BMW Alpina B4 VS Maserati Granturismo
BMW Alpina B4
- Ride and handling
- Brilliant engine
- The price
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Some dodgy styling features
- Soaring engine
- Gorgeous looks
- Seats four in comfort
- Dated multimedia system
- Very heavy
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|
Cars that have had this many birthdays don’t really deserve to look this good, but the GranTurismo's first impression is a good one – it's so pretty and that Birdcage-inspired nose, if anything, is getting better looking.
They don't really deserve to be this engaging, either. Maserati's range continues to expand with the Ghibli finally coming on line but the real attention-grabber remains the GranTurismo. And in this Sport Line guise, you get a bit of Stradale visual aggro without the chiro-inducing ride.
|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?
From the most compelling engine sound this side of … well, anything … to a timeless, shapely body the GranTurismo is a surprising car. While its age is catching up to it in a few areas (fuel consumption, in-car entertainment) what matters most is that this Maserati still lights the fire in the belly.
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 has already been (indelicately) mentioned, this is a design that is not only ageing well, it still looks pretty fresh from most angles. The only let down are the over-sized tail-lights that look more at home on something less exotic. Those aside, it's a deeply pretty car, with lovely surfacing, the highlight being those beautiful rising guards that funnel your vision down the bonnet.
Interior packaging isn't the GT’s strong point. Inside is pretty cosy with a fat transmission tunnel that makes for a narrow footwell.
With the Sport you get carbon-backed seats that are thinner in the backrest allowing for more room in the tight rear bucket. Snug they may be, but head and leg room is surprisingly good. The white leather interior of this one may not have been to everyone’s taste, but it was certainly beautifully put together.
The boot is fairly small but will fit more than, say, the similarly sized (but double the price) Ferrari FF.
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.
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.
The GranTurismo MC Sport comes in two versions. Both have six-speed gearboxes, but one has the rear-mounted robotised manual while our version was the six-speed ZF automatic, which is mated directly to the engine.
The auto weighs in at $295,000, $23,000 cheaper than the Stradale. Both cars come standard with Poltrona Frau leather, carbon fibre trim inside and out, alloy pedals, bi-xenon headlights, foglights, parking sensors front and rear, 20-inch MSC alloys, keyless entry, electric seats, Alcantara headlining, cruise control, dual-zone climate control and electric adjustment for the steering wheel.
Sadly, time has marched on from when the GranTurismo's entertainment system was first presented to the world. It's a weird, unwieldy system that takes a lot of getting used to, with buttons that don't always seem to do what their label says. Pairing the phone was arduous and while most owners do that once, it does speak to the overall usability.
Having said that, the 11-speaker Bose stereo pumped out some pretty good sound and once the satnav's input method is deciphered, it worked surprisingly well given its fairly basic presentation on the seven-inch screen.
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.
Maserati's 4.7L V8, inherited from the then-parent Ferrari, is a cracker. Based on the V8 found in the F430, it has a gloriously silly redline of 8000rpm. Peak power is 338kW at 7000rpm and 520Nm at 4750rpm.
The 0-100km/h is dispatched in 4.8 seconds and top speed is 298km/h.
The transmission is a six-speed ZF automatic and fuel economy is a sobering 14.3L/100km on the combined cycle.
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.
There are few more impressive sounds in the automotive world than a Maserati-tuned V8. Even on start-up, the smooth V8 gives you a little bellow to wake the neighbours and when in non-Sport mode it quickly settles into a quiet idle. The exhaust has the now-familiar valving that opens up when you switch it into Sport and if you don’t default to that when driving the GT, you're probably dead inside.
The V8 makes a tremendously addictive racket, getting better with every rev as the tacho needle swipes right to the redline.
When compared with the lightweight sportster from which the engine is lifted, you won't be moving quite as quickly, but the noise and the sharp-shifting transmission will keep you happy. Tunnels are worth the price of entry as you crank the windows down and flip the paddles to find second or even first.
It's hard to pick that the transmission is a traditional automatic. The shifts are fast and positive but never violent – that would be out of character – responding properly to the paddles. In automatic, it's smooth and gentle.
The steering is mighty impressive too. There's enough feel to keep you interested and entertained but not so much you’ll be overwhelmed in the daily drive. The nose changes direction with a flick of the wrists and the moderately-firm Skyhook suspension does a good job of making the rest of the car follow without undue body roll.
Despite rolling on 20-inch alloys shod with sticky 245s up front and 285 at the rear, cruising in the GT is surprisingly quiet and comfortable. WithSport mode off, it's a very agreeable place to be. The seats are hugely comfortable, even in the rear, which seems impossible.