BMW Alpina B4 VS BMW 4 series
BMW Alpina B4
- Ride and handling
- Brilliant engine
- The price
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Some dodgy styling features
BMW 4 series
- Unapologetic styling
- High-quality cabin
- Dynamically engaging
- Squeezy rear seats
- 420i/430i starts to get thrashy in high revs
- Adaptive cruise should be standard
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|
BMW 4 series
When BMW’s first-generation 4 Series landed in 2013, it looked and drove like little more than a 3 Series sedan minus the two rear doors, and that’s because it was.
Sure, the looks might not be to everyone’s taste, but surely BMW’s renowned driver-focused dynamics will be enough for the 4 Series to carve out its niche in the premium sports coupe space … right?
|Engine Type||3.0L 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?
BMW 4 series8.3/10
BMW has once again delivered a supremely enjoyable sports car with its new 2021 4 Series.
Sure, it might have love-it or hate-it styling, but those that dismiss the 4 Series based solely on looks are missing out on a wonderful driving experience.
With the base 420i offering all the style in a relatively affordable pricetag, while the all-wheel-drive grip of the M440i adds extra assurance at a more premium price, BMW's new 4 Series should cater to anyone looking for a premium sports coupe.
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.
BMW 4 series10/10
Let’s get this out of the way. The 2021 BMW 4 Series is not an ugly car, despite what you may think from the press photos found online.
Is it to everyone’s tastes? Of course not, but I find the gaudy, in-your-face gold-on-black that is Versace’s signature styling a little gross … so your milage will definitely vary on the 4 Series like mine does with high-end fashion.
In person, that grille is nowhere near as overwhelming as pictures may have led you to believe, and blends in very nicely with the aggressive and muscular front end of the 4 Series.
In profile, the high shoulder line and slim glasshouse add to the sportiness, as does the sloping roofline and butch rear haunches.
The rear though, is arguably the 4 Series best exterior angle, as the pinched bumper, wraparound tail-lights, large exhaust outlets and subtle rear diffuser combine well for a properly sporty and premium look.
All Australian-spec cars come with the M Sport package, meaning a full bodykit, and 19-inch wheels to make even the boggo 420i look aggressive on the road.
Does it work? Well if it wasn’t wearing a BMW badge then it might not get away with this ostentatious styling, but being a big premium player, we think the 4 Series gets away with being as brash and in-your-face as it is.
We actually love that BMW has taken a risk with the 4 Series’ aesthetics and is willing to push the envelope because, after all, it could have just looked like the 3 Series sans-two doors, and that’s just a bit too safe, isn’t it?
Inside, the 4 Series is familiar BMW territory, which means a thick-rimmed steering wheel, glossy shifter and brushed metal accents, as well as high-quality materials throughout.
The dashboard-integrated multimedia system is a particularly nice touch, as are the metal accents that separate the lower and upper halves of the cabin.
So, is there anything interesting about the design? Absolutely. It’s got the internet talking more than usual and will no doubt draw the eye of those wanting to stand out from the often-samey crowd of German sports cars.
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.
BMW 4 series8/10
Measuring 4768mm long, 1842mm wide, 1383mm tall and with a 2851mm wheelbase, the 2021 BMW 4 Series certainly looks commanding on the road, and the generous proportions do well for interior space too.
Of note though, the M440i is slightly longer (4770mm), wider (1852mm) and taller (1393mm) than the 420i and 430i, but the slight variance doesn’t translate to any perceivable difference in practicality.
Up front, there is plenty of space for driver and passenger, with a wide array of seat adjustability offering nearly the perfect position for nearly everyone regardless of shape or size.
Storage options include a generous door pocket with separate bottle holder, large central storage cubby, generous glove box, and two cupholders sited between the shifter and climate controls.
We love that the wireless smartphone charger is tucked well away just ahead of the cupholders, meaning you don’t have to worry about keys or loose change scratching up your screen, and it doesn’t eat into any of the other storage options around the cabin.
Being a coupe, you wouldn’t expect heaps of room in the second row, and the BMW 4 Series certainly doesn’t defy expectations in this regard.
Adult passengers can get in the back easy enough, thanks to auto-folding front seats, but once there, head- and shoulder-room can be a bit tight, while legroom is dependent on the height of front passengers.
We’ve certainly been in worse back seats though, and the deeply recessed seats help alleviate some of the headroom issues, but its not a space for the claustrophobic.
Open the boot and the 4 Series will swallow up to 440 litres of volume and, thanks to the wide space, can easily accommodate a set of golf clubs or weekend luggage for two.
The second row is divided 40:20:40, so you can fold down the middle to transport skis (or timber from Bunnings) while still ferrying four.
Folding the rear seats down will increase your cargo volume, but the aperture between the boot and cabin is quite small, so you might want to keep that in mind before heading to Ikea.
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.
BMW 4 series9/10
Standard equipment includes sport seats, LED headlights, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, push-button start, automatic wipers, Alcantara/Sensetec (vinyl-like) interior trim, three-zone climate control and 10-speaker sound system, but it’s the inclusion of an M Sport package and 19-inch wheels that really elevate the look of the new 4 Series to a real sporty model.
The latter two were options in the previous generation, but so many customers (we’re told close to 90%) opted for the sportier looks that BMW just decided to bundle them into the asking price.
The 420i also comes fitted with a 10.25-inch touchscreen multimedia system that includes digital radio, satellite navigation, wireless smartphone charger, and wireless Apple CarPlay AND Android Auto (finally some love for Samsung owners!).
It’s remarkable then, that the new 420i is actually almost $4100 cheaper than the model it replaces, while also boasting more equipment, safety and torque.
Stepping up to the 430i increases pricing to $88,900 ($6400 pricier than before), while also adding more equipment such as adaptive dampers, keyless entry, surround-view camera, M Sport brakes, leather interior and active cruise control.
Outputs from the 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine are also increased in the 430i (again, more below).
The current king of the 4 Series range until the M4 lands early next year is the M440i, priced at $116,900, but includes a 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive grip.
On the outside, the M440i can be distinguished by the standard inclusion of BMW’s Laserlight technology, sunroof and heated front seats, as well as ‘Cerium Grey’ colouring for the kidney grille, tailpipe shrouds and side-view mirrors.
Being a German model, there is (of course) a smattering of options available – including remote engine start and a heated steering wheel – but none jump out as crucial or ‘must have’ in any way.
We appreciate that the base 4 Series looks largely the same as its more expensive siblings, while also offering all the key equipment you’d want out of a premium sports coupe in 2020.
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.
BMW 4 series7/10
Both the entry-level and mid-tier 4 Series variants (420i and 430i respectively) are powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.
Under the bonnet of the 420i, the engine produces 135kW/300Nm, while the 430i ups the ante to 190kW/400Nm.
The flagship (at launch) M440i meanwhile, scores a 3.0-litre turbo-petrol inline six delivering 285kW/500Nm.
All three engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, with no manual option available on any grade.
The 420i and 430i send drive to the rear wheels, resulting in a zero to 100km/h sprint time of 7.5 and 5.8 seconds respectively, while the all-wheel-drive M440i needs just 4.5s.
Stacked up against its German rivals, the 4 Series offers a decent engine line-up, but doesn’t excel at any level compared to the Audi A5 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe.
BMW 4 series8/10
Officially, the 420i will sip 6.4 litres per 100km, while the 430i is slightly thirstier at 6.6L/100km.
Both aforementioned 4 Series variants will need 95 RON at the bowser.
The heavier and more potent M440i needs 7.8L/100km, while also using the more expensive 98 RON fuel.
We only drove through Melbourne country roads in our brief time with all three grades of the 4 Series and could not ascertain a reliable fuel economy figure.
Our driving did not cover an extended freeway journey or any inner-city driving, so check back to see if the quoted figures hold up to scrutiny once we get more time with the car.
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.
BMW 4 series9/10
Anything wearing a BMW badge promises a fun and engaging drive, after all the brand’s tagline used to be the ‘ultimate driving machine’, which is exacerbated in a sporty two-door.
Luckily then, the 4 Series delivers the goods and is a thoroughly enjoyable drive in all three grades.
Taking the already brilliant new-generation 3 Series as a base, BMW has made the 4 Series lower, and added additional stiffening in the front and rear for a taught and agile handling machine.
The rear track is also increased, while the front wheels have more negative camber to help with mid-corner grip.
Though the 420i and 430i might not draw any headlines, they 2.0-litre turbo-petrol pair are fun to steer and precise with their inputs.
The 420i especially doesn’t have the punch to match its aggressive looks, but is perfectly capable at slower speeds and still a delight to tip in a corner.
The 430i meanwhile, delivers more thrills thanks to its more potent engine, but it can get a bit trashy higher in the rev range.
However, the pick of the bunch for us the M440i, not only for its extra spicy engine, but also the assurance of all-wheel drive.
Now it might be sacrilege to some to not have a rear-drive BMW, but the rear-biased xDrive system in the M440i is wonderfully tuned to deliver the same sort of natural driving characteristic of a two-wheel-drive model.
Undoubtedly the near-perfect weight distribution helps with this, while the wonderfully low driving position means the whole car feels like it pivots around the driver when turning the wheel.
The M Sport differential in the rear is also great at propelling out you out of the bends, while the adaptive suspension also has great variability between comfort and sport settings.
If we had any criticism with the driving experience? We’d have liked a bit more aural theatre, but BMW have to save the louder pops and crackles for the full-fat M4, right?
A big caveat here though is that we have yet to experience the new 4 Series in a suburban setting, with our launch route taking us directly to some twisty country roads.
We also never got to drive the 4 Series in a freeway setting, meaning all of the driving was done in twisty country roads where you would expect a BMW to excel.
BMW Alpina B48/10
BMW 4 series7/10
BMW’s 2021 4 Series has not been crash tested by either Euro NCAP or ANCAP, and does not wear an official safety rating.
However, the mechanically related 3 Series sedan was awarded a maximum five-star rating when it was examined in October 2019, but do keep in mind that the child occupant protection scores could vary wildly due to the 4 Series’ coupe shape.
The 3 Series scored 97 per cent for the adult occupant protection test, and 87 per cent for the child occupant exam. Meanwhile, the vulnerable road user protection and safety assist tests yielded an 87 and 77 per cent result respectively.
As standard, the 4 Series is equipped with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, reversing camera, and front and rear parking sensors.
BMW 4 series8/10
Like all new BMW models, the 4 Series comes with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
However, the benchmark for premium brands belongs to Mercedes-Benz, who offer a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, while Genesis matches the time period but limits travel to 100,000km.
Scheduled servicing for the 4 Series occurs every 12 months or 16,000km.
At the time of purchase, BMW offers a five-year/80,000 ‘basic’ service package that covers scheduled changing engine oil, filter, spark plugs and brake fluids.
This package costs $1650, which works out to be a very reasonable $330 per service.
A more thorough ‘plus’ plan is also available for $4500 that also covers brake pads/discs, clutch and windscreen wiper replacements over the same five-year/80,000km period.