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BMW Alpina B4


Chevrolet Camaro

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

Chevrolet Camaro

Nobody really needs to drink beer and absolutely nobody needs to go skydiving. You don’t need tattoos nor to eat ice cream, nor put art on their walls, and absolutely nobody needs to play Stairway to Heaven, badly, on guitar. Likewise, nobody needs to buy a Chevrolet Camaro.

And there’s your answer if anybody has a go at you for arriving home in this big American muscle car, because if we only did things we needed to do, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be having as much fun.

The Chevrolet Camaro has been the Ford Mustang’s recurring nightmare since 1966, and this latest, sixth generation of the Chevy icon is available to continue the fight here in Australia, thanks to some re-engineering from HSV.

The SS badge is also legendary and was emblazoned on our test car, although it’s really a 2SS, and we’ll get to what that means below.

As you’re about to see, there are many good reasons to buy the Camaro SS and a few that might make you reconsider, but think about this – within the next two decades it’s entirely possible a car like the Camaro, with its 6.2-litre V8, may be banned because of emission regulations. Outlawed. You also never know how much longer HSV will continue to sell it in Australia. Maybe that’s reason enough to get one? Before it's too late.

Safety rating
Engine Type6.2L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency—L/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?


Chevrolet Camaro7.4/10

The Camaro 2SS is a real-life Hot Wheels car. This beast looks amazing, sounds incredible and is not overpowered, making it usable as a daily driver.

Now about that score. The Camaro 2SS lost big marks for not having AEB, lost more marks for the short warranty and no capped-price servicing and also some for its price, because compared to the Mustang it’s expensive. It’s also impractical (space and storage could be better) and uncomfortable to drive at times, but this is a muscle car, and a great one at that. It's not for everybody, but  truly perfect for some.

Ford Mustang or Chevrolet Camaro? Which would you pick? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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.


Chevrolet Camaro9/10

As was the case with Ford’s Mustang, something seemed to go bizarrely weird in the styling of the Camaro in the early 2000s, but by 2005 the arrival of the fifth generation saw a design that re-imagined the original (and I reckon the best) 1967 Camaro. Now this sixth-generation car is a sharper resolution of that, yet not without causing a bit of controversy.

Along with styling changes, such as redesigned LED headlights and taillights, the front fascia was also given a tweak, which involved repositioning the Chevy ‘bow-tie’ badge from the upper grille to the black-painted cross bar that separates the top and bottom sections. The reaction from fans was enough for Chevrolet to quickly redesign the front and move the badge back.

Our test car was the version with the ‘unpopular’ face, but I reckon it gets away with the look, thanks to the body colour being black, which means your eye isn’t drawn to that cross bar.

Here’s some pub ammo for you – Chevy calls the ‘bow tie’ on this Camaro a ‘Flow Tie’ because its hollow construction means air can pass through it to the radiator.

Big on the outside but small inside, the Camaro’s dimensions show it to be 4784mm long, 1897mm wide (not including mirrors) and 1349mm tall.

Ford’s Mustang is elegant, but Chevy’s Camaro is more macho. Big haunches, long bonnet, flared guards, nostrils. This is one mean-looking monster. Those high sides and ‘chopped’ roof design may also make you assume the cabin is more cockpit than lounge room.

That assumption would be right and in the practicality section further down I’ll tell you just how cozy the interior is, but for now we're just talking about looks.

I’m not sure what David Hasselhoff’s apartment looks like, but at a guess I reckon it would have a hell of a lot in common with the interior design of the Camaro 2SS’s cabin.

Soft, black leather seats with SS badging, giant metal air vents, door handles that look like chrome exhaust tips and a display screen that is oddly tilted towards the floor.

There’s also an ambient LED lighting system that lets you choose from 1980s-neon colour palettes, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Ken Done’s outstanding depiction of a Koala family sitting down to a barbecue lunch.

I’m not knocking it, I love it, and even though the guys in the office thought it would be hilarious to set the lighting to hot pink, I kept it that way because it looks awesome.

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.


Chevrolet Camaro7/10

The Camaro 2SS’s cabin is cozy for me at 191cm tall, but even with a similarly proportioned photographer riding shotgun it wasn’t too cramped. Believe it or not, we were able to carry all his equipment and lights, plus batteries for our night shoot (have you seen the video above – it’s very good). I’ll get to the boot size in a moment.

The Camaro 2SS is a four-seater, but those rear seats are only going to suit small children. I was able to fit my four year old’s car seat into place with a bit of gentle persuasion, and while he could sit behind my wife, there was zero space behind me when I was driving. As for visibility, we’ll get to that in the driving section below, but I can tell you he couldn’t see much from his tiny porthole.

Cargo capacity of the boot is small, as you’d expect, at 257 litres, but the space is deep and long. The problem is not the volume, however, it’s the size of the opening, which means you’ll have to cleverly angle larger items to get them in, like pushing a couch through your front door. You know, houses are big, but their openings aren’t. I know, profound.

Cabin storage is also limited, the door pockets were so thin my wallet couldn’t even slide into it (no, it’s not the wads of cash), but there was just enough room in the centre console storage bin for it. There are two cupholders, which are more like elbow holders, (because this part wasn’t swapped over in the conversion and that’s where your arm lands while driving) and a glove box. Rear-seat passengers have a large tray to fight over in the back.

The 2SS doesn’t have a wireless-charging pad like the ZL1, but it does have one USB port and a 12V outlet.

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.


Chevrolet Camaro7/10

You know how people talk about cars not always being a rational purchase? This is the type of vehicle they’re talking about. The Camaro 2SS lists at $86,990 and the total tested price of our car was $89,190, because it was fitted with the optional 10-speed auto for $2200.

In comparison, the V8 Ford Mustang GT with the 10-speed auto is about $66K. Why the big price difference? Well, unlike the Mustang, which is built as a right-hand-drive car in the factory for places such as Australia and the UK, the Camaro is only built as a left-hand drive. HSV puts about 100 hours into converting the Camaro from left to right-hand drive. That’s a big job and involves gutting the interior, taking out the engine, swapping the steering rack and putting it all back together again.

If you still think $89K is a lot to spend on a Camaro, then think again because the top-of-the-range hardcore race-car-for-the-road ZL1 Camaro lists for about $160K.

Those are only the two grades of Camaro in Australia – the ZL1 and 2SS. The 2SS is a higher-specified version of the 1SS sold in the US.

Standard features in the 2SS include an eight-inch screen, which uses Chevrolet’s Infotainment 3 system, a nine-speaker Bose stereo, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, head-up display, rear-view camera and rear camera mirror, dual-zone climate control, leather seats (heated and ventilated, plus power adjustable in the front), remote start, proximity key and 20-inch alloys.

That’s a decent amount of kit and I’m particularly impressed by the head-up display, which you don’t get in the Mustang, and also with the rear-vision-mirror camera, which turns the entire mirror into an image of what’s behind the car.

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.


Chevrolet Camaro8/10

Sure, the 2SS doesn’t produce the mammoth 477kW of the ZL1, but I’m not complaining about the 339kW and 617Nm it does make from its 6.2-litre V8. Besides, 455 horsepower from the 2SS’s naturally aspirated LT1 small block is plenty of fun and the sound on start-up through the bi-modal exhaust is apocalyptic - and that’s good.

Our car was fitted with the optional 10-speed auto ($2200), with paddle shifters. The automatic transmission was developed as a joint venture between General Motors and Ford and a version of this 10-speed is also found in the Mustang.

This traditional torque-converter automatic isn’t the quickest shifting thing, but it suits the big, powerful and slightly lethargic personality of the Camaro 2SS.

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.


Chevrolet Camaro7/10

Okay, brace yourself. During my fuel test I traveled 358.5km and used 60.44L of premium unleaded, which comes out to be 16.9L/100km. That sounds awfully high, but actually it's not as bad as it looks, considering the Camaro 2SS has a 6.2-litre V8 and I wasn't driving it in a way that would conserve fuel, if you get my drift. Half of those kilometres were on motorways at 110km/h, the other half would have been in bumper-to-bumper city traffic, which would have driven up the fuel usage, too. 

The official fuel consumption after a combination of open and urban roads is 13L/100km.

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.


Chevrolet Camaro8/10

Exactly how an American muscle car should be – loud, a bit uncomfortable, not all that easy, but a hell of a lot of fun. Those first three attributes may sound like negatives, but take it from somebody who owns and loves hot rods - it’s part of the appeal. If an SUV is not easy to drive or comfortable there's a problem, but in a muscle car it can enhance the engagement and connection factors.

That said, there will be many who think the ride is too firm, the steering heavy and that it feels like you’re staring out a letterbox slot through the windscreen. It’s all true, and there are other performance cars out there which make as much horsepower, handle better and are so easy to drive they can almost (and some do) pilot themselves, but they all lack the feeling of connection the Camaro offers.

Wide and low-profile Goodyear Eagles (245/40 ZR20 at the front and 275/35 ZR20 at the rear) provide good grip, but also feel every blemish in the road, while four-piston Brembo brakes all round pull the Camaro 2SS up well.

Acceleration from 0-100km/h isn’t disclosed by HSV or Chevrolet, but the official line is that it’ll nail it in under five seconds. Ford reckons its Mustang GT can do the same in 4.3 seconds.

If you were wondering if you could live with the Camaro daily, the answer is yes but, much like wearing leather pants, you’ll have to suffer a bit to look this rock and roll. I put 650km on the clock of our 2SS during my week with it, using it daily in peak-hour traffic into the city, in supermarket car parks, and for daycare drop offs, with country road and motorway drives on the weekend.

The seats can get uncomfortable over long distances and those low-profile ‘run-flat’ tyres and firm dampers don’t make life any comfier. You’ll also find that wherever you go people will want to race you. But don’t get sucked in; you’re slower than you look - another muscle-car trait.

Sure, it’s not the quickest performance car I’ve steered and on winding roads its handling capability is not up there with many sports cars, but that V8 is responsive and angry in Sport mode and smooth in its delivery of grunt. The exhaust note is sensational and the steering, while heavy, offers great feel and feedback. The sound isn’t electronically enhanced but it uses bi-modal valves, which open and close at different engine and exhaust loads to produce its addictive bark.

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.


Chevrolet Camaro7/10

The Chevrolet Camaro 2SS doesn’t have an ANCAP rating, but it’s certain that it wouldn’t achieve the maximum five stars because it doesn’t have AEB. There is forward-collision alert which warns you of an impending impact, there’s also blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and eight airbags.

For child seats (and I did put my own four-year-old in the back) there are two top-tether points and two ISOFIX mounts in the second row.

There's no spare wheel here, so you’ll have to hope you’re within 80km of home or a repair shop, because that’s how far the Goodyear ‘run-flat’ tyres will get you.

The low (ish) score is for the lack of AEB. If the Mustang can be fitted with autonomous emergency braking, then the Camaro should be, too.

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.


Chevrolet Camaro6/10

The Camaro 2SS is covered by HSV’s three-year/100,000km warranty. Servicing is recommended at nine-month/12,000km intervals, with a complimentary inspection at the end of the first month. There is no capped-price-servicing program.