There are individual buttons that control mapping for the steering, suspension and powertrain, a selector that allows you to choose how aggressively the M5 changes gear and, of course, two red ‘M’ buttons on the steering wheel that allow fast-track access to your tailored set-up options. And while a part of me thinks the approach is, as Jeeves might say, a trifle sudden, a rather larger, unreconstructed chunk of me finds it all frightfully exciting and makes me want to go driving right away. And good though the Alpina’s cabin is, it never quite does that.
So you climb aboard the M5, aim it up the road and invite it to do its thing. The next thing that happens is that the thunderous reply from the V8 is joined by a new and alien sound that appears to be emanating from you. It largely takes the form of expletives. Now, I have no idea why this should be, given that both cars are so close in power, torque, weight, share the same gearbox and have all but identical acceleration figures, but I can report only as I find.
While the B5 can make you feel like you’ve been flung from a catapult, the M5 experience is closer to that of an artillery shell’s. On a dry, smooth, straight road, its tyres momentarily break traction before the electronics chime in even if you leave it in four- wheel drive. And then you’re off, bellowing your way towards the horizon. It is utterly thrilling, not least because the engine is so much louder, deeper in voice and sharper-edged too.
And that’s not the only reason it’s quicker than the Alpina from one place to the next. With tyres two sections wider than the B5’s at the front and one section narrower at the rear, the clear intent here is that the M5 should resist understeer like no other two-tonne tank in history; and it does. Aided by pretty aggressive off-centre steering response, the M5 has an insatiable appetite for apices and, once the nose is in, you can trust its iron body control to ensure the rest will duly follow. Where you guide the Alpina along a great mountain road, you fire the M5 at it because that is the way it insists on being driven.
Game over for Alpina, then? By no means. The M5’s approach is not without its drawbacks and you don’t need long in the Alpina to appreciate it. For all its extra speed, the M5 is not as relaxing a car to drive fast and you might not think that matters too much. To me it does: a car relaxes you when being driven rapidly because it gives you confidence, and a car that gives the driver confidence is, by my definition at least, a fine handling car.
And in three distinct ways, the B5 inspires more confidence than the M5: specifically its steering is more linear, better weighted and, crucially, has more feel. Doubtless it will understeer more and I’m sure that ultimately the M5 has more body control but, on even the quietest public roads, for nearly all people nearly all of the time and in the context of two-tonne saloon cars, the fact that the B5 feels more natural, predictable and reassuring counts for more. It has better brake feel than the M5 on its optional ceramic rotors too.