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BMW Alpina B4


Ferrari 812 SUPERFAST

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

Ferrari 812 SUPERFAST

Picturing yourself driving a Ferrari is always a pleasant way to waste a few 'when I win Lotto' moments of your life. 

It’s fair to assume that most people would imagine themselves in a red one, on a sunny, good-hair day with an almost solar-flare smile on their faces. 

The more enthusiastic of us might throw in a race track, like Fiorano, the one pictured here, which surrounds the Ferrari factory at Maranello, and perhaps even specify a famously fabulous model - a 458, a 488, or even an F40.

Imagine the kick in the balls, then, of finally getting to pilot one of these cars and discovering that its badge bears the laziest and most childish name of all - Superfast - and that the public roads you’ll be driving along are covered in snow, ice and a desire to kill you. And it’s snowing, so you can’t see.

It’s a relative kick in the groin, obviously, like being told your Lotto win is only $10 million instead of $15m, but it’s fair to say the prospect of driving the most powerful Ferrari road car ever made (they don’t count La Ferrari, apparently, because it’s a special project) with its mental, 588kW (800hp) V12, was more exciting than the reality.

Memorable, though? Oh yes, as you’d hope a car worth $610,000 would be.

Safety rating
Engine Type6.5L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency15L/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?


Ferrari 812 SUPERFAST7.4/10

Clearly, this is not a car for everyone, and you’d have to question whether it’s a car for anyone, really, but people who like spending $610,000 on Ferraris, and waiting in a queue to do so, will be delighted, because it delivers the kind of exclusivity, and bragging rights, that you’d have to hope a car called Superfast would.

Personally, it’s a little too much, a little too over the top and definitely too mad, but if rockets are your thing, you won’t be disappointed.

Is the Ferrari 812 Superfast a bit of you, or a bit too much? Tell us 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.


Ferrari 812 SUPERFAST9/10

It’s very… big, isn’t it? And it looks even bigger in the flesh with a bonnet you could use to put a roof over your tennis court. In all, the Superfast is 4.6m long, almost 2.0m wide and weighs 1.5 tonnes, so it certainly has presence.

Making something this big look good is a challenge even for those as talented as Ferrari’s design team, but they have nailed it. The front has what appears to be a mouth, poised to swallow lesser cars whole like some whale shark Terminator. 

The bonnet appears to be flaring its nostrils, and looks fabulous from the driver’s seat, and the swooping side and taut rear complete things nicely.

Personally, it still just looks too big to be a Ferrari, but then this is not a mid-engined super car, it’s a grand touring rocket ship, and the ultimate expression of unnecessary excess, and it pulls off that aura perfectly.

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.


Ferrari 812 SUPERFAST7/10

Practicality isn’t really your concern when you buy a two-seat mega car like this, so let’s just say it’s about as practical as you would expect it to be. Not very, then.

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.


Ferrari 812 SUPERFAST6/10

Is it possible that any car - save one made from gold, dusted with diamonds and stuffed with truffles - would represent good value at a price of $610,000? It seems unlikely, but then people who can spend that much assay value differently, and would probably say that something as profound as the 812 Superfast is worth buying at any price.

Another way to look at it is price-per-litre, which is less than $100,000, considering you do get 6.5 litres of V12 Ferrari donk. Or you could go by kilowatt, which works out at nearly $1000 each for your 588kW.

Other than that you do get a lot of leather, a high-quality interior, superior exterior styling, badge-snob value that’s hard to put a price on and vast swathes of F1-derived technology. And a free car cover.

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.


Ferrari 812 SUPERFAST9/10

I did want to give the epic, enormous 6.5-litre naturally aspirated V12 engine a perfect 10 here, but when I paused to think about it I had to admit that it is, quite possibly, a little too powerful.

Yes, it is amazing to think Ferrari can build a car that has 588kW (800 horsepower - hence the 812 nomenclature; 800 horses and 12 cylinders) and doesn’t just dig itself a hole in the road as soon as you put your foot down.

And yes, it does provide the kind of performance that makes all other cars seems a bit piss poor and pathetic, even the really good ones. 

But honestly, who could ever use it all, or need it all? They might seem like irrelevant questions, I guess, because it’s all about conspicuous over-excess, a car like this, so really the question is, would anyone want to live with 588kW and 718Nm of torque, or is it just too scary in reality?

Well, a little bit, yes, but Ferrari’s engineers have been wise enough not to actually give you all of that power, all the time. Torque is limited in the first three gears, and maximum mental power is actually only available, in theory, at 8500rpm in seventh gear, at which point you’d be approaching its top speed of 340km/h.

The fact that you can rev an engine this big, and this lusciously loud, all the way to 8500rpm is, however, a joy that would never tire.

In more practical terms, you can run 0-100km/h in 2.9 seconds (although cheaper, less crazy cars can do that, too) or 200km/h in 7.9 (which is a tiny bit slower than the far lighter McLaren 720S).

What you can’t do, of course, is achieve any of those numbers on winter tyres, or roads with snow on them.

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.


Ferrari 812 SUPERFAST5/10

Much as you can’t have a good volcano without some serious lava, you can’t have 800 horsepower without burning a lot of dead dinosaur goo. The Superfast has a claimed fuel-economy figure of 14.9L/100km, but on our drive the screen just said "Ha!" and we burned through a whole tank of fuel in less than 300km. 
Theoretical emissions are 340g/km of CO2.

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.


Ferrari 812 SUPERFAST8/10

Insane. It’s a word that people often lift from their lexicon when describing a supercar experience, because clearly, as forms of transport, things like Ferraris and Lamborghinis are not sane options.

But the Superfast really deserves the word, because it feels not only the opposite of sane, but truly bonkers. As if someone built it for a dare, realised it was a bad and possibly dangerous idea, and then put it on sale anyway.

Picture some tiny-handed child with his greasy, post-cheeseburger fingers poised over a big red button on his desk that could wipe out humanity, and that’s basically the situation your right leg finds itself in when driving the Superfast.

There is so much power on tap here - even the limited amount of it that the engineers allow you to access in lower gears - that it truly seems possible you’ll have a Road Runner moment, and simply dig a hole in the ground, if you push the throttle too hard.

Yes, on the one hand, the noises this extreme V12 makes above 5000rpm are memorable and moving, like Satan himself singing Nessun Dorma in a shower of sparks. At one stage we found a long tunnel, perhaps the only dry road within 500km that day, and my colleague forgot all about his licence and let rip.

The numbers on my 'Passenger Screen' spun like poker-machine wheels, then turned red and then implausible. I was shoved back into my seat as if by Thor himself, and I squealed like a small pig, but my co-driver heard nothing over the Monaco tunnel during F1 sound.

Even on dry road, of course, the winter tyres we were forced (by law) to run in the foul snowy conditions could not maintain grip, and we constantly felt the rear skipping sideways. Fortunately we were in Italy, so people simply cheered us on.

The likelihood that you will lose traction in this car is so high that the boffins have included a special feature in its new 'Electronic Power Steering' system called 'Ferrari Power Oversteer'. When you inevitably start going sideways, the steering wheel will apply subtle torque to your hands, 'suggesting' the best way to get the car back in a straight line.

A proud engineer told me that this is basically like having a Ferrari test driver in the car with you, telling you what to do, and that they used their skills to calibrate the system. You can override it, of course, but it sounds scarily like an autonomous-driving precursor to me.

What’s disappointing about this car having EPS at all, rather than a traditional hydraulic system, is that it just doesn’t feel muscular enough for a hairy-handed monster of a car like this.

It is accurate and precise and pointy, of course, and makes driving the Superfast, even in stupidly slippery conditions, almost easy. Almost.

It’s actually surprising how hard you can push a car like this along a windy and wet mountain road without careering off into a muddy field.

More time, and more traction, would have been appreciated, but you can tell it’s the sort of car you’d grow into, and perhaps even feel in control of, after a decade or so together.

So it’s good, yes, and very fast, obviously, but I can’t get past the idea that it’s all a bit unnecessary, and that a 488 GTB is simply, in every single way, a better car.

But as a statement, or a collector’s item, the Ferrari 812 Superfast certainly is one for the history books.

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.


Ferrari 812 SUPERFAST7/10

It might not surprise you to hear that, unlike every other company’s press kits, the Ferrari ones don’t generally include a section on 'safety'. Perhaps because driving something this powerful is inherently unsafe, or possibly because they believe their 'E-Diff 3', 'SCM -E' (magnetorheological suspension control with dual-coil system), 'F1-Traction Control', ESC and so forth will keep you on the road no matter what. 

If you do fly off, you’ll have four airbags, and a nose as big as a house forming a crumple zone, to protect you.

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.


Ferrari 812 SUPERFAST8/10

Once you’ve paid the vast cost of entry, it’s nice to know you will get some stuff for free, like your first seven years of servicing, including all parts and labour, carried out by trained Ferrari technicians, who even dress like pit crew. It’s called 'Genuine Maintenance', and is genuinely Kia-challenging in its scope.