Car reviews - Alpina - B4 - S
Exclusivity, classic Alpina touches, strong top-end performance, intuitive automatic transmission, sublime ride and handling balance
Room for improvement
Expensive, needs proper paddle shifters, is it tangibly better than a BMW 440i Coupe?
Alpina expertly mixes exclusivity with performance and luxury in B4 S Coupe
22 Oct 2018
ALPINA Automobiles has a rich history as an automotive brand, whether you’ve heard of it or not. Founded by Burkard Bovensiepen in 1965, the German company has plied its craft developing and selling high-performance versions of BMW models, albeit with an extra touch of luxury.
Fast forward to November 2016 and Alpina Automobiles officially entered the Australian market for the first time with its B3 and B4 models, which are derived from the BMW 3 Series and 4 Series respectively. Another eleven months down the road and sportier S versions of the B3 and B4 touched down, which have since replaced the non-S variants.
To assess how well Alpina Automobiles balances performance with luxury, we put the B4 S Coupe through its paces. But does its close positioning to the BMW M4 Competition Coupe hurt its appeal, or is it a case of a BMW 440i Coupe done better? Read on to find out.
Price and equipment
Priced from $149,900 before on-road costs, the B4 S Coupe is $11,000 cheaper than its non-S predecessor. However, it is still a very expensive proposition when compared to the $101,300 440i Coupe upon which it is based, and then its close positioning to the $156,529 M4 Competition Coupe needs to be considered. So, it’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. Price alone will deter some buyers.
Our test car is finished in exclusive Alpina Blue metallic paintwork, which is an extra-cost option alongside its power-operated glass sunroof, sun protection glazing and adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality. As such, the price as tested is $167,571 driveaway.
Standard equipment includes adaptive LED headlights with dusk-sensing functionality, LED daytime running lights, LED foglights, cornering lights, LED tail-lights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power-folding side mirrors with auto-dimming functionality and high-gloss black exterior trim.
Inside, an 8.8-inch infotainment system, satellite navigation with live traffic, wireless Apple CarPlay support, digital radio, a 16-speaker Harman/Kardon sound system with a 600W amplifier, Bluetooth connectivity, voice control, one USB input, a colour head-up display, dual-zone climate control, power-adjustable front sport seats with heating, lumbar support and driver functionality; an auto-dimming rearview mirror, keyless entry and start, full Merino leather upholstery and an Anthracite roofliner feature.
However, it is Alpina’s series of signature touches that make the B4 S Coupe feel truly special. Specifically, unique front and rear bumpers, side pinstripes, 20-inch Classic alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres (245/30 front, 265/30 rear), 18-inch front brake discs with blue Alpina-branded callipers, a bootlid-mounted duck-tail spoiler and a stainless-steel Akrapovic exhaust system with quad tailpipes elevate the exterior.
Meanwhile, the interior is highlighted by its bespoke production plaque, scuff plates, instrument cluster with multi-information display, Lavalina leather sport steering wheel with blue and green stitching, Alpina roundels on all seats and floor mats, LED ambient lighting and Alpina etching on the passenger-side dashboard trim.
As mentioned, Alpina has built its reputation on taking BMW’s models a step further. A big part of this process is giving their interiors a serious pull-through. Luxury is the name of the game here, and, in this case, the B4 S Coupe is dripping with finesse.
Specifically, our test car’s full Merino leather upholstery is of the Kashmir Beige variety, while its trim is Myrtle Wood. The former adorns nearly every surface, save for the lower door trims that use a soft-touch plastic. It is also contrasted with brown stitching and piping throughout the cabin, while a woven treatment is applied to the door and seat inserts.
Additionally, the sport steering wheel is trimmed with Lavalina leather shared with Rolls-Royce, while its blue and green stitching pays tribute to the signature colours of Alpina. However, it lacks proper paddle shifters, instead making use of small buttons that function in the same way. Still, the tactile feel of the former is sorely missed and, in many ways, takes away from the driving experience.
In case you forget what make your vehicle is, Alpina has kindly applied its roundels to each seat and floor mat, as well as etched it into the passenger-side Myrtle Wood dashboard trim. The blue instrumentation serves as another friendly reminder, while the orange LED ambient lighting – another brand signature – springs into life at night. Make no mistake, this is a 440i Coupe on its very best day.
Speaking of the donor vehicle, its automatic seatbelt extender carries over and proves to be a neat party trick for the uninitiated. As does the 440i Coupe’s brilliant iDrive 6 infotainment system and pretty much every other feature that Alpina hasn’t felt the need to tweak. Rear headroom and legroom behind our 184cm driving position are ample enough for most adults on shorter journeys or children on longer jaunts. Just don’t expect to be too comfortable in the two-seat second row.
Measuring in at 4640mm long, 1825mm wide and 1373mm tall with a 2810mm wheelbase, the B4 S Coupe offers 445L of cargo capacity, but storage space can be expanded when the split-folding second row is stowed. Owners will be pleased to find an Alpina-branded cargo mat when they open the boot. Those wanting an extra touch of luxury can add leather piping to it alongside the floor mats … for an extra cost, of course.
Engine and transmission
The B4 S Coupe is motivated by a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged six-cylinder petrol engine that produces 324kW of power from 5500rpm to 6250rpm and 660Nm of torque from 3000rpm to 4500rpm. This setup is heavily based on the N55 unit used by the discontinued, 240kW/450Nm BMW M135i and M235i. Compared to the preceding B4 Coupe, the B4 S Coupe is 23kW and 60Nm more potent, partly thanks to its Alpina-specific turbochargers and upgraded cooling system.
An eight-speed ZF 8HP70 automatic transmission exclusively sends drive to the rear wheels, while a mechanical limited-slip differential is optional. This unit features a high-output torque converter that is unique to the B4 S, as well as specific tuning. As a result, the 1690kg Coupe can sprint from standstill to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds while on the way to its top speed of 306km/h.
Does it feel quick? You bet it does, but only when you reach peak torque and start barrelling towards maximum power. Below 3000rpm, the B4 S has enough oomph to comfortably tackle the daily commute, but when you want to stretch your legs, higher engine speeds are necessitated. The six-pot spools into action and pins occupants into the backs of their seats, accelerating with a fierce appetite for tarmac.
However, the engine wouldn’t be any good without a willing dancing partner. As such, the transmission’s Automatic mode allows it to do its own thing at a leisurely but smooth pace, while Sport mode adds a sense of urgency with its quicker gear changes, higher shift points and multiple-ratio kick-downs under hard acceleration. Either way, rev-matching occurs on downshifts.
Manual mode puts the driver in full control, either by the aforementioned buttons located on the back of the steering wheel or the gear selector. Unless the Sport Plus driving mode is engaged, it will automatically upshift instead of bouncing off the 7000rpm redline.
No surprises here that Automatic is best suited to everyday driving, but it prefers to keep engine speed barely above idle, meaning spontaneous throttle outputs are met with some trepidation as the transmission quickly decides how many gears to kick down.
Of course, this is not the case in Sport, which tends to hover around 2000rpm when cruising, ensuring a thick wad of Sir Isaac’s best is just around the corner when called upon. Under full throttle, Sport displays its ferocious intent, whipping through the ratios at an alarming pace, although some upshifts can feel a little rough.
The stainless-steel Akrapovic exhaust system is another highlight, with a silencer valve closed in the Comfort driving mode for – you guessed it – comfortable driving. However, bury the throttle and it opens up, delivering a glorious noise. Better yet, flick the B4 S into its Sport driving mode and enjoy full sound at any engine speed … but it could still perform better. Its grand-tourer brief has unfortunately prevented it from becoming too brash. It still sounds better than a 440i, though.
Partly thanks to its well-integrated idle-stop system, the B4 S Coupe’s claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres, while its carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 207 grams per kilometre. During our week with it, we are averaging 12.8L/100km, with the 450km run skewed towards spirited city driving over long highway stints.
Ride and handling
Alpina’s adaptive sport suspension with adjustable dampers, as well as springs and anti-roll bars, underpins the B4 S Coupe, which also features variable sport steering (read speed-sensitive). How it rides and handles depends on its four driving modes – Eco Pro, Comfort, Sport and Sport Plus – which allow the driver to modify steering, suspension and traction-control settings, among others, while on the move.
If Eco Pro is on your mind, then you’ve missed the point here. Needless to say, economic driving has limited appeal in the B4 S Coupe. Plus, if you forked out more than $150,000 for a sportscar-cum-grand-tourer, we suspect fuel bills are the least of your worries. Moving onto Comfort, then.
We normally wouldn’t hold such a driving mode in preference, but it just does everything so well in the B4 S Coupe. Curiously, its steering feedback is better than what Sport and Sport Plus provide, while it also successfully toes the line between being heavy and light in hand.
The latter two driving modes require a little too much effort to turn the wheel, while torque steer is prevalent under hard acceleration, irrespective of the chosen set-up. However, owners should be aware that Sport Plus does disable electronic traction control when engaged.
Ride comfort is sublime in Comfort, with imperfections soaked up, even on unsealed and uneven surfaces. However, the adjustable dampers do noticeably firm up in Sport and Sport Plus, leading to greater exposure to road conditions while handling is almost-imperceptibly improved. Bodyroll is already kept to a minimum, despite the fact that the suspension is running an overall softer tune.
That’s not to say handling isn’t good in the first place, because it is – but it could be even sharper. The B4 S Coupe darts around corners, but it can’t shake its aforementioned weight and dimensions. The front end doesn’t feel tight enough, bordering on the edge of uncharacteristic understeer.
Of course, the B4 S Coupe misses out on its BMW M4 Competition Coupe cousin’s extra width, which improves handling when compared to the 440i Coupe. The positive impact of a firmer setup on handling cannot be denied. Nonetheless, ride and handling balance is superb.
The B4 S Coupe’s 18-inch front brake discs with blue Alpina-branded callipers offer plenty of stopping power and a serious upgrade over the 440i Coupe’s standard setup. Minimum pedal pressure is required in urban driving, while higher speeds are washed away with confidence. As such, the driver is encouraged to push harder, dive into corners later and call upon the brakes when needed. Grip from the mixed set of Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres is also good.
Safety and servicing
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) is yet to assess the Alpina B4 S range or the mechanically related BMW 4 Series line-up.
Advanced driver assist-assist systems in the B4 S Coupe extend to forward collision warning, low-speed autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, high-beam assist, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, side-view cameras and tyre pressure monitoring. As mentioned, our test car is also fitted with extra-cost adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality.
Other safety equipment includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), anti-lock brakes, brake assist, electronic traction and stability control systems, and an alarm system.
The B4 S Coupe comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which includes three years of roadside assistance. Service intervals are every 12 months of 15,000km, whichever comes first.
The key question here is does the B4 S Coupe significantly improve upon the 440i Coupe to justify its near-$50,000 premium? Unfortunately, the answer is no. In fact, we’d rather spend a few grand more and opt for the M4 Competition Coupe.
Truth be told, the B4 S Coupe, like any Alpina model, is a niche offering. That’s not to suggest it is a bad thing, because it’s not. It’s actually really, really good. The performance ante is well and truly upped, while luxury appointments make it feel that little bit more special.
If it were at least $10,000 cheaper, the B4 S Coupe would better challenge the M4 Competition Coupe’s value proposition. Given Alpine Automobiles Australia has already shown its willingness to adjust pricing, this might just happen in the future.
Until then, the B4 S Coupe is likely to be an outlier on the new-vehicle market, albeit one with exclusivity, classic Alpina touches and sublime ride and handling balance. We suspect buyers will be very pleased with their purchase, even if it’s not the most logical option.
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