BMW Alpina B4 VS Nissan GT-R
BMW Alpina B4
- Ride and handling
- Brilliant engine
- The price
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Some dodgy styling features
- Still a mammoth drive 12 years on
- So easy to go so fast
- Nissan is still striving to improve it
- Safety features could do with an upgrade
- Price rise eats into value
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 fair to say that Liam Neeson has an enduring appeal, and he’ll forever be known for his “particular set of skills.”
The R35 Nissan GT-R has reached icon status for its own set of specific action hero talents, and the Hollywood-like number of updates it’s received over the past 12 years - or about a century in human years - suggest Nissan is hell bent on giving it Keanu Reeves-esque eternal youth.
Its trips to the surgeon have started to peter out though, with the annual tweaks of the earlier years slowing to the three year gap between its last update and the 2020 model that launches this week in time for the nameplate’s 50th birthday.
Have they managed the Keanu Reeves or the Liam Neeson, or has it jumped the shark and due for an all-new Chris Hemsworth treatment?
|Engine Type||3.8L turbo|
|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?
While the 2020 changes aren’t enough to disguise its age, it’s pretty awesome that Nissan continues to develop the GT-R, as its distinct character is yet to be matched by anyone.
So it’s more Liam Neeson than Keanu Reeves, but to keep attracting buyers Nissan should really give us a new Chris Hemsworth version.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
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.
The 2020 update is probably best described as a quick trim rather than a full haircut, let alone a nip and tuck.
Believe it or not those wheels are a new design and lighter by 140g per corner. You might also spot the blue tips on the titanium exhaust, but I’ll give you a high five if you notice the new inserts for the front corner ducts. There’s also a new Urban Grey trim colour available for the Premium Luxury trim level.
GT-R die hards will be chuffed with the return of the R34 generation’s signature Bayside Blue as a paint option though, which has required an all-new application process to suit two-decade later environmental requirements.
The car pictured is the 50th Anniversary special edition, created to celebrate the Godzilla nameplate’s golden jubilee. Unlike most special editions though, it’s not limited by build numbers or a production schedule, and is available on a built-to-order basis.
It’s based on the Premium Luxury trim level and can be distinguished by contrasting decals inspired by a 1971 Hakuska racer, 50th Anniversary badging and a special Twighlight Grey trim colour on the inside.
Aside from the minor drivetrain tweaks mentioned below, under the GT-R’s skin has been treated to stiffened brake actuation and recalibration and adaptive suspension.
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.
Nothing new here, with the same 2+2 layout that’s about as accommodating as a Porsche 911, despite the GT-R’s extra size. The boot is a decent 315 litres though, but its actual functionality is hampered by a small boot opening.
There’s also two cupholders in the front, two in the back, and bottle holders in the carpet-lined doors.
Unlike GT-R’s, the 2020 model finally adds ISOFIX child seat anchorage points to the back seat. These were previously excluded from Australian and New Zealand models.
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 GT-R is still split into Premium, Premium Luxury and Track Edition trim levels, with 50th Anniversary special edition being based on the Premium Luxury.
The top-spec Nismo version has been dropped, and pricing has been massaged upwards across the range.
The base GT-R Premium is now $4800 more with a $193,800 list price, the Premium Luxury swells by the same margin to $199,800, and the Track Edition grows by a full $8000 to $235,000. The Track Edition continues to be available with an optional Nismo-themed interior upgrade for an extra $12,000.
Given the update doesn’t seem to bring anything more than the standard changes, the range-wide price rises put a marginal dent in the value equation that’s long been a relative strength of the GT-R, but it still looks pretty impressive next to the $265,000 starting point for a Porsche 911.
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 3.8-litre twin-turbo V6’s key stats are unchanged at a mammoth 419kW at 6800rpm and 632Nm available from 3300-5800rpm.
New turbos derived from the GT3 race car have been fitted, which aren’t quite the same as the Nismo’s GT3-matching units, which promise to be 5 per cent more efficient, without changing the max outputs.
The six-speed dual clutch transaxle has also been recalibrated for more aggressive throttle blips on downchanges, and allow gearchanges to occur during ABS engagement.
This was never going to be a highlight, but all versions of the GT-R still carry an 11.7L/100km official combined fuel consumption figure, which is actually quite reasonable for a car with this much performance.
A diet of full-strength 98RON premium unleaded is mandated though, and the above fuel figure combined with its 74-litre tank suggest a highway range of around 630km between fills.
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.
Even more than a decade later, the GT-R is still a mammoth car to drive. Mammoth in terms of its size and the sale of the thrills it delivers.
Cars in general have grown larger and heavier in the past 12 years, but 1765kg is still a lot for a performance car designed to go around corners as well as it accelerates.
And therein lies the great R35 oxymoron, it’s SUV heavy but supercar fast and agile.
Nissan stopped quoting acceleration figures with the 2017 model, but it still packs the outputs and hardware that nudged 0-100km/h below 3 seconds in the past.
So it is still fast, but what’s surprising is that the drive experience never seems to date, no matter how many years have been stacked on between opportunities to hop behind the wheel.
It needs to be said that the 2020 changes are undetectable in isolation, but what made the GT-R feel so special in 2007 still applies today.
You could criticise it for its harsh ride quality and assortment of whirs, groans and occasional thunks from the drivetrain, but I feel this is part of the GT-R’s charm. Has any depiction of its Godzilla namesake ever been quiet and friendly?
Rather than feeling like it’s falling apart, the GT-R’s mechanical soundtrack is more of an exciting reminder of how many moving parts are employed to deliver its performance.
And it’s still largely the car that delivers this performance, from the responsiveness of the twin-turbos, the excellent calibration of the dual-clutch transmission to the massive grip of four fat tyres controlled by its clever all-wheel drivetrain and array of diffs.
But regardless of the scale of the role the car plays in its performance, the driver’s most important connection, the steering wheel is delightfully round with grippy high-quality leather. The steering itself is sharp and direct too.
There’s no other car around that matches its brutal looks with such aggressive performance and thrills for the driver, yet it still feels idiot-proof in its execution.
BMW Alpina B48/10
It does come with a reversing camera, along with dual front, side and curtain airbags. It’s worth noting that the when the Track Edition is optioned with the Nismo interior, the Recaro seats mean it misses out on the side and curtain airbags like the GT-R Nismo.