One man’s take on the ultimate performance BMW: this is the Alpina B3 GT3. And the man in question is Andy Bovensiepen, boss of Alpina GmbH – which just happens to be the most famous maker of fast BMWs in the world, with the exception of the obvious.
Having bought a ludicrously exciting BMW M3 GTS, most people would do their best to enjoy it — or they’d just sell it and move on with their lives. That’s what you or I would do. Not Andy. He decided to make the car he had hoped that the M3 GTS would be in the first place. And, as you’ll go on to read, it’s rather a good job that he did.
Bovensiepen’s starting point wasn’t the obvious one. Sure, the GT3 is based on Alpina’s B3 S Bi-turbo, which is itself based on the soon-to-be-replaced ‘E92’ 335i coupe. But this ultimate GT3 version of the B3 has inherited almost as much from Alpina’s German GT Masters B6 racecar as it has from the E92. It’s a limited-edition salute to the firm’s triumphant return to motor racing and, with just 99 to be built, even rarer — not to mention £50k cheaper — than the M3 GTS that inspired it.
The car uses the same mechanically overhauled, twin-turbocharged ‘N54’ straight six that powers the B3 S, derived from the one that used to power the 335i. With a lower compression ratio than the standard BMW engine and a pile of special internals, it produces 402bhp. The improvement over the 395bhp B3 S comes thanks to a bigger-bore Akrapovic titanium exhaust system. The GT3’s 398lb ft of torque is the bit to make M3 owners jealous, though. Even the stroked GTS couldn’t get within 70lb ft of that.
The chassis and running gear is where you can see the competition car’s influence. Alpina has strengthened the E92’s mounting points and fitted track-ready coilover suspension that you can adjust for ride height, as well as through 12 settings of damper compression and 18 settings of rebound at both ends. Not to mention for camber angle at the front wheels.
Ah, the wheels. They are gorgeous forged aluminum items that weigh less than 10kg each (a normal cast alloy is usually more than 20kg, by the way). The brake discs measure 380mm up front, clamped by six-piston fixed calipers. And there’s also a proper Drexler mechanical limited-slip differential, something we’ve always thought the B3 was lacking.
Despite all that track kit, Bovensiepen’s aim with the B3 GT3 was actually to make it civilized — much more so than the M3 GTS he took issue with. The GT3 is still an Alpina, after all, and this is a firm that has built its reputation on fast BMWs that are that little bit easier to live with than their official M division equivalents.
That’s why, in your first few miles in the GT3, you’ll probably find it a strangely unintimidating car; easy on the ear in terms of road noise and exhaust boom, and with an unexpectedly supple ride. This may be Alpina’s first road car to produce aerodynamic downforce, but it’s still one you could drive to the office every morning.
In an ideal world, though, the B3 GT3 owner’s ‘office’ would be about three miles long, thirty feet wide, made of Tarmac, undulating in places and circular. Because you can’t help feeling that this car’s talents are wasted on the road. You just can’t drive it hard and fast enough on the public highway to get anywhere near the full potential of its chassis, marvel that it is, although you can have a whale of a time trying. This is a proper track thoroughbred; it also just happens to know not to turn out on the kitchen floor.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of the current M3. I like it – most of the time – but I don’t like the complication you have to wrestle with to find the optimum combination of electronic damper, gearbox and differential setting. And I don’t like how hard it makes you work for your fun. The B3 GT3 could have been created as the perfect answer to all that. It’s an unconditional, old-school kind of driver’s car with a warts-and-all sense of honesty about it.
The hydraulic steering is heavy; it's no more direct than the rack on a 335i, but it's wonderful to use because of its feedback and positivity. In ‘road’ mode, the suspension delivers superb wheel control and a smooth, taut, cushioned ride over all but the worst broken surfaces. Incredible balance and agility, too, and an abiding promise that, no matter how much speed you unleash from the turbocharged powerplant, you’ll always find the grip and composure you need to contain it.
Turn-in is a little reluctant. The effect of a mechanical diff is always to promote stability at the straight-ahead, unless it’s a clever electronically controlled one. But once you’ve got the B3 GT3 committed to a corner, it’s a sublime machine to drive through and beyond the apex. Ladle on as much torque as you like – and there’s a generous swell of it once the big turbo has taken a split second to wake up.
A trustworthy front end and a neutral attitude is assured, which you can develop into a wonderful meeting of traction and throttle-steer as more and more boost arrives.
If you’ve got an M3 and you’re mulling over a replacement, then yes, you should. The official BMW certainly has a more theatrical power delivery and a gearbox more ready to take punishment, not to mention cleaner throttle response, but it’s probably slower than a B3 GT3 on real give-and-take roads. And I’d bet that the Alpina would be the more satisfying and effective track day tool.
Finished off with a fine showing on overall usability, Andy Bovensiepen’s vision for this car has been very well executed, and looks impressively complete. The B3 GT3 is a niche-market machine, a ‘route one’ performance coupé that won’t appeal to the most sophisticated palette — Alpina BMWs never have — but it could still be the best handling 3 Series of its generation.