Most people with any kind of interest in cars will raise an eyebrow at the mention of Alfa Romeo.

Mention that it's a sporty Alfa Romeo, and they will slide forward to the edge of their seat, lean in a bit closer and listen with undivided attention.

A glorious back catalogue has put the Italian firm close to the hearts of enthusiasts, and thanks to some serious investment, the current line-up is looking pretty sharp too.

If you hadn't already noticed, the 8C Competitzione is the best-looking car to roll out of the Milanese gates - possibly ever.

But that piece of supercar wonder is not for everyone. The Brera S however, might well be within reach. The regular Brera, introduced in 2006, wowed everyone with its stunning exterior, and thanks to its 159-based underpinnings, drove well too.

Yet the exterior is so stunning, it's hard not to think that it could be even more sporty to drive.

Enter the Brera S. Alfa is pitching it as the best of Britain and Italy, as engineering specialists at Banbury-based Prodrive are responsible for the host of changes that the Brera S has received inside and out.

Prodrive is used to building World Rally Championship cars as well as honing road vehicles, so its pedigree is impressive.

So are the looks. The Brera was already a tasty looker, but some subtle tweaks have made it even more mouthwatering.

Most of the changes are hard to spot - the new exhaust is finished with D-shaped pipes, mirroring that of the rear lights, while the stone deflectors and discreet badges are only visible close up.

But the 19-inch alloy wheels are achingly gorgeous, modelled on those fitted to the 8C, and they suit the Brera down to the ground. It now looks like a serious sporting machine.

The numbers haven't changed though. You still get a choice of 2.2-litre four-cylinder JTS petrol or the rasping 3.2-litre V6, although the sound has been improved on both by changes to the exhaust.

The former can sprint from 0-62mph in 8.6 seconds and reach 139mph, while the V6 is more than a second quicker and runs beyond 155mph, so there is plenty of performance to suit differing budgets.

The fairy dust hasn't been sprinkled in the engine room. Prodrive engineers turned their attentions to the suspension, honing the car to the unique demands of UK roads and in turn changing both the springs and dampers, both tuned over thousands of development miles.

The geometry of the suspension has also been changed, with the intention of sharpening responses and making the Brera more of a sports car than a GT.

Alfa's confidence in their new baby was illustrated by the test venue: Prodrive's demanding test track is not for the faint hearted, nor is it suitable for a car lacking in poise.

The 2.2-litre version is blessed with the sweetest handling of all. There is a notable increase in firmness, but bumps are still handled with a minimum of fuss.

In fact, the changes mean the Brera now follows the contours of the road much more faithfully, keeping the tyres in touch and feeling much more planted.

Pushing it hard on the test track ably demonstrates the high levels of grip, superior traction and better body control of the Brera S.

The trade-off is a shade less comfort on a normal road, but for anyone considering heading for their Alfa showroom, it's hard not to think that choosing the Brera in its sportiest form is the only way to go.

It's also difficult not to be seduced by the sonorous 3.2-litre V6. Alfa has a long and glorious history of producing delicious V6 engines, and this one is no exception.

Sure, it's thirstier and more expensive to buy and run than the almost sensible 2.2, but it has the soul that you expect from an Alfa.

The exhaust note is a complex wail that grows as the revs rise, while the performance is sparkling: a combination of low-rev urge and high-rev scream.

Although the changes made to create the Brera S have made it more of a specialised machine, in many ways this has actually broadened its appeal.

As well as the more comfortable version, in the shape of the Brera S there is a genuine sporting option, offering the kind of thrills and responses that a keen driver would want.

You also get the pleasure of one of the automotive world's finest pieces of sculpture. It's a win-win situation.

FACT FILE Model: Alfa Romeo Brera S 3.2 JTS Performance: 0-62mph in seven seconds, top speed 155mph Economy: 25.7mpg Co2: 260g/km Price: £28,450