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BMW Alpina B4


Audi R8

Summary

BMW Alpina B4

If you're looking for a sleek, two-door coupe with a sparkling chassis, rear-wheel drive and a charismatic turbo straight-six, BMW has you covered with about eight choices. That should be that, then. But wait. There's more. 

Since 1965, Alpina - the name of a resurrected a typewriter company - has collaborated closely with BMW to produce distinct, high performance Alpina-badged cars. It actually started with a Weber dual-carburettor unofficial conversion for the BMW 1500 in 1962 and over the years built into a racing operation winning championships and races like the Spa 24 Hours.

Alpina returned to Australian shores in 2017 after a long hiatus with a new range including the BMW 4 Series based B4. Not long after, BMW updated the 4 in what it calls LCI (Lifecycle Impulse), so Alpina followed suit with a price drop, new gear and called it the B4 S.

Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.6L/100km
Seating4 seats

Audi R8

Supercars can sometimes be seen as the divas of the auto world – delicate, over-the-top, not very good with reality. Well that may be the case for some supercars but not Audi's R8. It's affordable by supercar standards, easy to drive and still very, very fast.

Now the updated R8 has arrived, looking fiercer than ever, but remaining one of the smartest supercar buys on the market. But did you know there are two types of R8? Both have very distinct personalities and I lived with them for two days – in the reality of road works and also ideal country roads.

Here's everything you need to know...

Safety rating
Engine Type5.2L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency12L/100km
Seating2 seats

Verdict

BMW Alpina B47.4/10

You could almost call the B4 S the anti-M4. It's still fast and practical but from a completely different perspective. It's much more a grand tourer than the M4 and even with the Akrapovic exhaust (usually a byword for joyous, anti-social racket), subtle.

For some, the price won't matter because the Alpina delivers what they want - M4-like straight line performance without the histrionics or the uncompromising chassis. And there's also a bit of that perverse exclusivity of the styling that you won't get anywhere else.

Is Peter right? Is it the anti-M4? Or just a tarted up 4 with a bit of extra grunt?


Audi R87.8/10

The Audi R8 V10 RWD and V10 Performance Quattro have their own personalities. I'm a big fan of the lower-powered rear-wheel drive car, but the Performance is the ultimate here with better brakes and that 330km/h top speed. Either way the R8 is a true supercar, but one that doesn't have to be driven gingerly as though something may break off.

Design

BMW Alpina B47/10

Alpina has always had a particular aesthetic that could uncharitably be termed as mid-'80s West German - all set square angles and body graphics. Think David Hasselhoff's Berlin Wall look. The company has never really deviated from adding squared-off body bits to the various BMWs it has rebadged under its long-running agreement.

For the B4S, Alpina adds the signature billion-spoke alloy wheels (only a slight exaggeration), a new front splitter complete with Alpina lettering, a weirdly proportioned boot lid lip spoiler and - not even joking - pinstripes. Like I said, mid-'80s West German. You can still recognise the sleek 4 Series Coupe but perhaps the worst of it is the super-sized, wonky-looking ALPINA B4S on the boot.

Inside is rather more restrained apart from the ill-fitting Alpina plaque under the climate control. Again, it's all 4 Series in here, with the lovely Merino leather liberally applied across the cabin. Less lovely is the wood on the door pulls and console but the door cards have an oddly appealing woven leather which looks and feels good.

Sadly the standard 4 Series steering wheel is along for the ride. There's nothing wrong with it - although the Alpina logo does look out of place - but if I were a product planner, I'd beg for the lovelier M wheel.


Audi R89/10

Lamborghini styling can look over the top, McLarens can sometimes appear delicate and fragile, and Ferraris seem to be everywhere, and even for me, begin to blend into one.

The R8, though, looks exactly how an Audi supercar should look – understated, tough and serious. Have you seen that Audi advert with the R8 on a dyno not wearing any pants? That sounds ridiculous but Google it because it sums up what the R8 is – a real car with a raw race car underneath, that's meant to be driven comfortably on the road and hard on a race track and the styling indicates that intent with little in the way of fanfare.

Well, there is that big window at the back which shows off the engine and the 'side blades' that surround the large vents carved into the side of the car to cool the engine.

The latest update has taken the design from the second-gen car which arrived in 2016 and added a new grille, front bumper, door sills and vents in the rear bumper. It's a more angular, sharper, and busier design with more vents and winglets than ever.

The R8 V10 RWD and R8 V10 Performance are close to identical in their styling. You can pick the Performance by its gloss carbon front spoiler, side sills, mirror caps and rear diffuser. The RWD has gloss black elements instead.

Which looks best: the Coupe or Spyder? That's a personal thing, but I reckon race cars need to have a hardtop roof, so it's the coupe for me, please.

Built using the 'Audi Space Frame' which weighs only 200kg, the R8 is 4426mm long and just 1240mm tall, but at 1940mm across it has a wide, planted stance.

Practicality

BMW Alpina B46/10

If you're in the front, you're in luck - it's a comfortable place to be, with plenty of leg and headroom. Down back isn't terrible despite the coupe roofline. The two seats are nicely shaped for maximum comfort and separated by an odd plastic tray. The fold-down armrest has two cupholders.

Front seat passengers score a pair of cupholders (bring the total to four for the car) and the long doors will hold a bottle each.

The boot swallows a reasonable 445 litres, which isn't at all bad.


Audi R87/10

The R8 is a two-seater supercar and practicality isn't high on its 'to do' list with limited cabin storage in the form door pockets almost as small as my jeans pockets, two cupholders hiding under a trapdoor in the centre armrest, a hidey hole in front of the shifter containing a wireless charger and two USB ports and the glove box.

As for the boot – there are two: one in the nose with a 112-litre cargo capacity and another behind the mid-mounted engine with 226 litres.

Room for people, well you and a friend, is excellent. I'm 191cm (6'3") tall with a 2.0m wingspan and found the footwell deep and spacious, while head and shoulder room is also good.

Price and features

BMW Alpina B47/10

If you thought BMW don't mess about when pricing up its cars, you best strap yourself in. The 440i-based B4S starts at a solid $149,900. That's $48,000 more than the 440i and significantly more than an M4 Pure. But there's plenty of gear on offer and some genuine, bespoke Alpina additions.

Standard are 20-inch signature Alpina alloys, 16-speaker harmon kardon-branded stereo with DAB, super-soft Merino leather everywhere, dual-zone climate control, around-view cameras, reversing camera, sat nav, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, heated and electric front seats, head-up display, auto headlights and active LED headlights, LED taillights and electric sunroof.

The stereo and sat nav are run by BMW's iDrive. It's a cracker of a system and almost gets away without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The absence of such simple pleasures at this price point is a bit lame, but here we are.


Audi R89/10

The entry level R8 RWD Coupe lists for $295,000, while the Spyder version is $316,500. The R8 V10 Performance Coupe is $395,000 and the Spyder is $416,500.

It's in my view the best value supercar on the market. The Lamborghini Huracán Evo shares the same 5.2-litre V10, the transmission and the chassis (like Audi it's part of the Volkswagen family) and starts at $460K.

A Ferrari 488 Pista is pushing $600K, but the McLaren 570S is closer in price at $395,000 – although I find the R8 much less stressful and completely different to drive – read about that below.

Let's talk features. Coming standard on the R8 RWD Coupe and Spyder are laser LED headlights (new to the R8 for this update), 20-inch cast aluminum wheels (also new), a full leather interior (new) with heated and power adjustable RS sports seats, 12.3-inch instrument cluster, Bang & Olufsen 13-speaker stereo (new, too), sat nav, digital radio, proximity key and wireless device charging (new).

The R8 V10 Performance Coupe gets all of the features above but swaps the wheels for lighter, milled alloy rims, ditches the steel brakes for ceramic (pricey to replace, though), and adds other mechanical extras over the entry car such as Audi's magnetic dampers, plus a carbon-fibre reinforced polymer front swaybar.

The model featured below is the 2020 Audi R8

What's missing? A central media screen would be good so your passenger can pick the music or follow the sat nav. Audi calls it a 'driver-focused cabin', but the Huracán has a media screen in the centre console.

I think there's a bit of advanced safety equipment missing, too – but that's in the section down further.

Engine & trans

BMW Alpina B49/10

A lot of your extra money turns up under the bonnet. These days the 440i packs BMW's slick B58 turbo straight six and the B4S does likewise. The boys from Buchloe in Bavaria (there are certain to be women there, too, I just liked the alliteration) added a pair of Alpina-spec turbos to generate a whopping 324kW and, more importantly, 660Nm. Alpina says 600Nm (the max torque figure of the brilliant M4 CS) is available from 2000-5000rpm, while the full 660Nm is available from 3000 to 4500rpm.

The M4 Pure has 317kW and 550Nm from the S55 straight-six. Just so you know.

Like the 440i but unlike the M4, the B4S employs the dependably brilliant eight-speed ZF automatic found throughout the BMW range.


Audi R810/10

There are two grades in the Audi R8 range – the entry-point R8 V10 RWD which has rear-wheel drive (RWD), and the R8 V10 Performance Quattro which has all-wheel drive (AWD).

Both obviously have V10 engines, it's a naturally aspirated 5.2-litre petrol unit (so no turbos here), but the RWD makes less power and torque at 397kW and 540Nm, while the Performance produces 449kW and 560Nm.

The V10 is mounted behind the driver's seat but ahead of the rear axle making it mid-engined car. The engine even has its own window and you can see it in there with its face pressed up against the glass.

There are two body styles as well – the Coupe and Spyder (convertible, roadster, just another word for a retractable soft roof). We'll get to the prices in the next section, but let's talk about the more interesting numbers such as top speeds.

The V10 RWD in coupe form can reach 324km/h and the Spyder can hit 322km/h while the V10 Performance Coupe and Spyder are both a smidge quicker at 330km/h.

Those are all go-straight-to-jail speeds in Australia, so if you're tempted to fact check my numbers then do it on a racetrack. Audi holds excellent track days – I've done them and you'll not only get to drive the R8 as fast as you can, the instructors will help you improve your advanced driving skills, too. Do it, it could save your life.

Acceleration from 0-100km/h is rapid – 3.7 seconds and 3.8 seconds for the V10 RWD Coupe and Spyder respectively, while the V10 Performance Coupe and Spyder can nail it in 3.2 seconds and 3.3 seconds.

The V10 engine has a cylinder-on-demand feature which can shut down five of the cylinders while cruising on a motorway, say at 110km/h. It's a fuel-saving system, but keep in mind this V10 loves petrol and lots of it – I've hidden that all the way down the bottom of this review.

Shifting gears in all R8s is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

Fuel consumption

BMW Alpina B47/10

Alpina quotes 7.9L/100km on the combined cycle and we went through the premium unleaded at the rate of 11.7L/100km. I enjoyed myself, so that's not a terrible result.


Audi R87/10

That's like asking how many calories are in this pavlova that I'm about to push into my mouth? Seriously if you're asking then you shouldn't be eating it – or driving the R8.

But just for the record, according to Audi the RWD R8 uses 12.0L/100km in Coupe form and 12.2L/100km in Spyder guise after a combination of urban and open roads, while the AWD R8 of course will use more at 13.4L/100km for both Coupe and Spyder.

Driving

BMW Alpina B49/10

One of the key differences between the B4 and M4 is the ride. While the M4 can crash over bumps and generally be a little hard to live with, the crew in Buchloe have gone after a much more plush ride. And in that they have succeeded because the B4 S is a mighty fine cruiser. Bumps are dismissed with a haughty disdain, even Sport + silliness doesn't completely write-off ride quality.

Very impressive too, is the steering. While still not at Lotus Elise levels of feel (few cars are), the Alpina tweaks connect the your palms to the road with more clarity than what you'll find in the 440i or M4. Where the M4 particularly adds too much weight, the 440i is a bit more circumspect in that regard.

And then we come to the engine. The B58 six is a belter, better even than the N55 that preceded it. It's still a 3.0-litre straight six but is part of BMW's modular engine family that starts with a 1.5-litre triple in the Mini and 1 Series. The Alpina-spec turbos are noisier, the Akrapovic exhaust lighter and also noisier. It doesn't have the all-out crackle and pop of an Audi or Merc (perish the thought), but when you're on it, the B4 means business. The 660Nm of torque, available over a wide rev range, delivers a steel fist wrapped in a velvet glove and bubble wrap - the speed builds rapidly but smoothly. 

The approach to the chassis tune seems to be based on the driving talents of mere mortals on normal roads, which is kind of like the 440i. It's terrific fun to drive hard but it's very forgiving and patient. The great thing about it is that you wouldn't think twice about jumping in it for the long haul, so comfortable and quiet is the cabin. The M4 will leave it for dead on a winding road, but that's perfectly fine.

One irritant is the replacement of the admittedly cheap BMW gearshift paddles with weirdly non-tactile buttons. They're not particularly easy to use and, probably worse for a sporty car, unsatisfying. It's an odd detail with which to go off the reservation. Cheeringly, the eight-speed ZF is its usual perfect self, so you don't have to worry too much about manual mode or go old school and use the shifter.


Audi R89/10

A race circuit is the best place to test the performance of an Audi R8. I've been lucky enough to have done this in the past, but for this update of the R8 the Australian launch was held on public roads and included a convoy of RS models such as the RS 6 Avant, RS 7, RS Q3 and TT RS.

Even then I think I was 'stitched up' because I began the day in the R8 V10 Performance Coupe but spent almost the entirety of my allocated time in roadworks at 40km/h before swapping to an RS Q3.

So, while I can't honesty comment about the dynamics on this updated R8 V10 Performance Coupe I can tell you that having driven every iteration of the R8 since 2012 that it's a weapon, with helicopter-like visibility out of that large front window.

If, like me, you think turbos are 'cheating' (superchargers are fine), then you'll love the linear power delivery of the R8's naturally aspirated V10, and while I love front-engined sportscars, nothing beats a mid-engined car for the feeling of balance and lightness in the nose while having the sound of thousands of explosions going off just behind your back.

Having AWD is not just great for acceleration and perfect traction from Audi's quattro system, I think it's a good safety feature in a supercar, and while only your judgements can stop things going pear shaped, the system will be there to help on slippery roads.

The following day was different. I was in the R8 V10 RWD, the country roads were superb and while it wasn't a racetrack it was enough to get a hint of the capabilities of the RWD R8.

While the R8 V10 RWD feels the same to sit in with the same great view, it feels different to drive than its faster sibling, in a good way. First there's the noticeable power difference – more than 50kW and 20Nm less – but also the lack of AWD makes the front end feel more pointable, and the car feel more like a traditional sportscar that pushes from behind rather than pulling from the front. Less power, but more fun.

The RS cars in our test convoy were all awesome machines, but stepping out of even the RS6 Avant and slipping down into the R8 cockpit was like getting into a UFO – it's so far ahead dynamically of any other Audi that all I could do was laugh like an idiot. Corners which were making an RS 7 really struggle, were handled effortlessly by the R8. And in a straight line it's a bullet in a barrel.

The Performance has the better brakes: 380mm ceramic discs with six piston calipers up front and 356mm discs with four piston calipers at the rear. The RWD has steel discs – 365mm with eight piston calipers up front and 356mm discs with four piston calipers in the rear.

Keep in mind if you are planning on track days, you'll find the ceramic discs costly to replace, and beside the stopping power of the steel ones is excellent.

And yet, on pot holed course bitumen the ride is a lot more comfortable than you might think and having driven the Performance in traffic it's a much nicer place to sit than the claustrophobic cabin of a McLaren 570S. You could honestly use the R8 daily.

Safety

BMW Alpina B48/10

The Alpina ships with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward collision warning, forward AEB, road sign recognition and active cruise control.

There are also two ISOFIX points in the rear. Neither the Alpina nor the 4 Series has an ANCAP safety rating.


Audi R85/10

ANCAP has not tested the Audi R8 so there's no star rating available. What we can tell you is that the R8 has a low level of advanced safety technology – there's no AEB, no adaptive cruise control, no rear cross traffic alert, nor blind spot warning, nor lane keeping assistance. That's the reason why the score is so low here.

The R8 does have electronic stability control and ABS, and active roll over protection, plus six airbags, although the Spyder doesn't have curtain airbags.

Ownership

BMW Alpina B46/10

Alpina offers a two-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty which is a bit behind the times and not in keeping with the price point. Servicing is another matter altogether and you're subject to your dealer's standard charges for servicing.


Audi R86/10

The R8 is covered by Audi's three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty which not only falls behind in duration compared to mainstream brands but also its direct rival Mercedes-Benz which now has five-year, unlimited kilometre coverage.

Service intervals are every 12 months or 15,000km but unlike other Audi models there isn't a three-year or five-year plan available.