BMW Alpina B4 VS Audi TT
BMW Alpina B4
- Ride and handling
- Brilliant engine
- The price
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Some dodgy styling features
- Rorty engine
- Dynamic balance
- It's quick
- No AEB
- Tight in the back
- Pricey paint
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.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
From world rally, sports and touring car success, Audi has motorsport and performance embedded in its DNA. So, no surprise Audi chose Phillip Island for the Australian launch of its TT RS.
Think of Audi and the image of a sleek SUV is the one most likely to pop into your mind. The compact Q3 currently runs neck-and-neck with its A3 sibling as the brand’s top seller in Australia, while the mid-size Q5, and seven seat Q7 SUVs also rack up substantial numbers.
But from the Auto Union ‘Silver Arrows’ of the 1930s, to world rally, sports and touring car success, Audi has motorsport and performance embedded deep in its DNA.
No surprise then, that Audi chose the sensational Phillip Island race circuit for the Australian launch of its much-anticipated TT RS.
Arriving 18 months after the launch of the third-gen regular TT range, the new RS is powered by a further developed version of its signature 2.5-litre, five cylinder turbo-petrol engine, and its abilities have pushed it into an even higher league.
Does the RS’s distinctive design and impressive spec translate into a driving experience capable of knocking off Stuttgart’s mid-engine duo? Stay tuned, as we hit the road and track to find out.
|Engine Type||2.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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?
The Audi TT RS is faster, more focused, and even more desirable than the excellent second-gen version it replaces. Is it a 718 Boxster/Cayman crusher? The answer boils down to single-minded purpose versus all-around ability. The price and performance may be comparable, but the Porsches are purer sports cars, relative to TT RS’s broader, multi-purpose personality. Not a bad choice if you’re in the happy position to make it. All we can say is steer this brilliant Bavarian before you settle on Stuttgart’s finest.
Is Audi's TT RS a match for the big performance players? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
Close to 20 years ago you could hear the collective gasp as car-spotters around the world first caught sight of the original Audi TT.
It was one of the most innovative automotive designs of the late 20th century, and as time ticked by the big question became, how do you evolve such a ground-breaking shape?
Several ‘how not to do this’ case-studies are on the public record, with the sublime Datsun 240Z, through lengthened and less agile 260Z 2+2, to bloated and ponderous 280Z, being a prime example. Kind of Elvis on wheels.
But somehow Audi has managed to avoid that syndrome and maintain the spirit of the original while gradually morphing the TT into a wider, lower, slicker version of itself.
The third-gen TT wears an evil-eyed, angry expression, with the relatively small glasshouse enhancing the profile’s smooth curvature.
Broad, bold surfaces are beautifully controlled, while the RS’s standard 20-inch rims, and cheeky fixed rear wing add an appropriate sense of menace to an already purposeful stance.
And the RS’s stunning form delivers efficient aero function. A large front splitter and serious diffuser at the rear are clues to careful management of the air flowing under the car as much as that passing over it, and the result is a handy drag coefficient (Cd) of 0.32 for the Coupe, and 0.33 for the Roadster.
Inside is all business, with typical Audi efficiency applied to the key controls and instruments, while brushed metal elements (carbon optional) add a suitably racy feel.
The centre console is subtly angled towards the driver, and the Audi design team has again managed to develop TT-esque elements like the five, circular ventilation outlets, into new but familiar features of the current interior.
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.
The four-seat TT coupe provides generous space for the driver and front passenger, and unlike some others fitting the ‘2+2’ description, getting in and out (of the front) is a breeze.
In terms of storage, there’s a glovebox, plus a small lidded box in the console, storage drawers under the seats, and bins in the doors, although the latter are just large enough to accommodate a small drink bottle (lying on its side). And if you and your front passenger have stopped to pick up a take-away coffee there’ll be an arm wrestle over the single cup holder in the centre console.
There are two USB inputs and an auxiliary-in socket located in a tissue box-sized storage space hidden under a sliding lid in front of the gearshift.
A charitable person might describe the TT coupe’s rear accommodation - the convertible is a strict two-seater - as cozy, but frankly, it’s tight. It's a scramble to get in, and head and legroom for anyone beyond Year 8 is going to be distinctly uncomfortable. A UN-style negotiation will be required between front and rear occupants to set up a mutually habitable arrangement.
There are outer armrests back there, with oddments trays underneath, but you’re looking at a 100 per cent deficiency in the cupholder department, and no specific ventilation outlets.
But if you really want to get practical and sensible, there’s a generous 305-litre boot (280 in the convertible), with that space more than doubling to 712 litres with those pesky rear seats folded forward. There’s also a 12 volt outlet in there.
There’s no spare tyre. Just a ‘tyre repair kit’, more commonly known as a ‘can of goo’.
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.
As you might expect, at $137,900 for the Coupe, and $141,900 for the Roadster (before on-road costs) the TT RS boasts a lengthy standard equipment list including, electrically adjustable and heated ‘RS’ sport front seats with electric lumbar support and pneumatic adjustment for the backrest side bolsters.
The interior, including the seats, door armrests, door pull handles and centre console, is trimmed in nappa leather with nifty diamond pattern stitching on the centre of the front chairs.
An electrically controlled wind deflector and three-stage neck-level heating for the front seats are standard in the Roadster.
You can also expect, cruise control, keyless entry and start, LED headlights, daytime running lights and tail-lights, tinted ‘privacy’ glass, climate control air, ambient lighting, rain-sensing wipers and auto headlights (including auto high beam), nine-speaker/155 watt audio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, plus sat nav including ‘MMI Touch’ functionality and live traffic updates.
Add in the outstanding 12.3-inch, configurable ‘Virtual Cockpit’ display, plus all the safety gear detailed further down, and you’re looking at a solid basket of standard fruit.
Three option packs are available – ‘Advanced Lighting’, which includes Matrix LED headlights, the ‘RS Catalunya red design package’, which as the name implies, adds red highlights to various interior pieces including the air vents, seatbelts and floor mats, plus the ‘RS Nardo grey design package’, which swaps out red for grey highlights.
There are eight exterior colours offered, with ‘Nardo Grey’ the only no-cost option. Choose a metallic shade and you’re up for $1300, with a ‘crystal effect’ finish adding $2000 to the price tag.
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.
The latest (07K3) version of Audi’s all-alloy 2.5-litre turbo-petrol in-line five cylinder engine is 26kg lighter than the previous version, thanks largely to the addition of an alloy crankcase, and hollow-bored crankshaft.
The ‘Audi valvelift system’ (AVS) operates on the exhaust side to optimise fuel consumption under low or partial loads, and retain the ability to sharpen throttle response and maximise power at full noise.
A range of other upgrades include plasma coated cylinder bores to reduce internal friction, and dual injection which can send fuel into the intake manifold as well as directly into the combustion chamber.
Net result is a 17 per cent power increase, to 294kW at 5850-7000rpm, and maximum torque (480Nm) delivered from just 1700, all the way to 5850rpm. Talk about a beautifully dovetailed dyno sheet.
All that grunt gets to the ground via a new, lighter seven-speed dual clutch gearbox feeding the latest iteration of Audi’s 'quattro' adaptive all-wheel drive system, with an electronic differential lock (EDL) and wheel-selective torque control in support.
Despite its fire and brimstone performance potential the TT RS’s fuel consumption is suitably planet-friendly.
A claimed combined (urban/extra urban) figure of 8.4L/100km is good going for a car this quick, with the tailpipe emitting 192 g/km of CO2 in the process.
Fuel requirement is 98RON premium unleaded, with 55 litres of it required to fill the tank.
Given a large part of this launch first drive was spent ‘pushing on’ through challenging open roads, and hammering around the 4.5km Phillip Island circuit, we didn’t record a test economy figure.
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.
Slip into the grippy RS sports seats, and you’re presented with a chunky sports wheel, complete with manual shift paddles, and Audi’s brilliant virtual cockpit, with additional RS-specific screens for tyre pressure, torque, and g-force.
To go with the RS’s extra power Audi has added lightness, the Coupe dropping to 1440kg (-35kg) and the Roadster weighing in at 1530kg.
As a result, acceleration is supercar rapid, with the Coupe blasting from 0-100km/h in just 3.7sec, while the head-turning, but slightly heavier Roadster takes 0.2sec longer to hit the same number.
And speed is nothing without sound (I’m talking to you Formula E and Elon Musk). The in-line five emits a characteristically guttural growl, with a console switch opening tabs in the exhaust to enhance a spine-tingling howl at the top end.
Speaking of which, in manual mode a shift indicator function in the tacho adds an extra level of engagement by lighting up from 5000rpm through green, amber, and ultimately red segments, before the entire dial blinks manically on arrival at the 7000rpm rev ceiling. Nice touch.
The RS is underpinned by the ultra-stiff Audi Space Frame chassis, and sits 10mm lower than the standard car, with strut front and four-link rear RS Sport suspension, plus ‘Magnetic Ride’ adaptive damper control standard.
Audi Drive Select manages the engine, transmission, steering, dampers and diff to offers four modes – Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual.
For Australia, standard rims are 20-inch alloys shod with high-performance 255/30 x 20 Yokohama Advan or Pirelli P Zero rubber. The RS steering is re-tuned for more direct response, and the ESC boasts specific RS settings.
Sport delivers later ESC intervention, and you can give the fun police a send-off by switching it off altogether.
On the open road, with masses of mid-range torque, and heaps of top end power, the TT RS is a rapid and refined point-to-point projectile, with the ability to settle down into a comfortable, quiet city and suburban daily driver when required.
The shift from Dynamic to Comfort mode transforms the ride quality from hard and jittery to smooth and comfy almost instantly, and with the exhaust in a similarly polite setting the TT RS is ready to eat up a peak hour commute.
On the subject of polished behaviour, the Roadster, if a little louder to ride in, is the equal of the Coupe dynamically, and its automatic Z-fold acoustic soft top opens or closes in 10 seconds at speeds up to 50km/h. Very civilised.
Around Phillip Island the TT RS is composed and balanced at speeds that would see lesser machines spinning off into the weeds. We took a quick peek and saw 245km/h (just five kays off the electronically-limited maximum) staring back at us on entry to the braking zone for turn one.
You can feel the quattro system and its connected electronic wizardry keeping the car in a stable state with the steering communicating every movement through the imposing layout’s seriously quick, sweeping corners.
The electromechanically-assisted, variable ratio steering has a satisfyingly direct connection with the front wheels, without a hint of shock or unnecessary reaction, and the Pirelli P Zero rubber (fitted to our car) is superb.
And on a circuit as epic as ‘the island’ big speed needs to be matched with big brakes and thanks to massive ventilated 370mm discs with eight piston calipers at the front, and 310mm solid rotors at the rear, the RS washes off speed with consistent authority.
BMW Alpina B48/10
On the active side of the safety equation the TT RS features ‘Attention assist’ (alert tone and visual signal if system determines the driver’s attention may be lapsing), ‘Active lane assist’ (corrective steering intervention and steering vibration), ‘Side assist’ (blind spot warning), a tyre pressure monitoring system, Electronic Stabilisation Control (ESC) with electronic wheel-selective torque control, ABS, ASR, EDL and Brake Assist. But no AEB.
If all that isn’t enough to keep you out of trouble there are airbags aplenty; specifically, six in the Coupe (dual front, side and curtain), and four on the Roadster (dual front and side). Given the obvious inability to equip the Roadster with curtain bags, its side airbags are shaped to inflate higher, to better protect the head and thorax.
The TT RS also features an active bonnet to minimise injury in a pedestrian collision, but despite ISOFIX child restraint location points in each rear seat position, “inadequate child protection” and that lack of AEB, caused ANCAP to rate the TT coupe four from a possible five stars in 2015 testing.
Audi offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, with three years paint protection and a 12 year rust perforation warranty also included.
Service is recommended every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first, but Audi’s ‘Genuine Care’ fixed price service program isn’t available on RS models.