M5 and E63 S too vul­gar? Then Alpina’s ‘re­served’ 600bhp B5 just may fit the bill

Evo - - CONTENTS - Adam Towler (@Adamtowler)

‘While there’s no ev­ery­thing-off drift mode, it will over­steer wildly given the space’

DOES THE WORLD RE­ALLY NEED an­other 600bhp, four-wheel-drive BMW su­per­sa­loon? Time was when Alpina’s take on the Fast Five recipe used a dif­fer­ent en­gine, and gear­box for that mat­ter, and its char­ac­ter dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion was bla­tantly ob­vi­ous. Not any more. Look at the spec sheet of the new G30-based B5 and you’ll see the fa­mil­iar 4.4-litre biturbo V8 en­gine, and an eight-speed ZF auto ’box as well. Those are the same core in­gre­di­ents found in the new M5.

Yet the an­swer to the above-posed ques­tion is em­phat­i­cally ‘yes’. It’s no coin­ci­dence that the B5’s tailpipes poke out dis­creetly from un­der the rear valance, un­like the M’s four bazookas; it speaks vol­umes about how these cars go about their re­spec­tive tasks in life.

How­ever, don’t go think­ing it il­lus­trates a lack of fire­power on the B5’s part, be­cause at 600bhp and 590lb ft of torque it sig­nif­i­cantly bet­ters its fac­tory re­la­tion’s 592bhp and 553lb ft. Alpina goes its own way with en­gine de­vel­op­ment on the N63 lump, with a unique air in­take and its own ex­ten­sive cool­ing mea­sures, the lat­ter in part be­cause Alpinas aren’t speedlim­ited like their fac­tory coun­ter­parts. This one hits a thun­der­ing 205mph.

As for the chas­sis, Alpina fits its own front wish­bones for in­creased neg­a­tive cam­ber, runs a be­spoke set-up on Bil­stein adap­tive dampers and makes use of BMW’S In­te­gral Ac­tive Steer­ing and Dy­namic Drive systems. The 20-inch ‘Clas­sic’ rims may have a fa­mil­iar de­sign, but they are now forged for a sig­nif­i­cant weight sav­ing. They’re also shod with a be­spoke Pirelli P Zero tyre – the first time the Ital­ian man­u­fac­turer has fea­tured on an Alpina since 1985 – and to go be­hind them there’s an op­tional (£1400) high-per­for­mance brake set-up, as fit­ted to our test car and com­pris­ing drilled metal discs and harder pads.

All of which is en­tic­ing, but the first thing that reg­is­ters about the B5 is how sub­tle it looks, es­pe­cially when you park it next to an M5. With­out the car­bon­fi­bre roof, two-tone al­loys and gap­ing vents of the M, the B needs an ed­u­cated eye to dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from an M Sport 540i. This is, of course, all part of its ap­peal,

and some­thing re­in­forced when you open the door and regis­ter the Alpina cus­tomi­sa­tion. As ever with the prod­ucts from Buchloe, if you’re pre­pared to pay for it, you can spec­ify pretty much any­thing you like, but the leather on the steer­ing wheel alone has a rich soft­ness that has to be felt to be be­lieved. It’s this re­served, deep-rooted qual­ity, com­bined with ex­treme ex­clu­siv­ity, that at­tracts Alpina’s ded­i­cated and well-heeled clien­tele. For them, one sus­pects a BMW M, or an AMG, is far too brash, too ob­vi­ous.

For what­ever rea­son, the BMW V8 has never got close to AMG’S ‘hot V’ en­gine when it comes to a sound­track, yet while the B5 can’t match an Af­fal­ter­bach car for vol­ume or ag­gres­sion, it has a de­li­ciously creamy growl that’s en­tirely nat­u­ral. The B5 builds on the bril­liance of the G30 – its re­fine­ment across all ar­eas – with an added feel­ing of lux­u­ri­ous con­sump­tion and ut­terly ef­fort­less power. Only a touch of throt­tle is re­quired to surge from 30mph limit to 60mph cruise; a more com­mit­ted yet still mea­sured de­pres­sion of the pedal is enough for a swift over­take. The ’box is pre­dictably well be­haved, but a switch into the car’s over­all Sport set­ting and a knock of the lever across into man­ual mode gives more con­trol, and also sharp­ens the whole experience, firm­ing the damp­ing and en­er­gis­ing the en­gine’s re­sponses.

As you might ex­pect, the B5’s all-out shove is colos­sal, and mo­ments where you can keep the throt­tle pinned for any amount of time are slim. But while turbo lag is non-ex­is­tent, there is still a sense that ba­sic physics re­quires the in­er­tia of al­most two tons to be over­come be­fore ac­cel­er­a­tion can re­ally be­gin.

Dy­nam­i­cally, the dif­fer­ence be­tween the B5 and its main­stream ri­vals is more ap­par­ent. The Alpina lacks the abil­ity to dis­guise its weight like an E63 S or M5 in their more sportive set­tings, its rate of turn and the weight­ing at the wheel feel­ing more nat­u­ral for a big car, but a lit­tle less ag­gres­sive. Trac­tion is su­perb, and while there’s no ev­ery­thing-off drift mode, it will over­steer wildly given the space and com­mit­ment. Where it re­ally ex­cels is on fast A-roads, feel­ing so sure-footed in high-speed sweep­ers and with pow­er­ful brakes avail­able on de­mand. Only the ride qual­ity on poor ur­ban sur­faces mildly dis­ap­points, with each of those gi­ant wheels thump­ing through pot­holes. Iron­i­cally, a switch to Sport im­proves wheel con­trol, even if the re­bound is a lit­tle more abrupt, but it’s the M5 that adapts bet­ter to this par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge, not the more com­fort-fo­cused Alpina.

While the B5 might not of­fer the same driver ap­peal as an M5, its more re­served char­ac­ter, com­bined with mas­sive per­for­mance and ex­clu­siv­ity, means it an­nexes its own ter­ri­tory against the odds. If noth­ing else, at £89,000 it’s the cheap­est 200mph car on sale in the UK.

Left: cabin is classy, and the op­por­tu­nity for cus­tomi­sa­tion is vast. Be­low: 20-inch al­loys are now forged to save weight; this car fea­tures op­tional per­for­mance brakes

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