Story by Tim McIntyre in Buchloe, Germany
Photos by Alpina
Supercars. They sure are a blast on a racetrack. Great down a long, straight road too. And don’t forget, brilliant at attracting unwanted attention. Shame about that Achilles heel called versatility.
In the real world of passengers, luggage, speedbumps, and multi-storey carparks, supercars don’t do so well. Purists may argue these are purpose built, no compromise machines. But show me where it is written that supercars need to be one-trick ponies.
It certainly isn’t the approach at Alpina.
The Bavarian auto manufacturer has been in the business of making BMWs go fast for over 50 years. Its flagship model, the Alpina B7, has since its inception in 1978, won multiple “World’s Fastest Sedan” accolades.
Safe to say that Alpina know a thing or two about building fast sedans. The Alpina philosophy is simple – supercar performance without supercar constraints. A car for the businessman who enjoys driving fast on the Autobahn but prefers not to show up for meetings in something loud, flash, and obviously expensive.
Picture if you will a four-door sedan with over 600 horsepower and a top speed well over 300km/h. It would be phenomenally stable at high speed yet easy to drive in traffic. It would average 10 km/l, accommodate four large adults comfortably and only require servicing at 20,000-mile intervals. This is, in fact, the promise and the premise of the new BMW Alpina B5 Bi-Turbo. The car is based on a BMW 5 Series and shares that muscular yet elegant profile.
And that’s about where the similarities end.
For starters, the Alpina B5 has a 4.4 litre V8 petrol engine with twin turbochargers and variable valve timing. Good for a very healthy 608 horsepower and a stonking 800 Newton-metres of torque. Put in perspective, the Alpina B5 makes more power than an Audi R8 V10 and more torque than a Bentley Continental GTC Speed. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard, allowing the car to accelerate from 0 to 100km/h in 3.5 seconds, onto 200km/h in 11.4 seconds, and top out at 330km/h.
Our test route is a mix of country lanes, B-roads and stretches of the Autobahn. Roads are icy in parts and I try to push the all-wheel drive car as fast as I dare, without pushing myself into a ditch. A couple of things are evident within the first few kilometres. The Alpina B5 is one of those cars you can get comfortably up to speed with very quickly. It feels intuitive. Throttle response is predictable and linear, as are the brakes. All-round road visibility is excellent. The engine note is engaging under hard acceleration but is otherwise, unobtrusive, at least in Comfort mode. Things are a wee less tranquil in Sport mode, when active exhaust valves within the signature Alpina twin elliptical tailpipes get to liberate more noise. And of course, power. Of which there is ample.
What is astonishing is the way the Alpina B5’s prodigious power is transmitted with such civility.
At 2,000rpm, this engine is already putting out 670 of its 800Nm of torque. Yet the car will happily dawdle at street legal speeds all day. Up the pace, and the car comes to life. Stability at speed is exceptional. High speed driving on a highway is, after all, its raison d’etre. Ensuring all that power is kept under control is BMW’s xDrive system working in conjunction with Dynamic Stability Control. Definitive Alpina 20” wheels are forged aluminium and adorned with Alpina-spec Pirelli P Zero tyres measuring 255/35 ZR20 at the front and 295/30 ZR20 at the rear – very good to have in a car that seats four and does 300km/h.
Prompted and prodded by my Alpina hosts, I did manage to nudge 250km/h once. A feat accomplished with alarming ease in a car like this. A car that really does make 250 feel like 150km/h. About the only thing this versatile Alpina B5 won’t do, is draw unwanted attention.
Except maybe from people who know their cars.