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Alpina B5 review: 205mph 5 Series driven

Published: 25 May 2018

Didn’t you drive one of these a couple weeks ago?

Kinda. That was an Alpina D5 S – ‘D’ for diesel. This one’s a B5, and it’s the one you want. Largely because it’ll do 205mph.

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205mph?! But it’s a 5 Series!

Yep, 205mph. And 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds, all thanks to a “substantially revised” version of BMW’s twin-turbocharged 4.4-litre V8. Alpina bins BMW’s twin-turbos and adds its own, twin-scroll items, fits a new intake system, radiators wherever they’ll fit and upgrades the eight-speed ZF auto (which sends drive to all four wheels) with a bigger torque converter and strengthened gears. The result is a nice, round 600bhp and 590lb ft. Adequate numbers, no?

Now, BMW makes its own, fast all-wheel drive 5 Series. It’s called the M5. You might have heard of it. It too has a 4.4-litre, twin-turbocharged V8, only with 592bhp and 553lb ft. BMW claims 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds, and while the top speed is limited to 155mph (or 189mph if you get the Driver’s Package), we’re in no doubt that it too is a 200mph car. M5s start at £89,705. The Alpina? £89,000. This one is optioned to £102K, which given the performance on offer isn’t entirely unreasonable. 

Therefore if you’re in the market for a super-saloon, you might consider a B5 over an M5 or an E 63. And you ought to, because it’s a tremendously capable thing, and in some ways quite different from those two… 

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How so? 

We’ll do a proper twin-test with an M5 very soon, don’t you worry. But in brief, the Alpina trades the M5’s hooliganism and a degree of its purpose/precision/focus for qualities that make it an easier thing to live with day-to-day. Like the ride. It really does iron out lumps and bumps tremendously well, even on those 20-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels, making it a massively comfortable thing in which to cover vast distances.

Its engine is quieter (don’t worry, there’s still a bit of a burble when you accelerate hard) and lazier than an M5’s, and the front seats plusher. And because it’s based on an M550i – basically an ordinary 5 Series, albeit with a big V8 – there’s no 2WD mode or configurable M buttons. As fast as an M5 – no doubt – but the B5 delivers that fastness in a more refined way. Think of it as an M5 SE…

Bit of a barge then?

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Not at all. The B5 has bespoke adaptive dampers and front wishbones, special software for the EPAS, all-wheel drive & gearbox and the option of a mechanical limited slip differential. It has all-wheel steering, active roll stabilisation, special Pirelli tyres and massive steel brakes. 

So it’s a barge when you want it to be – a better one than an M5 – but stick it in Sport or Sport Plus and it covers distance smartly, if without the nailed-on focus of an M5 or E 63. Body control is superb – as is the Alpina way – the steering accurate and sensibly weighted and the chassis superbly balanced. You won’t be able to unsettle or outsmart it at any speed you could reasonably reach on a British B-road.

It’s a lot of fun, but not entirely without flaw. In traffic the throttle can be difficult to modulate – so you end up either crawling away from the line or deploying more of the B5’s 600 horsepowers than you’d intended – but once you’re on the move it’s OK. The gearbox is brilliantly matched to the motor, and mercifully equipped with the typical BMW paddles instead of the little buttons Alpina usually goes for.

Speaking of buttons…what about the interior?

It’s all 5 Series, with Alpina’s usual tweaks. So there’s a numbered plaque on the centre console telling you which of the few B5s that will ever be made you’re driving, lots of green/blue stitching, some supple leathers and special dials. The exterior modifications are more obvious – stripes, skirts and spoilers we’re told increase airflow through the upgraded cooling system.

I want one. 

So do we. In green. 

More than an M5?

Wait for the twin-test, you impatient sort. But the mix of pace/enjoyment and comfort on offer is here tremendously appealing, especially if you think the M and E are a bit firmer than they ought to be. The biggest draw, though, is the fact that while BMW steadfastly refuses to do an M5 Touring, Alpina will happily sell you a B5 Touring. With the same 600bhp V8, a 0-62mph time just a tenth of a second slower than the saloon’s and a 200mph-plus top speed. Now that sounds like a device…

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