Every time you test a car, there comes a moment when your brain decides to make up its mind.
I’d like to say that in my case this is a meticulously well planned operation, but it’s not. It’s like whisking cream. One minute all your thoughts are swirling around your head, loosely connected, fluid and highly mobile, the next everything is as stiff as a board as you reach your conclusion.
Usually this happens fairly early in the appraisal process. If you’ve read the literature, done the sums and worked out in advance what sort of car it should be, it usually doesn’t take long behind the wheel to figure out whether that’s the car it actually is or not. But not in the curious case of the Alfa Romeo Brera.
The name speaks of beauty with just a hint of distant danger about it – so much better than the acronyms and numbers Alfa uses for its other cars. ‘Brera’ makes a promise and I’m not exaggerating when I say I yearned to find out if Alfa’s most sporting car since the SZ was capable of keeping it.
It mattered personally because Alfas have been part of my life from the succession of ’Suds I was flung around in as a kid to the Giulia saloon and Giulietta coupé I’m lucky enough to race occasionally these days.
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.