) is far more impressive – resulting in stronger in-gear acceleration.



The Brera S also gets some very tasty 19-inch alloys. Modeled after those on the 8C Competizione supercar, these are 2kg a corner lighter than the regular 17-inch alloys.



Ok, it sounds good – but how does the revised Brera drive?

Starting with the 2.2, it’s immediately apparent that there is a massive improvement in body control. Alfa helpfully had some standard 2.2 Breras on hand, and the S feels like a completely different car. It stays far flatter through every kind of corner, keeps its composure far better over broken surfaces, and while the steering remains a little numb, it is far more consistent. The dead area at the straight-ahead position has all but vanished.

The 2.2 still isn’t a very quick car, however: 0-62mph remains 8.6 seconds, top speed 139mph. And even with a “Holmholtz resonator” attached to the exhaust, it doesn’t sound especially alluring. That’s apparently a tube stuck to the silencer, by the way…



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And the Brera 3.2 V6?

The 3.2 gives you more speed – even if the stock 0-62mph in 7.0sec is still slower than a 2.0-litre turbo TT. But the added weight of the engine really screws up the chassis tuning. In an effort to keep things under control, Prodrive has used different damping, making the car stiffer. Fine on track, but a seriously bumpy ride on a B-road. It understeers with more determination, too. A Q2 limited slip 'diff' (it actually uses electronics to transfer torque to the wheel with more grip) is fitted as standard to both versions, but this won’t help the V6 stay online if you’re over-enthusiastic with the throttle pedal.



Verdict

If you love the looks of the Alfa Brera – and many people do – you can finally just about justify buying one from an enthusiast's perspective. The 2.2 Brera S is a much much better car to drive than its ordinary equivalent. The visual enhancements work well, too, with Prodrive labeled stone deflectors, D-shaped tailpipes, S badges, and those gorgeous 19-inch alloys adding extra charm. The interior’s had a makeover too. We’re not so keen on the 3.2. It may be faster, it may sound better, but it really doesn’t drive as well... Shame.

At £24,950 for the 2.2 (£26,450 if you want the leather dashboard) and £28,450, the Alfa Brera S is decent value at only £1500 more than the regular car. The trouble is, buy one, and you still won’t see which way the accountant in the TT went…

And if you own a Brera already don’t despair – a wheel (yes, those wheels) and suspension package will shortly be available to upgrade your car to S spec. Sadly, it also looks like it’s going to cost around £4000.

Specs

Price when new: £24,950
On sale in the UK: June 2008
Engine: 2198cc 4-cyl 16v petrol, 185bhp @ 6500rpm, 176lb ft @ 4500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, front-wheel drive with Q2 electronic limited slip diff
Performance: 8.6sces 0-62mph, 139mph, 30.7mpg, 218g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1445kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4410/1830/1331

Rivals

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Photo Gallery

  • Alfa Romeo Brera S first drive review: rear three-quarter picture
  • Alfa Romeo Brera S first drive review: front three-quarter picture
  • Alfa Romeo Brera S first drive review: side picture
  • Alfa Romeo Brera S first drive review: front three-quarter picture
  • Alfa Romeo Brera S first drive review: interior picture
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