Story by Tim McIntyre
Photos by Alpina
Alpina – a bigger, faster and badder BMW?
Our target is to build a dream car for everyday use. Not as sporty as a BMW M but still much more performance than most people can exploit.
Our goal has always been to get the best driving harmony. We are not the best in horsepower, maximum speed, or racetrack driving but we combine very good acceleration with very good high speed, and very good fuel consumption and ease of operation. Within the first two or three kilometres of driving an Alpina, you have to feel that, the car is nice, easy and forgiving to drive.
What about performance at the limit?
Our formula has always been to build stability at maximum speed, with as much comfort as we can. Because it’s not fun to drive with race suspension for any distance. Stiffer suspension does not necessarily mean faster. In the wet, or over bad surfaces, a car that is more pliant is easier to exploit. At very high speeds, say between 250 to 300km/h, we have engineered the steering to not be overly sensitive. If you lose concentration for a moment, the car is still easy to correct.
What about the design?
Our customers like understatement. They don’t find it important to be seen as someone who has a lot of money. So, we don’t get too aggressive here. The Alpina B5 looks like a standard 5 series with bigger wheels. Inside the car, you will see more classic leather and lacquer instead of aluminium and carbon fibre. Our production run is only 1,500 to 1,700 cars annually and this exclusivity is something our customers like as well.
Can you talk about the relationship with BMW?
The partnership gives BMW the possibility to add more exclusivity to the brand while giving customers a very refined driving machine. We have a combined production process where parts from Alpina are sent to the BMW factory to be installed on their production line.
What kind of parts?
We cast our own crankcases. This allows us to mount twin turbochargers while retaining all-wheel drive. We also use forged crankshafts versus a standard BMWs cast item.
Alpina have a different perspective on power
We optimise our engines for torque. That is our philosophy. We like max torque to come in near 3000rpm. On a race track, you may use 5,500 to 7500rpm but in everyday driving, you are often between 2500 and 4500rpm.
It’s also important that your cars are frugal
When you drive high mileage, between 50,000 to 100,000km a year, these things matter. For our customers, it means less fuel stops and of course, money saved. We like to think of an Alpina as a car where you smile when you accelerate and also when you refuel.
Have you had to make performance compromises as a result?
It is possible to use quality engineering, design and parts to get a low to moderate fuel consumption from a fast car. For example, with a torquey engine, the revs can average between 1,500 to 2,000rpm lower than a normal everyday car. Lower revs equal lower consumption.
We also design for zero lift and downforce. Downforce is important for racing cars but it creates drag. Many cars have wide front fenders and even wider tyres, creating even more drag. We prefer to cover the front wheels as best as we can. There are some of the many small but important areas where you can gain advantages in fuel consumption.
How do you test the cars?
We do a 24-hour test at Nardo. Then we run a 40,000km test on the dyno. It’s a demanding test and equal to about 200,000km on the road. And after that, we do another 40,000km test on the road. After all this, we can be quite optimistic about the reliability of the car.
Will we see an Alpina hybrid or electric?
With hybrids, the issue is that you need additional space and nearly 300kg more weight for the battery. That’s not good for handling. Range is another issue. An Alpina B4 has a range of about 600km while the diesel can go 800km. A hybrid’s range is only 400 km – significantly less than what the majority of our customers expect.
With an all-electric car, things are even more difficult. Electrics are great for city driving but not convincing for those who drive fast and far. Take a Tesla for example. At 160km/h, the car will drain its battery very quickly. This is what happened with Tesla owners in Germany. They drove fast initially then found themselves having to learn to drive conservatively and smoothly.
We are a couple of years away from where electric cars can be driven this way our customers want to drive. And have a range that customers can live with. But in a few years, I am convinced you will have an Alpina hybrid.