If you want a compact (relatively) four-door performance car from BMW, you’re sort of spoiled for choice at the moment. Well, if you live in Europe, at least. For European customers looking for such a car, you now have three options; the BMW M3 Competition, ALPINA B3, and the all-new ALPINA B4 Gran Coupe. So which one do you get?
This isn’t a discussion about which car is better because they’re all too unique to really be considered better than one another. Instead, we’re going to look at what they offer, to see which car is a better fit for you. Let’s dig in.
BMW M3 Competition
This is the car that came first and it’s the most famous, so we’ll start here. The BMW M3 Competition uses a 3.0 liter twin-turbocharged inline-six, with 503 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque. It’s BMW’s S58 engine and, ironically, it’s the same basic engine that’s in the two ALPINAs. The difference is that the M3’s S58 has been tuned by the M Division and makes more horsepower than the two ALPINA engines. It’s tuned for higher revs and a more manic, motorsport-like feel.
The M3 Competition is also stiffer, louder, more brash, and more dynamic than either the ALPINA B3 or B4. That’s just the way M cars are, they’re supposed to be razor sharp, even if that means sacrificing some comfort. It’s also the only car in this three-way that offers rear-wheel drive (it’s available in both rear and all-wheel drive). So if it’s a pure driver’s car you’re after, the M3 is probably for you.
If you like the idea of a BMW M3 but want to trade some of its precision for some comfort, the ALPINA B3 is your car. It uses the same S58 engine but it’s been tuned by ALPINA to make less horsepower and more torque. It makes 456 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, giving it a different feel. ALPINA also tuned its exhaust note to be a bit less raucous and more sophisticated, while still sounding sporty.
That same sentiment carried over to the B3’s suspension as well. The ALPINA B3 is still an impressive athlete, with great steering and smooth moves, but it’s more sophisticated, more comfortable, and less brash. It’s a gentleman’s sport sedan, if you will.
Interestingly, one of the B3’s more desirable traits is its design. With the B3, ALPINA kept the standard 3 Series’ grille, rather than the M3’s pig-like snout. Many fans feel the B3 is worth getting for that reason alone. It is, in my opinion, the best looking car of these three by far. It’s also available as a B3 Touring (wagon), which would not only be the best looking but the most practical.
While ALPINA chose to use the standard 3 Series grille for the B3, it had no choice for the B4 but to adopt the new grille. That’s because the standard 4 Series also uses the nostril-heavy grille, so ALPINA had nowhere to hide. Admittedly, the B4 Gran Coupe is the best looking version of the 4 Series.
Under the hood, the B4 also uses an S58 engine but it’s tuned a bit differently than the B3’s, giving it more power. The B4 makes 495 horsepower and 538 lb-ft of torque. Though, it’s also heavier than the B3, as the standard 4 Series Gran Coupe is heavier than the standard 3 Series. So the added power might be to counter the weight increase.
What makes the B4 Gran Coupe special is its body style. Rather than the other two, with their conventional four-door sedan bodies, the B4 Gran Coupe has a hatchback tailgate, giving it more trunk space and a more practical trunk aperture. So while it might have the controversial new grille, it makes up for it with improved practicality out back over the sedan options.
Which to Buy?
Chances are, if you have the money and want a performance BMW sedan, the M3 Competition is the car you’re looking at. However, if that’s the case, there are two other options worth your consideration. Which is the one to buy? That’s tough to say, as they all have their reasons.
The M3 is the sharpest and most dynamic but also the least comfortable. The B3 is more comfortable and still fast, while also looking best, but it’s the least powerful. While the B4 Gran Coupe has the funky looks but it’s more powerful than the B3 and more practical than both (excluding the B3 Touring).
Given that each have their pros and cons, which is the car you most prefer to own?