Car reviews - Alpina - B5
Superb ride quality, all-paw traction, gorgeous engine note, Alpina exclusivity, neat Alpina instruments, plush seats
Room for improvement
Some of the pricey options should be standard
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16 May 2018
THE high-end luxury performance sedan market just got a little bigger. And faster. Alpina, the German manufacturer that turns certain BMW models into luxurious go-fast offerings has boosted its line-up with the 5 Series-based B5 Bi-turbo.
While people generally compare Alpina with an equivalent BMW M car, there is a big difference between the two, with the latter pitched as a harder-edged track-honed offering, while Alpinas are geared towards people looking for a more comfortable – but still powerful and quick – executive express.
With the new B5 arriving now, we got behind the wheel of Alpina’s latest model and sampled some of the models already on sale here to see how they stack up.
Alpina has big job ahead of it in Australia. The brand – a manufacturer in its own right that sells heavily modified versions of BMW models – is virtually unknown outside of enthusiast circles in Australia, but the local distributor, Autosports Group Ltd, is confident it can build a small but loyal following here.
Another challenge is convincing potential buyers that it is more than just a BMW with a different badge on the boot and unique 20-spoke wheels.
Company executives say once people get behind the wheel of an Alpina, they understand what the brand stands for. So, we drove each of its models to see if that is indeed the case.
The latest model added to the line-up is the the B5 executive express, based on a BMW 5 Series sedan. Sadly Australia is not in line to be offered the cool Touring (wagon) due to the low take-up of load-luggers here.
It’s a shame, as the Europeans get it. Of the 470 or so orders Alpina already has for the B5 on the Continent, two thirds of them are for the Touring, according to the company.
Not that there is much to complain about with the B5 sedan. Priced from $210,000 excluding on-road costs, the big German car is priced to compete with a number of luxury large sedans, but adds a level of exclusivity that not many of them can offer.
A BMW M5 costs a shade under $200,000 but the pair offer vastly different drive experiences.
The Alpina has a lot of standard gear, but there are a crazy number of options. Some of these should probably be standard, but Alpina says it wants to give its buyers different alternatives.
The B5 is distinguished from a regular BMW-badged 5 Series by the familiar 20-spoke, 20-inch wheels and the large front apron that has an open lower air intake with the Alpina badge in the middle.
The version we sampled also had the distinctive Alpina decals running the length of the car and the sexy big (Alpina) blue callipers – the only colour available.
It also has a tiny roof spoiler at the top of the windscreen to reduce sunroof wind noise at high speed which, in the case if the B5, tops out at 330km/h.
Interestingly, Alpina does a 24-hour max speed test, driving the car at top speed for 24 hours straight, stopping only to refill the fuel tank. At that speed, each tank only takes the car 90km.
It is amazing that the B5 starts life on the BMW production line as a base 520d before it gets Alpina-specific features, including an Alpina-modified petrol bi-turbo V8.
The car is 80-85 per cent completed at the BMW factory – in the case of the 5 Series, Dingolfing, Germany – before being shipped to Alpina’s facility in Buchloe, 60km from Munich for the rest of the Alpina treatment.
Inside, the B5 has super-plush yet supportive Nappa leather seats, into which the body sinks without bringing on nap time. The quality of the trim in the cabin, including the piano black panels, exudes premium.
Cool touches include Alpina-specific digital instruments that are Alpina blue with red needles in Comfort mode and change to the gorgeous Alpina green in Sport mode.
The B5 has even more to like when you plant your right foot, including a lovely burble from the 447kW/800Nm V8, particularly in Sport mode. Once up and running, the B5 is a quiet cruiser.
The smooth torque and power delivery is seriously impressive, as the engine works flawlessly with the eight-speed auto to pick up the pace quickly and without any fuss.
The Alpina-tweaked suspension matched with the specially designed Pirelli P Zero tyres ensures a seriously comfortable ride, which is Alpina’s modus operandi and the antithesis of some of its competitors that offer a harsh ride in the name of a sporty suspension tune.
The addition of a modified version of BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system helps keep the B5 planted.
In Sport mode, the B5 livens up even more, with a heavier steering weighting. At the other end of the scale, those wanting a seriously soft ride can choose the Alpina-only Comfort+ mode.
We swapped into a 7 Series-based B7 for a drive after the B5, and despite the two models sharing an identical powertrain, they couldn’t be more different.
The significantly bigger B7’s air suspension feels floaty with its super-plush ride.
We also drove the B3 S sedan and B4 S coupe, based on the BMW 3 Series sedan and 4 Series coupe respectively.
Both are powered by a 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine delivering 324kW and 660Nm driving the rear wheels via – like all other Alpinas in Australia – an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Once again, the ride is much softer than an equivalent performance-focused BMW model, be it an M3 or M4.
In-line acceleration is still rapid (4.2 seconds for the coupe), but that ride means it would be an easy car to live with.
For more than a few buyers, a BMW M3/M4/M5 or even another competitor such as a Mercedes-AMG E63 or E43 might be a bit hardcore or edgy for an everyday drive.
That is where Alpina comes in, offering sublime performance in a more subtle and comfortable way. It is also exclusive.
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