Alpina's hot BMW 5-series is its most complete effort yet

What is it?

It's the new Alpina B5 Biturbo, the latest creation from the BMW-based manufacturer and the first chance we’ve had to sample a 'performance' version of the new 5-series.

Recent Alpinas have avoided using the same engines as M division products, but the B5 will come pretty close to going head to head with the forthcoming M5. It shares the same basic 4.4-litre V8 engine (the inlet set-up is different), equipped with two retuned turbochargers.

In Alpina tune the unit produces a flat 500bhp and 516lb ft. That's enough, says the firm, to take the car from 0-62mph in 4.7sec and onto a gloriously unrestricted 191mph.

Unlike the M5, which is likely to use a dual-clutch transmission, the B5 gets an eight-speed automatic. But the unit has been developed by Alpina and ZF, and it uses a trick way of speeding up shifts when you're in one of the car's sportier modes.

Instead of merely retarding the engine timing, the B5 uses its direct injection tech to merely cut off a cylinder or two. Alpina says the system cuts gearshift times in two, to around 180ms.

What's it like?

Jaw-droppingly fast. We drove the B5 from Alpina's base in Buchloe to the UK - in time for its appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed - and with an empty stretch of autobahn in front of it, it's supercar quick.

Alpina's claim of 0-62mph in 4.7sec feels conservative - and as for the top speed, well, we saw an indicated 190mph with three and their luggage aboard, and it was still pulling strongly.

Truth is, though, that making a 5-series with this engine feel strong on a motorway was never going to be the biggest challenge faced by Alpina's engineers. More testing is the task of making it handle on poor surfaces and twisty roads, and here the firm's modifications - lower suspension, non-runflat tyres and comprehensive reprogramming of BMW's adjustable dampers - pays off.

We wouldn't say the B5 has precisely the same level of agility and subtlety as Jaguar's XFR - but it's not far off it at all, and that means it's very good indeed. Revised steering programming makes the wheel feel lighter at low speeds than a 5-series, and weightier when you're pushing on, and it's a more satisfying set-up than BMW's.

With the car in Sport or Sport+ set-up the ride is firm but still compliant (no runflats, remember, just Michelin Pilot Sport 2s, or Pilot Super Sports on the final cars) and body control is excellent.

That trick transmission works well, too; we can't think of many dual-clutch units that beat it on speed and smoothness. The engine has massive urge from beneath 2000rpm, and if you push on it makes a great Nascar-esque soundtrack. It's perfectly docile for everyday use, though; cruise along at 80mph (barely 1900rpm) and it's silent.

Should I buy one?

At around £70k, the B5 will sit above the Jaguar XFR on price, but beat it hands down on exclusivity. Even our car - production prototype number one - was beautifully finished, the spec is relatively generous by BMW standards and Alpina can also offer a personal service matched by no mass manufacturer.

Of course, you could be tempted to wait for the M5, which will offer a more hardcore experience but, almost inevitably, more compromises on ride quality to boot. But if you're more sold on a 5-series than an XF, we'd be sorely tempted to put down a deposit now. Even by Alpina's relatively high standards, this is the firm's most complete package ever.

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John McIlroy

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feckin maso 10 July 2010

Re: Alpina B5

nice to see Autocar defending their views, I havent driven either so cant really comment. Have driven the DMC and Im sure that no matter how patriotic or proud John is he would still have to admit it was crap. The Clover was a lot better, bags of character

Pugmeister 10 July 2010

Re: Alpina B5

I saw this new Alpina at Goodwood and sadly for me a major problem is that it looks so bland, but then thats a problem of the new five in general in my view. Ive always loved Alpinas but wonder where they can go now that the m5 is getting a turbo engine.

Why so many people seem unhappy that the XFR is so highly rated is beyond me. Yes it may be slower on a track, but does anyone who buys this type of car actually do track days? Far more important is the "road-ability" and I trust the views of ALL road testers in the UK who say that the Jag has the best ride and handling balance for "ROAD" driving of all these executive muscle cars. So John, I think you're probably spot on and as you have driven both cars (unlike most of your forum critics) you're entitled to your view!!

What is wrong with us brits, Jag is still mainly british, can't we be proud that they are building great cars again? Can you imagine an italian petrolhead getting worked up because his italian car magazine raves about how good the Ferrari 599GTB is ?

Peter Cavellini 7 July 2010

Re: Alpina B5

Can't wait for the comparison road test, who do we think will be victorious?, my money is on the B5, that's B5!,not M5!