The way Alpina goes about introducing new product to the press provides a first-class metaphor for its cars.
Whereas BMW or any other car maker might launch a model over weeks or months to many hundreds of journalists and associated hangers-on, the launch of the new B5 saloon and estate was attended by 12 hacks, lasted one day and was twinned with the launch of the B3 S and B4 S models.
Our host was Alpina boss Andy Bovensiepen, who didn’t just fly in, make a statement and bugger off again. No, he hung around for the duration, driving cars, checking tyre pressures and directing events. The last thing he did was give me his mobile number just in case I had any outstanding questions.
Understanding the Alpina B5’s blueprint
During presentations and conversations, talk was of ‘cautious’ component choice, ‘modest’ styling enhancement and development taking place almost entirely on the road and only at the Nürburgring and other tracks for extreme tyre testing, high-speed sign-off and other requirements that can’t legally be satisfied on the street.
And if you wanted one reason to explain why Alpinas feel the way they do, and why that feel is so utterly different from that of any other BMW, be it an M car or not, it is this understated approach that provides it.
The B5 Saloon and Touring in particular are exemplars of the philosophy. Trademark 20-spoke alloy wheels aside, they seem so subtle and the polar opposite of the look-at-me approach preferred by BMW’s M division customers. But the numbers speak for themselves: 600bhp, 589lb ft and 202mph flat out. And that’s just the estate. While the saloon can reach 205mph if you push far enough.
Of course, and weird though it seems to write it, the B5 is not the only 600bhp mid-size exec out there: Audi and Mercedes have them, too. But it is only BMW who won’t be offering an estate version of its new M5, Munich having again decided that non-existent US sales for cars in this format make its development pointless.
But Alpina makes fewer than one car for every 1000 built by BMW, so this always has been and remains an opportunity. Indeed, Bovensiepen says most B5s sold will carry Touring bodywork.
As for standard equipment, expect to find a well-stocked 5 Series with adaptive LED headlights, cruise control, quad-zone climate control, electrically adjustable and heated front seats, a Nappa leather upholstery, reversing camera, and BMW’s iDrive infotainment system complete with a 10.25in touchscreen display, sat nav, and BMW’s connected services, fitted as standard. The B5 is finished off with some Alpina tinkering, including tweaks to the sports suspension, auto gearbox, driving modes and steering. A new styled rear spoiler and valance, 20in alloys, ceramic finished controls, floor mats, and the customary blue instrument cluster.