BMW Alpina B4 VS Lexus LC500
BMW Alpina B4
- Ride and handling
- Brilliant engine
- The price
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Some dodgy styling features
- Punchy engine
- Throaty exhaust
- Climate-controlled cabin
- Disconnect from the drive experience
- Lexus trackpad tech persists
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|
Being a true Jack of all trades in the car world is rare.
Generally speaking, a vehicle is either capable or comfortable. Attractive or aerodynamic. Practical or performance orientated. And problems arise when cars try to do all those things well, all at the same time.
Which make the Lexus LC 500 Convertible such an interesting proposition. Because it is, without doubt, stylish, and lavishly equipped. It’s also rather large and rather heavy. All of which is perfect for cruising the Bondi foreshore.
But it’s also equipped with a thumping V8 engine and a throaty exhaust that sounds like bricks in a blender on the overrun. It’s stiffer than the LFA supercar, and plenty powerful, which should deliver one of Lexus’ sportiest-ever drives.
So can the LC 500 really do it all? Let’s find out.
|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 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.
It’s eye-catching, the LC 500, if big, bolshy convertibles are your thing, and especially viewed front-on, where the aggressive nose design ends in a sharp crease in the mesh grille. I love the headlight design, too, which bleeds back into the body work, but also merges with the vertical light cluster that bookends the grille.
The side view is all shining alloys and sharp body creases, too, leading to an oversized boot that stores the fabric, aluminium and magnesium roof structure, which drops or raises in 15 seconds at speeds of up to 50km/h. The design fits into what Lexus calls an “impossibly small space behind the seats”.
Inside, it’s a snug but luxurious space, wrapped largely in leather and equipped with a wealth of technology. It’s a point we’ve made before, but why Lexus perseveres with its trackpad infotainment control technology is beyond us, but there’s no denying the cabin of the LC 500 is a wondrous place to spend time.
We particularly like the integration of the centre screen, which is recessed beneath the leather-wrapped edge of the dash. While some look like an afterthought, this appears to have been included in the broader design philosophy.
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.
It’s not, really. But then, what were you expecting?
As mentioned above, the interior feels snug for upfront riders, but not in a bad way. More that elements of the interior feel like they’re reaching out to greet you, leaving you with the impression of being tucked into the cabin.
Backseat riders are out of luck, though, with the seats really only reserved for emergencies. Legroom is tight, and while Lexus promises the roofline is about on-par with the Coupe, it’s not going to be a comfortable journey.
The LC 500 Convertible stretches 4770mm in length, 1920mm in width and 1350mm in height, and it rides on a 2870mm wheelbase. It will sit four at a pinch, and provide 149 litres of luggage space.
There are two ISOFIX attachment points in each of the rear seats, as well as top-tether points.
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.
It costs $214,000 - and that’s rather a lot of money - but unlike some premium and luxury cars, with Lexus, once you’ve handed over the cash, that’s it. There’s no tempting option list to lure you into parting with even more of your hard earned.
And I mean that literally - Lexus proudly proclaims that “there is no option list” for the LC 500 Convertible, so suffice it to say it arrives with plenty of gear.
Take a deep breath…
You get 21-inch two tone alloys, triple-stack LED headlights, keyless entry, retractable door handles and rain-sensing wipers outside, while inside, you’ll find dual-zone climate, leather-accented seats which are heated and ventilated, neck-level heating for when the roof is down, a heated steering wheel and sports pedals.
The tech stuff is handled by a 10.3-inch centre screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and on-board navigation, both of which are controlled via Lexus’ impossible-to-kill touchpad. There’s a second, 8.0-inch screen for the driver, and the lot pairs with an impressive 13-speaker Mark Levinson stereo.
There’s also a heap of safety stuff, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.
If that’s not enough for you, you can spring for the Limited Edition, which is $234,000 for each of its 10 available examples. It arrives in a unique Structural Blue hue, with a white leather interior with blue highlights. It is designed to be the most blue of blues, too, with Lexus saying the paint colour was the result of a 15-year research project. Which sounds like a thrilling way to spend a decade and a half.
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.
It’s a lusty power plant, this one, and not something you immediately expect to find in a luxurious Lexus convertible.
The 5.0-litre V8 produces 351kW and 540Nm - 260kW of which arrives from 2000rpm - and it sounds like a God of Thunder as it’s doing it.
It pairs with a 10-speed automatic and sends all that grunt to the rear tyres, with Lexus’ Active Cornering Assist and a mechanical limited-slip differential helping you to not make a mess of things when tackling corners.
Remember when I said it was lusty V8? When has that ever been good news for fuel use?
Lexus reckons you’ll get 12.7L/100km on the combined cycle, but the temptation of all that grunt will pretty much ensure that never happens. Emissions are pegged at 290g/km of C02.
The LC 500 Convertible’s 82-litre fuel tank only accepts 98RON fuel.
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.
It’s a tough nut to immediately crack, the LC 500 Convertible.
It feels like it really wants to be a super-accomplished performance car, and on longer, more sweeping bends it is, with that thick flow of power ensuring you simply surf through corners before rocketing out the other side, the air filled with that growling exhaust note as your right foot finds its way to the carpet.
But on the tighter stuff, there are some factors that play against it. The suspension feels sorted and that engine is always willing to deliver, but for mine, the steering and brakes felt a little disconnected from the experience, not inspiring much in the way of late-braking confidence. And then there’s the sheer two-tonne-plus weight of the thing, which can’t be totally hidden, even by Lexus’ best wizardry.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s very capable, even on surprisingly tight stuff. It’s just that there’s something of a disconnect between car and driver.
That’s not a bad thing, really. Are you really buying a premium convertible to attack a mountain pass? Probably not. And keep it flowing through corners and the LC 500 Convertible will keep a smile painted on your face, owing mostly to wave of torque you can ride to your destination.
Hovering your foot over the accelerator must surely be what the President feels like whenever he stands near the nuclear football, with that big V8 always ready to turn on the fireworks.
Away from the red mist, you’ll find the LC 500 Convertible positively flows from destination to destination, the 10-speed gearbox - which can feel flustered at pace - seamlessly flicking through its options, and the ride in its most comfortable settings disposing of most road imperfections before they enter the cabin.
The cabin is also very cleverly insulated, not just when the four-part roof is up, but also when it’s down, with the climate and ambience of the interior largely unaffected by what’s going on in the outside world.
BMW Alpina B48/10
The Lexus LC 500 Convertible arrives with six airbags, a reversing camera with guide lines, parking sensors, and the usual suite of traction and braking aids, but there’s much more to the safety story, too.
The more high-tech stuff includes parking sensors, pre-collision assist with AEB, lane keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and active cruise, as well as bespoke convertible safety gear, like active roll bars that deploy when the car is in danger of rolling over, protecting the occupants beneath that soft roof.
Lexus vehicles are covered by a four-year, 100,000 kilometre warranty, and the LC 500 Convertible requires servicing every 15,000kms.
Lexus's Encore ownership program includes pick-up and drop-off servicing, but the new Encore Platinum level for owners of its more exclusive models unlocks even more stuff.
One is a new On Demand service, which allows owners to book a different style of car when heading off on a holiday or business trip. The loans are available in your state or somewhere else in Australia if you're travelling, with your car waiting for you at Qantas Valet for you when you arrive.
The On Demand service is available on four occasions over your first three years of ownership (which is also the length of the Encore Platinum membership).