I don’t know much, but I know Alfa magic when I drive it. Professionally it mattered because I didn’t want to write yet another ‘nearly but not quite’ Alfa tale any more than you want to read one.
And until half an hour before I stepped out of the car for good, I did not know which way it would go.
Indeed, confusion had broken out from the start. What was this car? The name, price and bold Giugiaro styling said this was a new breed of Alfa Romeo sports car, a successor to the original GT Juniors and GTVs and perhaps even the legendary GTA.
Talk to Alfa staff from head honcho Karl-Heinz Kalbfell downwards and these are the terms in which they reply. But, at another level, is this not just a coupé version of the new 159 saloon, complete with a clipped wheelbase and a fresh set of clothes?
And if so, what the hell is Alfa doing suggesting that even the cheapest, 2.2 four cylinder version will cost £25,000 when sales begin next spring? And while we’re on the subject, does Alfa not already have a two-plus-two coupé called the GT on its books?
Flummoxed, I put all this to Kalbfell before I drove the car. Kalbfell is a racer through and through, a gifted engineer whose influence has touched cars all the way from the Mini to the McLaren F1. "All I can say is go and drive," he said. "Then you will see." So I did.
But first I looked. The front is a masterpiece, combining beauty, presence and real menace, and while the shortened wheelbase seems to accentuate the overhangs and the heaviness of the tail the whole car has a rare cohesion to it: in short, it looks like a 21st-century Alfa sports car should. First test passed.
And it doesn’t stop there. Hook your fingers under the deeply scalloped handle recess, pull open the long door and the interior is so inviting it almost gets out to greet you. Architecturally it is very similar to the 159 cabin, but in terms of quality, at least compared to the shoddily constructed 159s I drove at its launch in the summer, it’s a massive leap forward.
Kalbfell says one of his former colleagues at BMW is now in charge of quality at Alfa and that his presence is already starting to take effect; on this evidence I’d say he was right.
There’s a real sense of occasion here, everywhere from the aluminium used for the centre console, the waist rail, the grab handles and the steering wheel spokes to the way the minor instruments are canted towards the driver, just as they were in so many Alfas of old.
There’s even an oil temperature gauge. If you could drop the seat another inch, the driving position would be perfect and I especially like the way that even a tall driver like me can pull the thick-rimmed leather wheel tight into my chest.
We’re in the 2.2-litre Brera as not only will it account for 60 per cent of UK sales, but the 200bhp diesel car (priced at around £27,500) is not available for testing, while the 260bhp 3.2, four-wheel-drive Brera Q4 is oddly restricted to track use only.
We drove carefully at first on roads made lethal by fallen leaves, harvest-time debris and thick, wet mist. How far Alfa Romeo has come in the past decade. I can remember wanting to commit an act of physical violence on the first 155 I drove, not to mention the sickening disappointments that were the early versions of the 145 and 146.