Car reviews - BMW - Alpina B3 - Touring
Unmatched exclusivity, wagon practicality with M-car pace, turbo and exhaust sound effects
Room for improvement
Not enough green and blue signatures, fuel consumption
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16 Mar 2017
Price and equipment
FROM the standard BMW catalogue, the most you can spend on a 3 Series Touring is $73,900 before on-road costs for the 330i, so exactly why would you add $87,000 to that price and opt for a $160,900 Alpina B3 Bi-Turbo Touring?For the full answer you’ll have to read to the end of this review but while there is no question that the B3 is expensive – by comparison and in isolation – it is a huge amount of car for your cash.
From an equipment perspective, you get just about every extra you can throw at the 330i included in the Alpina price.
Adaptive sports suspension, adaptive LED headlights, Comfort Access (keyless entry and start), sunroof, digital radio, a whole host of electronic driver assistance systems including adaptive cruise control and autonomous braking are included to just scratch the surface of the kit list.
Add to that Alpina-branded top-quality leather seats, floor mats, door sills, steering wheel, gauges and piano black interior trim for constant reminders you are in no ordinary 3 Series.
On the outside, its 20-spoke 20-inch wheels look fantastic and have a clever hollow spoke to allow the relocation of an unsightly inflation valve to behind the wheel centre cover. This is an example of typical Alpina refinement.
With such a large wheel with fine spokes it is easier to appreciate the blue brake callipers which are also branded with the Alpina stamp.
The massive wheels are complemented by the fat front snow-plough bumper – a classic Alpina touch – as are the train-track pin-stripes adorning either flank, while a special rear valance houses four bold tailpipes with proud chrome badging to complete the tail end.
Our test car was dressed up in a conservative shade of dark silver, but customers who really want to show off their wagon can opt for the gem stone-like Alpina Blue or Alpina Green. For our money though, we would order the Touring in BMW’s classic but timeless Techno Violet.
Luxury is what the Alpina is all about and the generous kit list comes part way to justifying the hefty price, but that’s before you get the B3’s performance.
More about that later.
With the Alpina treatment, the 3 Series interior has not dramatically changed and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The 340i with which Alpina starts is a luxurious and well-built place to spend time but the added quality is easy to appreciate.
A woven textured leather door trim continues the quality feel from the excellent sports seats which are capped off with the classic Alpina crankshaft and carburettor badge in each seat back, and in the centre of the fine leather steering wheel.
Our only disappointment was that the blue and green company colours were not scattered about the cabin more liberally like the Alpinas of yesteryear. We would have loved to see the green and blue applied to the seatbelts, leather and seat stitching to match the minimal steering wheel thread.
Up front, the driver gets a supportive sport seat that is comfortable no matter how the B3 is being piloted and the excellent driving position one expects from a 3 Series. It’s much the same story in the second row and we managed to slot in three backpackers in comfort as well as their luggage.
And that is one of our favourite things about the Touring. It is easy to forget that it carries around a practical 495-litre boot that can be expended to 1500 litres until you need the extra capacity.
We think there are fewer cooler cars on the road than a planted, low-riding wagon with a fat bodykit and huge wheels. The hot wagon aesthetic is another powerful feature that will draw customers to the B3 Touring.
Engine and transmission
For the B58 engine that powers the 340i, BMW uses a single turbocharger, but for the B3, Alpina makes the significant engineering alteration to bolt on a pair of turbos in a similar arrangement to BMW’s N54 motor that powered the previous 335i.
The extra huff is not just for show and blows the 340i power output up from 240kW to 301kW with an even more impressive rise in torque from 450Nm to 600Nm.
With so much torque on tap and from 3000rpm, the Alpina feels faster than its respectable zero to 100km/h acceleration of 4.3 seconds and the brace of turbos produce the most delightful whistle accompanied by an even more likeable hiss from the bypass valves when the throttle is released.
While so many car-makers try to hide the presence of turbos, Alpina is celebrating it and the wonderful effect they have on performance in the B3.
From a standing start, the rear wheels have a hard time coping with so much torque and the traction control light can be made to flash if you aren’t paying attention, although the optional Drexler limited-slip differential would probably improve traction if that box is ticked.
In-gear acceleration is another matter entirely and where the Alpina is happiest. Point your toe on the freeway and the B3 lunges forward with a force that feels boundless.
While the turbos produce all the right sounds at the front end, a specially-designed Akrapovic stainless exhaust deals with the soundtrack at the other end.
Alpina says the full noise effect only ripens after about 8000km of running-in but even on our relatively young test car, the exhaust bark was brilliantly unapologetic, particularly as the engine nears its 7000 rpm limit at which point the smooth roar becomes a manic shout.
But you don’t get 301kW out of 3.0-litres without paying for it somewhere and during three days of a mixture of driving we managed to use an average of 16.1 litres of fuel per 100km. There is no doubt that figure can be bettered, but it’s still a long way from the claimed combined figure of 7.6L/100km.
Hanging off the back of the straight-six engine is a highly modified version of ZF’s eight-speed Sport-Automatic transmission. To cope with the enormous torque, shift patterns, ratios and gear maps have all been modified to good effect.
While something with an M-badge might try to smash through the gears with back-cracking severity, the Alpina mantra pursues speed through smoothness and the transmission is a perfect match for all that grunt.
An unusual shift solution replaces the BMW steering wheel paddles with small leather-upholstered buttons on the back of the wheel, which are pleasant and functional but seem a little like change for the sake of change.
Ride and handling
With such vast garden rollers bolted in each corner, you might imagine the B3 compromises the 3 Series’ fine ride but thanks to the inclusion of adaptive suspension as standard and careful chassis tuning, the Alpina has a silky cruising manner.
Despite riding a little lower than standard, large deviations in the road are absorbed surprisingly well and only nasty sharp edges got through to the keeper with an unpleasant thump.
Beyond that, the B3 has the same refined and sophisticated handling that the 3 Series has justifiably earned over 50 years. Alpina has simply preserved it for its rapid wagon.
Bodyroll is virtually absent in corners and steering weight is beautifully balanced but then adaptive technology removes weight at lower speed without adding a disconnected feel.
Pressing on through faster corners reveals the massive dynamic grip of the 3 Series chassis paired with serious rubber and we could have spent all day clicking up and down through the gears and smiling at the gorgeous exhaust note.
Safety and servicing
The B3 benefits from the full suite of safety features that the current BMW 3 Series has including up-to-the-minute driver assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control, front collision mitigation and warning, 360-degree camera angles for manoeuvring and rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning and tyre pressure monitoring.
If the active systems are not enough to keep the Alpina out of trouble, load limiting seatbelts with pre-tensioners, six airbags and BMW’s high-strength passenger cell construction are all there to look after occupants.
Any authorised BMW dealership is equipped to service and care for Alpina models and service intervals are determined by the same technology as ‘regular’ BMW vehicles using Connected Drive teleservices.
Like the complete BMW range, Alpina offers a range of service plans to cover scheduled requirements for up to 10 years.
While new BMW vehicles get a three-year warranty and unlimited kilometres, the Alpina range is limited to 200,000km over three years.
Every Alpina is registered with both BMW Australia and Alpina in Germany for warranty purposes, with components covered by their respective maker.
There is no doubt that Alpina’s hot wagon is a pricey proposition for most budgets but in terms of value, the B3 Touring makes a lot of sense and actually fills a sizeable gap in both BMW’s line-up and the Australian new-car market.
Firstly, local customers are not offered the 340i Touring or any six-cylinder 3 Series wagon for that matter so the B3 is the only option for customers who want 3 Series wagon practicality with six-cylinder punch.
Secondly, the mighty M3 is not offered with a more practical Touring boot on the back but even with the extra weight, the Alpina is still only 0.2 seconds slower than the iconic 3 Series from zero to 100km/h.
The M3 might just edge out a lead on the race track but in the real world the Alpina is every bit as quick and delivers the performance with a little less of the M-car raw edge and a little more sophistication.
In the absence of an M3 Touring, the B3 is BMW’s defence against Mercedes and Audi arch rivals.
Furthermore, while the M3 also has a turbocharged 3.0-litre six cylinder, it is tuned to deliver a completely different driving experience – as is the chassis and transmission. With all that taken into consideration, the B3 Touring is almost unique.
For your $160,900 you get BMW 3 Series wagon practicality and quality with an extra dose of luxury and a massive steroid-pumped hit of performance, but thanks to the ultra-exclusive combination of cool wagon body, customised with classic Alpina styling, the B3 Touring is simply one of the coolest high-performance vehicles on the road.
Audi RS4 Avant (pricing to be confirmed)
Audi is yet to officially announce the RS4 Avant but it is almost a given that a wagon version of the A4 will roll out powered by the same 3.0-litre 331kW V6 that recently debuted in the mechanically similar RS5. The RS4 will offer Quattro four-paw traction and a little more power but the same torque as the Alpina and comparable performance wrapped up in a wagon body.
Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate from $158,115 before on-road costs
Mercedes’ hottest wagon also packs a hefty punch with a massive 375kW/700Nm punch from its 4.0-litre turbo V8 and is the performance king of the executive wagons, but it lacks the exclusive customisations that set the Alpina apart from the rest of the BMW 3 Series range.
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