Car reviews - Alpina - B5 - Touring
Ride and interior comfort, performance, wagon practicality, rarity, creamy torque, understated styling
Room for improvement
Performance not quite as savage as M5, unattractive Alpina instrumentation, button-style paddle-shifters, lazy engine performance in Comfort Plus, Alpina bodykit not for everyone
Alpina blends best of both worlds with comfortable and potent B5 Touring wagon
31 Jul 2019
ALPINA Automobiles launched Down Under in late 2016 with a range consisting of fettled versions of the BMW 3 Series sedan and wagon, and 4 Series coupe and convertible, and has since launched the B5 and B7, based on the 5 Series and 7 Series luxury sedans respectively.
Along with the XD3 mid-size SUV, the latest model to be locally launched by the niche tuner is the B5 Touring, the wagon version of the B5 and the only load-lugger in the BMW family to be offered with a V8 engine.
Despite Alpina not anticipating big sales numbers, the B5 Touring is a compelling package on paper with power, comfort and practicality. So, how does it stack up in the real world?
The B5 Touring is the second wagon to be offered in the Alpina range after the 3 Series-based B3 Touring and arrives locally a year after the sedan version.
Without a large or upper-large SUV in its range, it could be assumed that the B5 Touring could act as the SUV or family car for the brand, however Alpina has said it is more to fill an available niche in the market that will take on the likes of the Audi RS6 Avant.
Alpina vehicles have been set up to provide a different driving experience to BMW’s M division, with a more plush, comfortable driving experience and an engine tune that emphasises greater torque down low and a smoother overall driving character.
The company uses a BMW 540i Touring as its base vehicle, however it swaps out the 540i’s 3.0-litre turbocharged inline six-cylinder for the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 from the 550i and tunes it to produce comparable power figures to the M5 Competition.
With unique kit such as a beefed-up intercooler and a unique quad-exit exhaust system, the Alpina’s V8 powerplant pumps out 447kW from 5750-6250rpm and 800Nm from 3000-5000rpm.
The Alpina’s peak power is slightly down on the M5 Competition’s 460kW, however it makes up for it with 50Nm of extra pulling power, which the brand claims is far more usable for everyday driving.
Power is sent to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission with reinforced internals to deal with the extra torque, linked to a rear-biased xDrive all-wheel-drive system that only introduces power to the front wheels as traction or driving style demands.
Driving the B5 Touring for the first time, it is immediately apparent Alpina has created a driving characteristic that lends itself to smooth, relaxed driving, with plenty of low-down shove and a transmission calibration that keeps engine revs down.
With both the Comfort and Comfort Plus driving modes, we found the transmission calibration in the latter to perhaps be a little too lazy, with the automatic reluctant to downshift when accelerating uphill, resulting in lacklustre performance.
However, in all other modes, the engine is a great pairing for the B5 Touring, with a sensible, easy driving style that can immediately flick the switch to savage performance engine where required.
The V8’s engine note remains fairly muted at idle and low engine speeds, however once the tachometer climbs above 3000rpm, the engine’s personality comes to life with a deep, booming sound that becomes more and more addictive as the needle rises.
Official combined fuel consumption for the B5 sits at 10.3 litres per 100km, while our drive route produced a fuel consumption figure of 12.1L/100km.
One of the other major points of difference with the Alpina range is the more comfortable and luxurious ride quality than its M counterparts, which became immediately apparent on our drive route.
The B5 feels far more liveable as a daily driving prospect than the M5, with a genuinely comfortable suspension set-up that makes long road trips an enjoyable prospect.
When testing out the B5’s handling, the softer suspension does mean its steering response and chassis isn’t quite as sharp as that of the M5, but it still handles corners with ease, with a wide, low-slung stance, good steering feel and rear-biased all-paw traction.
Rear-axle steering is another point of difference over the M5 that helps the car manoeuvre around tight spaces like carparks with ease while also providing additional stability at high speeds.
The feeling of comfort and luxury is compounded by a serene and quiet cabin that lets in scarce amounts of road and tyre noise – a commendable effort considering the V8 powerplant and 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in low-profile Pirelli tyres.
Inside, the Alpina’s cabin largely mirrors that of its 5 Series donor vehicle, but there are a few noticeable differences.
The first and possibly most notable difference is the electrically adjustable seats, which feature massive amounts of seat cushioning, allowing for a lounge-like feel that makes you think you could spend all day inside the car with no problems.
Heating and supple leather are included ,however ventilated seats are an option, which we think on a $217,000 luxury car should probably come as standard.
The B5 also scores a special steering wheel upholstered in supple leather and featuring blue-and-green contrast stitching to match the signature Alpina colours.
Also, on the steering wheel are button-style paddle-shifters – a nod to the original Alpina units which the brand claims were the first steering-wheel-mounted controls to feature on a production car.
While a cool nod to its history, the button shifters are impractical and feel wrong in the hands. Luckily, standard BMW paddle shifters can be optioned at no cost.
Alpina has also done its take on BMW’s digital instrument cluster with a bright blue background, which ends up looking a bit grating and pixelated when contrasted against the rest of the cabin.
The rest of cabin is more or less clearly a BMW, with a 10.25-inch touchscreen projecting BMW’s latest operating system navigated which is via the iDrive controller.
As a vehicle in the large-car segment, the B5 Touring is roomy for all occupants with the possible exception of the rear middle seat, making for a great family option if you have the cash and performance bent.
And who can forget that the B5 Touring has a wagon body? With 570 litres of space that expands to 1700L, the B5 Touring is both supremely practical while also looking the business with an understated bodykit and quad-exit exhausts sitting underneath the tailgate.
Australia’s appetite for wagons pales in comparison to the European market, so don’t expect to see a huge amount of them out on the road.
However, the B5 Touring is a great package for those looking for a jack-of -all-trades performance car; it is comfortable, practical, stylish and quick – just make sure the lottery ticket you buy is the winning one.
The Road to Recovery podcast series
Model release date: 1 July 2019
All car reviews
Click to share