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BMW Alpina B4


Audi TT

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 TT

When the Audi TT first arrived in 1998 it looked cute… seriously cute, like a car-version-of-a-koala cute. Then over the next couple of decades it grew out of that cuteness into something more menacing looking and the RS versions were well, Google 'drop bear' and you're pretty much on the money.

Now the new TT RS is here looking more grown up and angrier than ever, but does it have the mechanical mumbo to match the aggro appearance? Does it have back seats? Or even a boot? Could you drive one every day without buying your chiropractor a new Porsche? Actually, why wouldn't you just by a Porsche yourself, I mean a 718 Cayman S costs about the same?

Read on to find out.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency8.4L/100km
Seating4 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 TT7/10

The Audi TT RS is iconic for its design and should be heaped with praise for its dynamic ability, it's also more practical than many of its rivals offering back seats and a good-sized boot for the class. But despite this latest update the TT RS has fallen behind in advanced safety technology and cabin equipment such as the lack of a media screen.

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 TT8/10

Let's start with the looks, seeing as I went on about them so much in the introduction.

This update has seen changes in all the places you'd expect a facelift to cover. There's a new front-end design with a new mesh grille, even larger supercar-like air intakes, a redesigned front splitter and sleeker headlights.

There are also new side skirts, while the rear of the car has more contoured styling and a beefier diffuser.

The tough styling is part of what sets an RS model apart from its more domesticated siblings in the range. There are also the wheels - regular TTs come standard with 18- or 19-inch alloys, the TT RS has 20-inch rims with red RS brake calipers. If you're still uncertain if you're looking at a TT RS then you can be sure you are if it has a fixed rear wing.

Then there's RS engineering which we'll get to in the engine and driving sections. But let's dive into the cabin which has also been updated with a new RS steering wheel, there's the leather RS seats, with the door and console trimmed in leather and aluminum with carbon twill inlays.

The lack of a central media screen means all media, phone and nav menus and displays can only be viewed on the digital instrument cluster. Audi calls this a driver-focused cockpit, I call it marketing spin. I mean a Porsche 911 has a central media screen and you don't get much more of a driver-focused car than that.

I do like the air vents which have the climate control modes within them. I also like that there are back seats – but more on the practicality later.

The TT RS looks bigger in photos than it really is. End-to-end it's only 4191mm long and just 1344mm tall but at 1832mm 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 TT7/10

The TT RS is a four-seater coupe with a hatch tailgate.

I'm 191cm (6'3") tall and there is no way I can sit behind my driving position, but my size is irrelevant here - there's almost zero legroom back there and not even small children are going to have enough space.

Yes, the TT RS isn't a family car, but at CarsGuide we rate all cars for practicality and spaciousness as well as what they're like to drive. That said the TT RS is more practical and spacious than a Porsche Cayman and the BMW Z4 which don't have rear seats at all.

The cargo capacity of the TT RS's boot is 305 litres, which isn't bad at all.

Cabin storage isn't good. The door pockets are small, the centre console bin is only big enough for a wallet but the hidey hole under the dash is useful.

That hidey hole also has a 12V outlet, a USB port and a wireless charger.

This is an obvious point, but the TT RS is low to the ground. The good news is the doors are large and the bubble-like roofline means I never hit my head on the A-pillar as I have with many sports cars.

That roofline also means headroom is good for the driver and co-pilot, although, again, your friends in the rear seat are going to have another reason not to invite you over any more.

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 TT7/10

The TT RS lists for $134,900. While that makes it the most expensive TT, when it comes to horsepower, bang for your buck is excellent compared to Porsche's 718 Cayman S which lists for $140,590 and has 257kW.

The 718 Cayman GTS matches the TT RS's 294kW but costs $172K. That said, the BMW Z4 has 285kW and lists for $127,900 and while Mercedes-AMG doesn't really have a TT RS rival it does have the A45 S with 310kW and a list price of $93,600. Also, in that price range is the Z4's Toyota twin – the Supra with 250kW for $94,536. Don't scoff – it's a superb driver's car.

Let's get back to the TT RS. What comes standard? Features include 20-inch seven-spoke 'matt titanium-look' alloy wheels with red RS brake calipers, RS sport suspension with magnetically adjustable dampers, there's the RS sports exhaust system, privacy glass, leather upholstery, a Bang & Olufsen 12-speaker sound system, wireless charging and 12.3-inch instrument cluster.

The standard RS seats are Nappa leather, the front ones are heated and power adjustable, there's the leather RS steering wheel, proximity key, front and rear parking sensors, Matrix LED headlights and dual-zone climate control.

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 TT9/10

The 2.5-litre five-cylinder turbo-petrol engine in the TT RS is one of my favoruite Audi powerplants and calls the RS 3 and RS Q3 home, too. It's loud, energetic and churns out a whopping 294kW of power and 480Nm of torque. That's enough to get the TT RS from 0-100km/h in 3.7 seconds.

Is the engine in the front or the back? Not such a silly question when you look at the design of the car and you're new to TTs, but the engine is in the front.

Audi's 'S tronic' seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission shifts fast sending the drive to all four wheels.

It's not the most powerful engine in the RS model line-up, but I can tell you having driven the TT RS back-to-back with Audi's R8 super car it's one of the most fun powerplants.

You can mash the accelerator pedal on a straight bit of road and not fear that the TT RS will snap and bite you – it's not too much power in that it's controllable with superb all-wheel drive traction.

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 TT7/10

Audi officially says the TT RS should use 8.0L/100km after a combination of open and urban roads. We'll be able to test that once we have the TT RS in our garage, but either way, that's on the thirsty side.

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 TT8/10

Well you already know I love that five-cylinder engine – seriously you could put it in a loaf of bread, and it'd probably be awesome to drive.

Yes, sure the front end in the TT RS felt a bit heavier than I remembered and the nose didn't have that light pick-up-and-point feeling many sports cars have, but on the hill climb section of the test route especially, this coupe was seriously adept through the switchbacks.

Our convoy of test cars included everything from the Audi R8 and new RS Q3 to the RS 7 and RS 6 Avant motherships. And while nothing nails a great road like the R8, the TT RS was eating up the twists while the RS 7 and RS 6 freight trains were struggling with the physics of mass, size, and velocity in those tight corners.

The TT RS felt tight, stable, but agile as it scampered and weaved its way up hills. I'd like the steering to have more feel. Still there's enough feedback through the cabin and the seat to give the driver a good connection with the road.

Is it comfortable to drive? No. I found the standard RS seats too snug for me (to be fair I'm not race-car driver petite), and the ride over the typical Aussie course bitumen and pot-holed country roads made the cabin shake and rattle, along with my bones.

The ride comfort though is what you can expect out of a sports car like this and it's another reason why the TT RS is more than just a sporty coupe with red brake calipers. There's the RS sports suspension with magnetic adjustable dampers, the RS sports exhaust system and big brakes – 370mm discs on the front with eight piston calipers and 310mm discs at the rear which slow things down super quickly.

If you are after something less 'hardcore' there's the TT S or consider the RS Q3 small SUV which has the same five-cylinder engine and can do the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.5 seconds, but has softer suspension for a comfier  ride, while being dynamically impressive in the corners. Oh, and you'll have way more room inside, too. Let's talk about that.

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 TT4/10

ANCAP gave the Audi TT a rating of four stars out of a maximum of five when it was tested in 2015. The level of child occupant protection was insufficient for a five-star rating and according to the ANCAP report this was mainly due to the limited space in the rear seat.

There are two ISOFIX points and two top tether anchor mounts for child seats in the second row.

The model featured below is the 2020 Audi TT RS

Compared with most new cars the TT RS has a low level of advanced safety technology – there's no AEB or adaptive cruise control, nor is there rear cross traffic alert, but there is blind spot warning and lane keeping assistance.

The TT RS has electronic stability control and ABS, and emergency brake assist (this isn't AEB). The safety features in that sentence haven't been mentioned in one of my reviews in years, and that's because there's not much else for me to list, apart from airbags which only cover the front passengers.

This lack of safety equipment especially for a car which lists for $135K is the reason why the TT RS has scored poorly in this section.

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 TT6/10

The TT RS 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 with a three-year plan ($2320) or five-year plan ($3420) available.