Alpina B5 M5 from a par­al­lel uni­verse

Like a great steak, an Alpina is a treat to be savoured, a lov­ingly reared prod­uct of the slow food move­ment to M divi­sion’s bom­bas­tic burg­ers. And the B5 is par­tic­u­larly sat­is­fy­ing. By Ben Miller


IT’S RAIN­ING FOR the first time in liv­ing mem­ory, cer­tainly for the first time since April, and it’s rain­ing hard. Pud­dles like la­goons pool at the verge and grip’s gone neb­u­lous. The ner­vous Panda at the head of our B-road con­voy has deemed 35mph ap­pro­pri­ate – which is fine. But the B5 fan­cies do­ing twice that, and can see no good rea­son not to.

So we do. The B5 is the fastest ac­cel­er­at­ing Alpina yet, a truth not un­re­lated to the fact that it is also the first all-wheel-drive Alpina. On this mael­strom of a B-road I se­lect third gear, pull out and gin­gerly nurse in some throt­tle, the road ahead clear of on­com­ing traf­fic if not of wind and rain and squall.

We ac­cel­er­ate; no drama, no wheel­spin, no fuss. More throt­tle. A deep, feel-it-in-your-spleen bari­tone from the Alpina’s ex­haust, oddly re­as­sur­ing, as if some­thing this cul­tured couldn’t pos­si­bly get you into trou­ble. Then I give up on the softy-softly thing and just get the pedal down. Like an AMG V8 the B5’s strong, smooth low-rev drive gives way to a soar­ing top-end that vin­di­cates your (brave and laud­able) de­ci­sion to spurn a per­for­mance diesel ev­ery sin­gle time you wring it out. And like an E63, the fact that you can de­ploy this mag­nif­i­cent en­gine with joy­ful aban­don, even when the rain’s hor­i­zon­tal, is proof that all-wheel drive isn’t a bad idea when you’ve 600bhp to play with.

Your fond­ness for the B5’s V8 is kin­dled first by the throt­tle re­sponse, which is in­stan­ta­neous. Alpina in­stalls its own big­ger, twin-scroll turbos (be­tween the cylin­der banks, to prompt hard-work­ing cool­ing fans ev­ery time you park up) and an up­rated cool­ing sys­tem. In­side, the mas­ter­piece gets Mahle pis­tons and meatier NGK spark plugs, to bet­ter cope with the hos­tile con­di­tions cre­ated by 1.4 bar of boost and a 10:1 com­pres­sion ra­tio.

And that fond­ness blos­soms into pro­found love the first time you find the space to ex­tend it. Alpina claims 600bhp, 590lb ft and 0-62mph in 3.5sec.

(The M5’s good for 591bhp, 553lb ft and 3.4sec.) As the tacho on the blue­faced, Alpina-branded in­stru­ments swings past 3000rpm there’s noth­ing so un­couth as a step-change in fe­roc­ity. In­stead there’s just what feels like an ex­po­nen­tial in­crease in the rate of ac­cel­er­a­tion, the Alpina gath­er­ing speed like dropped ord­nance all the way to the soft lim­iter at 6500rpm.

So the B5’s fast. But there’s far more depth to it – and its ap­peal – than that. You sit in the 5-se­ries’ fab­u­lous cock­pit, wish­ing the enor­mous A-pil­lars weren’t quite so ob­struc­tive but glad of the chunky wheel rim in your hands and the good sense of iDrive. Then you no­tice the word ‘Limou­sine’ on the lit­tle cock­pit plaque. Im­pres­sively com­fort­able though the B5 is (the ride qual­ity on those lick­able 20-inch wheels is very good), to own one and only ever drive it like a limou­sine would be a ter­ri­ble waste.

The agility and pre­ci­sion are at once fa­mil­iar from the base 5-se­ries and yet al­to­gether more con­vinc­ing here, as they should be given the price dif­fer­ence. The stan­dard xDrive 5’s good on body con­trol and trac­tion but the B5 el­e­vates both to new heights, while also throw­ing in an un­fail­ing front end and a clar­ity of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that soon has you en­joy­ing your­self in a 600bhp, 2015kg su­per sa­loon as you no doubt once did in a Fi­esta on a wet field.

This is not a fluke. Alpina’s engi­neers have low­ered and stiff­ened the front springs, spec­i­fied its own wish­bones for 1° of neg­a­tive cam­ber and re­cal­i­brated the BMW’s sys­tems to suit, in­clud­ing the rear-wheel steer­ing, xDrive and ac­tive roll con­trol.

The re­sult is slack-free steer­ing and a de­li­cious – and scarcely cred­i­ble – sense of con­nec­tion with a chas­sis of se­ri­ous abil­ity. That BMW con­tin­ues to build cars that can feel like this but re­main this re­fined is cause for cel­e­bra­tion: that there ex­ists in Ger­many a bunch of engi­neers with the time, re­sources and ex­per­tise to push the pack­age still fur­ther is cause for a week-long ben­der.

Twenty-four hours later, the rains have gone. I’ve also nailed my set-up: Com­fort dampers, Sport Plus ev­ery­thing else, sta­bil­ity con­trol off. Off? That says all you need to know. With dry, sin­u­ous tar­mac un­fold­ing ahead, the B5 is mighty. The brakes are sen­si­tive in gen­tle use, some­thing that can’t be said of the M5’s ceram­ics, but don’t want for power. And with each cor­ner your ap­pre­ci­ate the re­sis­tance to un­der­steer, to roll, and to let­ting physics cor­rupt the flu­ency of a chas­sis that, while har­ness­ing myr­iad com­plex sys­tems, feels en­tirely in­tu­itive as it does so. The xDrive is par­tic­u­larly sub­lime, the car tight­en­ing its line if you’re throt­tle-greedy mid-cor­ner while still driv­ing for­ward re­morse­lessly. On pa­per the Alpina is an M5 ri­val. In truth they’re very dif­fer­ent cars, the M5 a far feistier propo­si­tion aes­thet­i­cally and dy­nam­i­cally. Me, I’d go for the fast 5-se­ries that isn’t even a BMW, and revel in all the Alpina magic – the badge, the stripes, the sheer ‘Erm, why?’ of the thing – that so re­li­ably baf­fles the unini­ti­ated.

You don’t have to have them. But you should

Not sub­tle, but more sub­tle thanan M5. Just

Air dam and re­duced ride height bring aero bene€its. And men­ace

The plaque says ‘Limou­sine’. Cross­coun­try speed begs to dier

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