If you’ve been eyeing off a BMW M3 but need something more bespoke with an exclusive vibe then Alpina’s spin on the 3-Series might be the ticket.
But this is no re-worked M car. Instead the performance car manufacturer that operates closely with BMW has taken the 340i Luxury line and given it a meatier engine, retuned suspension and finer design details inside and out.
The B3 comes in either sedan or Touring (BMW speak for station wagon) guises and beyond boot space practicality there’s not a lot differentiating the two.
Over the BMW 340i model it’s based on, the B3 looks distinctly different with a unique boot and front-lip spoiler, classic Alpina-style 20-inch alloys, optional pin striping in a variety of contrasting themes and Alpina-embossed leather interior with build plaque on the centre console.
It keeps the 340i’s eight-speed ZF automatic but like Alpina of old the Buchloe-based maker wasn’t satisfied with the 3.0-litre straight-six's 240kW/450Nm output so the twin-scroll huffer was replaced twin-turbos, a strengthened crankshaft, remapped ECU, larger intercooler and high flow fuel pump. The result is 301kW of power and 600Nm of torque that brings the B3 just 16kW short of the M3 but 50Nm higher in torque.
Add about 180kg for the Alpina’s plusher bits and the 0-100km/h sprint is only 0.2sec slower than the M car.
The B3 also gets a revised chassis with more ridged front end over the 340i, 45 per cent stiffer Eibach springs with retuned adaptive dampers, recalibrated ESC and variable steering, quad-tip Akropovic exhaust, bigger brakes and a Drexler-developed mechanical limited slip differential.
All great for performance buffs, but the B3, priced from $155,900 (plus on-road costs), is more expensive than every existing 5-Series variant and M3 model except for the track-ready CS.
But that car isn’t as user friendly off track and the B3 adds some luxe trim with unique details.
The technical changes underneath the B3 help justify some of its lofty price but inside the changes aren’t as great. It mostly replicates the fit, finish and feel of the 3-Series – which is a good base to begin with - but doesn’t take it anywhere special.
The blue and green stitch Alpina steering wheel and blue instrument cluster are the main point of difference but it’s hard to get excited about and the sporty character endowed elsewhere evaporates inside.
Killing the vibe further are small push-button gear selectors on the tiller instead of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters that aren't as encouraging when pushing on.
But as a cushy semi-luxe sedan it feels homely. The technology isn’t the latest – the 8.8-inch infotainment isn’t as crisp as the latest screens, particular when compared to the updated 5-Series, and the aforementioned dash isn’t as nice as new digital displays - but it affords plenty of room front and back and is comfortable over long trips.
A variety of leather colours, veneer trims and stitching make the options list for a bespoke fitout and a Harmon Kardon sound system and heads-up display are available on the extras list.
ON THE ROAD
Alpina’s reworked engine delivers the goods and acceleration in any gear is met with a shove into the seat and the sound of rolling thunder from the titanium exhaust. The small and large twin-turbos aren’t as uniform in torque delivery as the twin-scroll setup so it comes on in a brutish whack. But it's characterful and fun, if a little tail happy when exiting corners, and matched by a confident chassis.
The retuned ESC parameters aren’t completely dialled down but in sports mode it lets the rear spin a little when overwhelmed so there’s a bit more adjustability and play. By default, the sharper mode firms the dampers, adds steering weight and increases throttle response.
Though the dampers are too rigid to live with day-to-day the settings can be set individually and on smooth roads the firmer response helps control the B3's added heft and rigidity – so too do the bigger 370mm ventilated front brakes that feel progressive and have plenty of bite.
Despite the steering’s recalibration it’s hard to pick much variation over the usual 3-Series, which is responsive and accurate but filtered. Combined with the sharp shifting eight-speed automatic the drivetrain is energetic and eager when pushed.
As a performance car it feels more mature than the M3’s muscle car approach, with enough drama from its slightly older feeling turbo rush and crackling exhaust to excite the enthusiast.
It’s also a well-tempered town car that’s easy to drive at urban speeds and the cabin provides isolation from most of the outside world, with a bit of tyre roar coming off the wide rubber on coarse surfaces.
Unfortunately, our test car suffered from squeaks in the B-pillars as well that might be a hangover from Alpina’s tinkering.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - The BMW 3 Series range model scored 36.76 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2012.
Safety Features: Dual front, side and curtain airbags, electronic stability and traction control, front and rear parking sensors, surround-view camera, blind-spot warning, lane departure and collision warnings, low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Two years/unlimited kilometres.
Servicing: Service intervals are condition based, determined by the car’s internal sensors.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
For almost the same money, the Mercedes-AMG C63 S has more power, more torque and a well-executed interior that feels both more luxurious and sportier. It’s options can add up quickly though.
Audi is out of stock for a direct competitor but its RS4 Avant wagon, which is comparable for B3 Touring buyers, lands in April and its smaller twin-turbo V6 moves the Audi in a straight line a smidgen quicker. The interior is well put together too and like most of Audi’s latest products it has the latest in-car technology.
If you don’t want to stray from the Bavarian motor maker’s stable though the BMW M3 is more affordable and has better performance, and while it’s not as plush inside a few options will bring it close.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
For what started as a backyard workshop fifty years ago, the family-run Alpina has evolved yet stayed true to its original vision of what a custom-built BMW should be. And that character is what makes the B3 stand out from the generic 3-Series crowd, even against the hotter M3.
Some of the changes seem at odds against its comprehensive driveline changes but they don’t affect performance. It’s hard to justify the price compared to the 340i its built on or the M3 it competes against, but if you want exclusivity, you’ll be hard pressed to see another on the road.
- Interested in buying Alpina B3? Visit our Alpina showroom for more information.