BMW Alpina B4 VS Lexus RC
BMW Alpina B4
- Ride and handling
- Brilliant engine
- The price
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Some dodgy styling features
- Smooth, effortless V6
- Better looking than before
- Tweaked chassis feels good
- Useless rear seats
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|
It's 2019 and the Lexus RC has been with us for four years which means it's time for a mid(ish)-life update. A glance at the specifications and tech details for its very low-key, late 2018 arrival suggests not much has changed. And let's be fair, it hasn't.
The mild refresh has brought a few changes in spec (in the right direction), price (the wrong direction, but few things are free in this life), and styling (you be the judge).
|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 RC's time on my drive was preceded by a cheaper, V8-powered Mustang, so it was fascinating to compare the Japanese approach to the American. They're not really competitors, obviously, but the Lexus' ability to cosset the driver while still showing a good turn of speed was an interesting counterpoint.
The 2019 RC350 isn't a step-change - if you want one of those, double your money and get the delightfully nutty RC F - but the changes inside, outside and underneath will certainly please the fans even if it doesn't bring in new ones in huge numbers.
Does anyone still even notice luxury coupes? If you do, is Lexus even on the radar?
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.
As a whole, I've always thought the RC to be handsome, but the headlights - as on the IS - always made me wince a bit. There's too much going on, which is weird because the rest of the car is very easy on the eye.
As is common with a mid-life facelift, the work all happens at the front and rear. There's a revised bumper, tweaked mesh pattern in the spindle grille, and a much better looking set of headlights - with much cooler LED daytime running lights and headlights. They're still a bit much, but they're not jarring.
The rear is a little cleaner but I reckon it didn't need much work. Along with new wing mirrors from the gorgeous LC coupe and new wheel designs, it's a subtle update, but a good one.
Inside is little-changed, which is good and bad. A new brushed-aluminium dash inlay, a new (naff) analogue clock, and not a huge amount else. The switchgear has a lovely damped feel, nothing clicks or snaps and it really is very serene indeed. Few cars can match a Lexus interior for feel and touch.
Some of the design decisions are confusing, though. A rotary dial to change driving modes looks more like it should be used to control the media system, and the media system's touchpad is really annoying.
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.
As ever, a sports coupe is the not the place to consider starting your DIY career, but front seat passengers luxuriate with plenty of space. A good-sized glove box joins two cupholders in the centre console which also has a decent-sized bin for hiding things, as well as a sensible place to put your phone (no wireless charging, sadly).
Rear seat passengers have very little space for their limbs or heads but at least the seats are comfortable. Two more cupholders back there, but really, nobody will use them.
The boot is a very useful 423 litres.
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.
While you can have an RC300 in the mid-sixties, the F Sport starts at $77,529, $200 extra than before. On the face of it, it doesn't look like amazing value, but get a Euro competitor and you'll be paying more.
You get 19-inch alloys, a 17-speaker stereo, four-wheel steering, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, sat nav, electric heated and ventilated front seats, leather everywhere, a limited-slip diff, variable ratio steering, adaptive dampers, keyless entry and start, and an improved safety package.
The 17-speaker stereo is a treat but the media system is not; controlled from the console by a touchpad, it's hard to use and a pain to navigate. It has Bluetooth and USB connectivity with terrific sound, but it requires patience to operate - which includes the time to get the required qualifications (okay, slight exaggeration). And there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to take the edge off. Pity.
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 RC350 packs Lexus' creamy 3.5-litre, naturally aspirated V6, a step up from the RC300's turbo four-cylinder. Power remains at 232kW/380Nm, driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed torque-converted automatic.
The RC350 cracks the 0-100km/h sprint in 6.3 seconds, which isn't bad considering it's a hefty beast at over 1700kg.
The RC300's turbo four spins up 180kW and an impressive 350Nm if you're keen to save a few dollars upfront and on running costs.
Lexus says the 350 will manage 9.1L/100km on the combined cycle but I scored a rather less convincing 12.8L/100km. Again, that's probably not bad considering its weight. The tricky dash display had me thinking it was an amazing 7.8L/100km, but it was km/L...
There is no stop-start, cylinder-on-demand or battery regen tech to save fuel - features its European rivals all have at least one of.
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.
As it has ever been, the RC350 is one smooth, smooth ride. Even the way the doors open is relaxing: swinging wide open like the hinges are made of butter, (except butter that doesn't melt or sag). Look, I'm trying to avoid saying smooth again.
Engine start-up is barely audible and while pottering about the engine remains just as subdued. It's up to the digital dashboard, with its instruments clustered into a single dial with a digital speedo, to let you know what's going on. Few cars outside of the Lexus stable are this relaxing to drive.
What I don't remember from the last time I drove an RC was all-wheel steering. Either I wasn't paying attention or Lexus snuck it in - but it really makes a difference. It's not as aggressive as, say, the bonkers RC F or Renault Sport Megane, it's just there to help bring the heavy car around. It also seems better sorted than the same system in the bigger LC500. And the steering's variable rack works well with it as a partner, too.
The RC's adaptive suspension is so good at what it does. It never over-tightens the suspension but does make a difference in Sport+. It's not really in the 350's nature to take it out for a good thrashing, but it's certainly capable - if held back a little by its portly kerb weight and soft brake pedal feel.
BMW Alpina B48/10
The RC comes with eight airbags (including knee bags), ABS, stability and traction controls, active bonnet, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, forward AEB and forward collision warning.
There are two top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX fittings in the back.
ANCAP has not tested the RC but it scored a 'Good' rating from the US IIHS test regime.
Unlike parent company Toyota, Lexus offers a four-year/100,000km warranty. Also unlike Toyota, you don't get an absurdly cheap deal on servicing, and there's with no capped-price regime. Lexus wants to see your car every 12 months or 15,000km.
To soften the blow of no capped-price servicing, Lexus will either give you a loan car or, even better, come and fetch your car from you before returning it vacuumed, washed, and serviced.
You also get a fairly comprehensive four years of roadside assist and a few other perks.