What is it?
There aren’t many cars that have road testers reaching more hurriedly for their diaries than a new Alpina, and that’s because these rarely seen Bavarian wonders marry character and usability in a way that never fails to generate significant levels of real-world appeal.
In this case, that’s especially true, because the new B5 BiTurbo – a car we’ve driven before but not in this country, not on the road and not in saloon form – is perhaps the ultimate expression of what the company does best. Remarkably similar to an M5 on paper, it trades a small degree of handling precision for greater overall ride comfort that, of course, sounds very appealing for real-world driving.
Even for those aware that Alpina is about more than deco pinstripes and decadent power, the specification of this new 205mph mega-saloon will make for invigorating reading. It starts life as a 456bhp M550i, which is a model never before offered in the UK but relatively popular Stateside.
The 4.4-litre ‘N63TU2’ V8 is given a wider-bore intake and new twin-scroll turbos that operate in parallel. A new intercooler is subsequently fitted along with a brace of additional radiators, another oil cooler, as well as uprated pistons and spark plugs.
Alpina then installs a lightweight exhaust – complete with a switchable valve – that reduces back pressure and results in a grand total of 600bhp at 5750rpm and 590lb ft at 3000rpm, although four-fifths of that colossal torque comes into play at just 2000rpm. It’s channelled through a paddleshift-operated eight-speed ZF torque-converter transmission, which has also been tweaked.
The resulting performance figures – 0-62mph in 3.5sec and 0-124mph in 11.4sec, using the car’s launch mode – are all but indistinguishable from those of an M5 and nip at the heels of the mid-engined supercar fraternity.
Yet, despite the supercar powertrain, it’s the chassis where Alpina really leaves its mark on BMW’s preliminary efforts. Shorter, stiffer springs have been fitted, and the Touring version’s rear axle is suspended pneumatically.
The front axle also benefits from an entirely bespoke wishbone design that applies a degree more negative camber. If any one thing illustrates the lengths to which this company will go to engineer into the chassis a uncommon combination pliancy and dexterity – one that makes the cars seem almost indispensable to many owners – it’s this.
The B5 BiTurbo is also the first time that Alpina’s take on a red-hot 5 Series uses either four-wheel drive or the active roll stabilisation currently favoured by manufacturers of quick SUVs. Even with all the extra hardware, the car is a touch lighter than the previous generation.