Another new 3 Series drives off the assembly line at Am Olympiapark 2, north Munich. It carries M division’s latest 3.0-litre straight six, but given the narrow hips and Touring body, it’s clearly no M3. Neither is this shade of green one you’ll find in BMW’s brochures. Nor, for that matter, is the car going by train to the port of Bremerhaven, where many of the creations that leave Olympiapark daily head for export.
Instead, it’s loaded onto a carrier trailer and taken 50 miles west along Autobahn 99, destined for Buchloe. Here, already benefiting from the fettled M motor and other driveline upgrades, more good things happen. It gains soft leather, the aero needed to travel seriously fast and some stripes that add another 5mph to the claimed 186mph top speed. The VIN is then neatly crossed out and a new sequence of numbers and letters etched into the engine bay. After this, the finished car is test driven on local roads, valeted and finally parked up next to a similarly hued B5 Biturbo in the glassy reception area of Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH & Co KG, its drilled brake discs and blue calipers visible through forged 20in wheels.
This machine is our ticket back to London. It’s the first right-hand-drive B3 Touring of the new G20 3 Series generation, painted Alpina Green and with the Deco-Set pinstripes limited to the draping chin spoiler rather than running in full extrovert-spec down the entire length of the car. Mumbling behind our masks on the flight over this morning, photographer Olgun Kordal and I debated whether the new B3 would look as subtly lust-worthy as this most junior Alpina model frankly always has in the past. The G20 is fiddly in its details and bulbous in its features, not least that grille, but honestly, we need not have worried.
In the metal, the B3 Touring has perhaps lost some elegance and simplicity but gained something in presence. At a standstill, it has every ounce the desirability you’d expect from a 3 Series Touring costing – deep breath – almost £70k, even before you start to customise the interior. Which you will. In fairness, it also has the performance to blow away more expensive sports cars that have only a fraction of the B3’s comfort and practicality, but we’ll get to these attributes in due course.
First, the bigger picture. This year hasn’t been easy for Alpina. A mere four cars were finished before BMW shut its plants due to Covid-19 (this car, Touring No 007, wasn’t one of them), and that’s why Alpina’s typical annual volume of around 1500 cars will be lower this year. In an attempt to make up numbers, the company is now aiming to build 1000 cars in the second half of the year. Such numbers are nothing in the context of Regensburg but are something Alpina, which starts and finishes its cars by hand either side of their general assembly under BMW’s watch, has never before achieved.