Alfa Romeo has a record, longer and stronger than most, of offering a coupe alongside a saloon, often with more than one choice at a time. The 105 series Giulia saloon and Sprint coupes, the Alfetta family had the wonderful GTV, there was the Alfasud Sprint, the 146 and 147 were offered in parallel with the 916 series Spider and GTV, related to the more compact 146, and also the Alfa GT related to the larger 156. And there was the gorgeous Alfa Romeo 159 saloon (2004-2011) as the sensible alternative to the Alfa Romeo Brera, perhaps the best looking coupe of this century? Strong claim, and personal preference, but I’ve got a point haven’t I?
The Brera (Alfa Romeo Tipo 939) was offered from 2005 to 2010 and was one of the few tangible results of the slightly intriguing partnership between GM and Fiat. Intriguing, because there was no obvious stronger leader in arrangement, unlike the PSA/GM Europe agreement that superseded it for example. The 159 and Brera were eventually the only production applications of the GM/Fiat beyond the supermini Opel Corsa/Fiat Punto pairing. The original intention was for SAAB, Opel/Vauxhall and Buick models to also use this platform, known as GM/Fiat Premium Platform. One by one, these potential uses were deferred or cancelled, leaving just the 159 and Brera to make it to production, inevitably affecting the economics of the exercise.
Technically, there were no major surprises in this platform. Transverse engine, front or four wheel drive, wishbone front suspension with rack and pinion steering and multi link rear suspension. For the saloon 159, the engine options were from 1.75 4cylinder to 3.2 litre V6 – not the Busso V6 sadly, but an engine derived from a GM high feature V6, used by the Cadillac CTS, STS, some Holdens and some Chinese Buicks amongst others. There were also some diesel options, including 1.9 and 2 litre 4 cylinders and a 2.4 litre 5 cylinder diesel, part of the Fiat JTD family and shared with other Alfa, Fiat and Lancia products.
The Brera, named after the artistic quarter of Milan – you could think of a Citroen Montmartre as a parallel, was originally seen as a Giugiaro concept in 2002, and the reaction was such that Alfa announced plans in produce it. The 159, also styled by Giugiaro, was the obvious base, and the results, though calmer than the concept, can perhaps be best described as stunning, graceful, elegant and distinctive.
For the Brera, the wheelbase of the 159 was cut by 7 inches, to the detriment of rear legroom. Ahead of the windscreen, little was changed, but aside from the visual success, there were some issues.
All the cars were arguably too heavy – the 4 cylinders weighed in at 3500lb/1600kg, the V6 a little more with the four wheel drive (Q4) option. Both versions had too much body roll, the 4 cylinder front wheel drive cars understeered too and suffered from torque steer as well. The V6 cars avoided that at least, but still suffered from being too heavy, and were out performed in a straight line by a 2.2 litre Audi TT.
British rally car specialists Prodrive devised, with Alfa’s agreement, a UK market only version known as the Brera S, with lowered suspension, bespoke Eibach springs and Bilstein gas-filled monotube dampers and some detail visual tweaks. The V6 S did without the four wheel drive hardware as well, but even so the car still got a mixed, even disappointing reception. The V6 was fine on track, but on a public road the stiffer damping did not nothing to help, and there was more torque steer too. The four-cylinder cars were better, with much improved body control at the expense of a slightly stiffer ride.
Against the Audi, the Brera had the advantage of being a four seater, in theory at least. In reality, the rear quarters were very cramped for all but the very small, even if the boot was larger. Visually, the interior was almost as good as the exterior, especially if the correct options were ticked. Leather dashboard option anyone?
Total sales over six years of the Brera were 22,000 and another 12,000 for the Spyder derivative.
Our feature car is a 2006 2.4 litre JTD diesel. A 5 cylinder diesel engine Alfa coupe? May be not the stereotype, but perhaps well suited to the times in the European market. Visually, it certainly stands comparison with its Alfa forebears and out pointed its competitors, but the dynamics held it back.
Alfa Romeo effectively replaced the 159, discontinued in 2011, with the 2016 Giulia saloon, with a reversion to rear wheel drive. The Brera has not been replaced – alongside the Giulia and sharing its platform is not a coupe but the Stelvio SUV – a good car but still an SUV.
So, is the Brera the last Alfa Romeo coupe? Can Alfa Romeo be complete with a coupe? May be time will tell, maybe the times will dictate the answer, but it cannot be denied that if coupe excellence is dependent on the visual impression, then Alfa Romeo (and Giugiaro) scored very highly. Again.