Friday, 18 January 2008

Test Drive - Alfa Brera

Clichés are, for the most part, generally grounded in some sort of fact. That is the very nature of how they come to exist; Germans do monopolise sunbeds, buses often arrive in threes, Japanese tourists usually have got a tiny camcorder in their hand, fat people do order a Diet Coke with their Triple Whopper meal.

Of course, there has to come a time when the laughter stops, when the timeworn stereotype becomes defunct. Welcome to the glorious new dawn of Alfa Romeo. Banish to the darkest fiery corners of Hades the image of the hard shoulder littered with sorrowful, floundering Italian metal. Begone, tales of unpredictable and often downright dangerous electrics. Cast aside your archaic visions of panel-gaps that could happily accommodate a pineapple. These are exciting times. Alfas aren’t just about the engines any more…

The Brera is, I’m sure you’ll agree, a stunningly beautiful machine. More art than merely car, it exudes sex and sensuality in exactly the same manner that a Volkswagen Polo doesn’t. It’s a rare thing to find a car that is genuinely jaw-crashing-to-the-asphalt stunning from all conceivable angles, but this is truly a paid-up member of that exclusive club. One aches, one pines just to be near the thing. Climbing inside her is, well, something entirely other than else. Solar flares ignite the horizon, Persephone weeps for its beauty, Caliban curses the sheer devastating injustice of fate, and all seems gloriously right with the world.

It’s a marvel, plain and simple. Drink it in face-on; the octet of blaring illumination, the glorious, plunging grill harking back to the boat-tail Duettos of the fifties, the utter fuckoffedness of the offset number plate that Alfa stubbornly insist on gluing to the entire range – a saucy metaphor for the company ethos of form/function fusion. The backside is equally striking, an alluring and seductive peach with entirely unnecessary (and thus irresistibly beguiling) quad exhausts and a deliberately impractical tailgate. Who gives a toss about practicality? If you wanted a normal everyday car, you wouldn’t buy one that had miniature and unusable rear seats (which, to be honest are just a sumptuously upholstered shelf for your jacket; you’ll only get your mates in there if they’ve suffered some kind of hideous limb calamity).

Position yourself behind the wheel and it’s more than simply a matter of controlling a machine. You instantly feel an organic part of the whole, that you, the driver, are the element that vivifies the beast; goldenrod pollen to a bumblebee, Captain Morgan to Oliver Reed, liquid Schwartz to Lone Star – enter the cockpit and from thence arises adventure. The dials (deliciously labelled ‘acqua’, ‘olio’ and ‘benzina’) are angled for the driver’s eyes only, the steering-wheel is squat and thick, the SkyView roof offers supreme fishbowl clarity, the speedo starts on the six o’clock and reaches 270° to a tempting 160mph. It won’t get there by any means, but it’s a dashed good wheeze trying. In the centre of the display is an impressively comprehensive trip computer (yes, it all works properly too) which, among its many functions, has a ‘current fuel consumption’ feature. Now, this is a lot of fun. In second gear at 7000rpm you can get it down to 2.5mpg – I prostrate the gauntlet at your feet, reader.

Of course, you can’t see a bloody thing that’s going on behind you. The rear window is small enough, but factor in the bizarrely intrusive parcel-shelf and you find yourself peering through a letterbox. At night you can just about see headlights behind you, but that’s the best you can hope for. Add to this the microscopically diminutive rear side windows and you’ll find that, if you’re of normal height – meaning that your seat caresses the one behind it – you effectively have no view of what might be overtaking you, the mercifully colossal wing mirrors your only salvation. Obviously, there’s but one simple solution to this: stop driving like a dick. It’s a sports car, drive it properly and you won’t have to worry. Lamentably it wasn’t the range-topping 3.2 V6 that I found myself touring southern England in, but the 2.2 JTS. Still, life could be worse. The 2.2 has a spicy 185bhp, clever electronic trickery to maximise torque throughout the rev-range whichever gear you may find yourself in (affording spirited performance to even the most ham-fisted of pilots) and, best of all, the Alfa trademark: the noise. There are insufficient superlatives to describe the glory of a wailing Alfa four. Without a hint of fawning or hyperbole, it’s just fucking awe-inspiring. Gravel-gargling malice with a metallic edge of pure hedonistic evil. Couple this magically compliant, versatile and free-revving engine to one of the best gearboxes your narrator has ever had the fortune to stir – slick-shifting, perfectly-judged ratios, satisfyingly snickety – and you have a paradisically steamy proposition on your hands.

From the act of slipping the wacky keyfob into the dash and thumbing the starter button to the exhaust-ticking end of your journey, it’s really rather hard to find a single thing to complain about. You’ll find that your route has multiplied its mileage by a factor of ten simply by not allowing you to reach your destination without first exploring every yard of the surrounding country lanes. If you have it in your mind to drive a Brera, I urge you with every fibre of my being to buy the thing first. Trust me – giving the keys back is the most crushingly heartbreaking thing you will ever do.

1 comment:

beca said...

Ill let you drive my GT, then you can experience the whole spine tingling, quietly smug satisfaction that i feel every single time i step into my baby once more!
Fortunately i dont have to hand the keys back at the end of the day! : )