What is it?
In simple terms this is the more spacious, slightly more chilled Touring version of the new Alpina B5 that we wrote about – and mostly liked – three weeks ago. In reality, though, given that there will be no estate model offered by the factory with the new M5, this particular Alpina should provide the B5 with its USP. Or at least that’s what its makers hope will happen, even though this car costs a whopping £75,850 before you’ve added so much as a single option to its admittedly lavish standard specification.
The test car we tried was fitted with a further £11,075 of options, including £1560 worth of highly recommended limited slip diff. But the headline news is still dominated by the engine – a 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 that produces 500bhp and 516lb ft – an eight-speed semi automatic gearbox, plus the fitment of a bespoke set of 20in Michelin Pilot Supersport tyres that are resolutely NOT of run flat design.
What’s it like?
To understand the B5 Touring you need to put yourself in the mindset of someone who is a) extremely wealthy, b) likes driving fast, preferably down quiet, derestricted autobahns in order to avoid having to fly, and c) also wants a quantifiably comfortable car to drive. People who buy Alpinas are not people who can’t afford a factory M car. They are people who don’t want such a manic driving experience as that offered by an M machine, but who want the same kind of straight line performance.
It’s a fairly small, specialised market that Alpina is playing to; last year it sold just over 1100 cars globally, down slightly on its best year of 2007 when 1500 cars were bought. And it’s a market that’s changing rapidly in the UK in particular, as the price of petrol continues to dent the appeal of big, powerful petrol-engined cars like the B5. Hence the reason Alpina’s engineers are working hard to produce a smaller, diesel-engined machine to replace its most popular ever model (in the UK at least), which was the excellent D3.
Yet for a specific type of customer, there is little else to touch a B5 Touring. We drove this car from Alpina’s factory in the middle of Bavaria back to the UK, which was the perfect environment in which to sample its mile eating capabilities. It’s hard to think of many other cars that would have felt so comfortable over the same journey, or as quick, and which could have swallowed so much kit while returning just over 25mpg.
Back in the UK, on our more congested, less well surfaced, rather more fiercely speed restricted roads, the B5 Touring still makes an awful lot of sense. It’s a soothing, relaxing car to drive that just so happens to go like stink if and when you use the loud pedal. And its eight-speed semi-automatic gearbox works a treat in all of its various dynamic modes; as does the similarly sophisticated electronic suspension, which has been tuned by Alpina to provide a broader repertoire of abilities than a factory BMW.
Having said that, the B5 Touring is not a car you’re going to enjoy as much as an M5 on a tight country road. It may mask the effects of its weight extremely well most of the time, but the bottom line is that it still weighs 1990kg; you’re always going to be fighting an uphill battle when trying to control that much weight. Best to head for the A-roads and switch on Classic FM.