Alpina might be a little-known brand in Australia but in Europe it’s storied. That perception could change, however, with its latest take on the BMW 5-Series that’s closer to the kind of vehicle an M5 shopper is really after.
Trumping the new M Division sedan for output and almost every bit as quick from a standstill to 200km/h in under 11 seconds, the Buchloe-built brute seems only to lose out to the upcoming Competition variant that brings a track-edged focus and higher price tag.
Vehicle Style: Performance sedan
Price: $2100,000 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 447kW/800Nm 4.4-litre 8cyl twin-turbo petrol | 8sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 10.5 l/100km
It’s priced comparably from $210,000 plus on-road costs, though that quickly hikes upwards with a few luxurious options like the $22,000 Lavalina upholstery and almost $9000 Bowers & Wilkins sound system. But there’s an abundance of gear fitted already.
Standard inclusions are those iconic Alpina 20-inch alloys, Nappa leather interior, four-zone climate control, heated and ventialled electric seats, 10.25-inch iDrive infotainment system with DAB+ radio and sat nav, Harmon/Kardon sound system, heads-up display and a sunroof.
Safety tech includes adaptive cruise control with automatic stop and start, lane keeping assist, automatic highbeam headlights, blind spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert.
Alpina-specific additions are a sports steering wheel with blue and green stitching, colour digital instrument cluster with custom Alpina graphics, illuminated doors sills and numbered maker's plaque.
Of course, full customisation of paint, trim, striping and equipment is possible, and there’s other exclusive parts such as the Pirelli-sourced 255/35 front and 295/30 rear P Zero tyres. It's the first time the Italian company has worked with Alpina since 1985 and the specially formulated rubber receives 'ALP' stamped on its wall.
Alpina’s European roots lie where most customers prefer not to add the brand’s extra bling mean there’s only subtle hints of what it is – a redesigned front bar with Alpina lettering, forged alloys, some badges and a boot lip spoiler above twin-tailpipe exhaust tips. And for future anoraks at car meets, a fine lip has been added over the top of the front windscreen so there’s no whistling about the sunroof when the supercar-encroaching 330km/h vmax is reached.
It’s a similar feeling cabin to the current 5-Series which is a good thing, because that car is a whittled down 7-Series that doesn’t suffer for space. The front seats finished in Nappa leather are soft and comfortable and the rear emulates most of the finer points upfront, including plenty of leg room.
The latest iDrive infotainment system presented on a 10.25-inch screen system is intuitive to use and crisp to look at. There’s most of the latest connectivity such as Bluetooth and DAB+ radio with satellite navigation, though Apple CarPlay is a cost-option and Android Auto is non-existent. Like any new BMW, the system is easy to use via the rotary controller and hand gesture control is a cost-option.
The soft leather steering wheel feels chunky and doesn't have paddle shifters (it has button shifters) but has nice support around the 9 and 3 o’clock grips, and there's a wide range of electronic tilt and reach adjustment that meets with good seat adjustment.
ON THE ROAD
Elsewhere the Alpina refinement is found in its chassis tweaks that start with adding specifically calibrated new parts and electronic programs to the 540i donor, meaning the B5 misses out on the M5's lighter carbon-fibre roof.
And this is also a much different beast to the six-cylinder 540i. First is the addition of a rebuilt 4.4-litre bi-turbo V8 that produces 447kW and 800Nm of torque at 3000rpm; the same power as the new M5 but with 50Nm more torque, offering an almost identical 0-100km/h in 3.5sec and a higher top-speed.
The reason for that is the use of a larger Garrett exhaust-side turbine, wider and better flowing intake manifold and new Mahle pistons that cop 1.4 bar of boost pressure on top of a 10:1 compression ratio. The result is explosive acceleration no matter the speed.
The ZF eight-speed automatic couldn’t take the extra Newtons and has been strengthened and retuned while the all-wheel drive system gets Alpina tweaks. Unlike the M5, it can't flick into two-wheel only mode but it will push up to 90 per cent of torque to the rear axle.
Chassis tweaks consist of a new front wishbone assembly with added 1-degree of negative camber, shorter and stiffer Eibach springs and Bilstein-sourced and tuned dampers among a myriad of finer electronic and hardware tweaks to things like the steering and adaptive suspension.
It all helps make for an easily manoeuvrable large sedan at slow speed that sharpens to a bullet when going fast. Stability at high-speed is impressive and clearly tuned for the B5's home highways but even at slower speeds it takes a fair mis-judgement to upset its composure that’s firm and well balanced in sport mode.
The xDrive all-wheel drive system works to keep the rear-end from being unwieldly under the high amount of torque and the optional LSD further helps put grunt to the correct wheels. The big 395mm front and 398mm rear brakes are also commendable and while carbon-ceramic discs aren’t available there’s no reason to have them, with good pedal modulation and plenty of quick-biting grip when needed.
We were limited in our driving time but over winding roads with varied surfaces the B5 felt as though it was well-balanced between dynamic ability and comfort.
Other facets like steering and throttle response are sharper and more accurate in sport settings and transform the B5’s attitude on the road towards an almost-edgy ride but hit the Alpina’s-unique comfort plus mode and the adaptive dampers slacken with floating road compliance that’s befit of the 5-Series’ nature.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
it’s the extra plush ride which sacrifices a bit of performance that defines what the B5 is and what it can’t be. But like the original executive express M5 that was a subtle performance upgrade, the B5 feels shades of the same. It adds comfort and exclusivity while quenching the performance thirst, and is held back only by its unfamiliarity on the Australian showroom floor.