Alpina B5 VS Audi A6
- Cleaning the wheels
- Room and storage space could be better
- Not the most engaging car to drive
- Clinical personality
- Steering feel
The BMW Alpina B5 Bi-Turbo is not actually a BMW. Not according to the German Federal Motor Transport Authority, at least.
Nope, the modifications applied by tuning house Alpina to the 5 Series are deemed so significant that if you open the bonnet and look inside the engine bay, you'll see that the BMW VIN has been struck through twice and an Alpina vehicle number stamped underneath it.
The B5 is not the first model to be recognised in this way, either; the German government has recognised Alpina as a seperate car manufacturer since 1983.
The B5 has other ‘B' siblings, too. There's the B3 S Bi-Turbo, which is based on the BMW 3 Series, the B4 S Bi-Turbo (the BMW 4 Series) and the B7 Bi-Turbo (I don't need to tell you what this is based on, right?) which I've reviewed, too.
So just what has Alpina done to this unsuspecting BMW 5 Series? Is it really worth the extra money? How does the B5 compare to an M5? Could it actually be superior? And did they really take the speed limiter off to let it warp-speed to beyond 300km/h?
|Engine Type||4.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Despite a determined bid for dominance by a growing stream of Q-badged SUVs, with zero-emission Es on the near horizon, Audi’s A-team of mainstream sedans, wagons, coupes, and cabriolets remains vitally important to the company’s product portfolio and bottom line.
But in recent years the Bavarian maker’s mid-size A6 has been hiding in the shadows, unable to lay a glove on its natural enemies, the BMW 5 Series and Merc’s E-Class, in terms of new car sales in Australia.
So, this sizeable piece of fresh metal is designed to push Audi up the leader board. It’s the all-new, fifth generation A6.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Alpina B5 is a special car – more special than most people will ever give you credit for if you own one. Those that do know what an Alpina is will let you know; people will cross dangerously busy streets to talk to you about your car. Insanely fast, almost incomprehensibly comfortable and effortlessly powerful to drive.
Does the Alpina B5 make a BMW even better? Or do you think the M5? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The new Audi A6 is a composed, rapid, top-shelf luxury sedan. It’s comprehensively equipped, with safety tech a stand-out, and priced to chip away at BMW and Merc’s segment dominance.
But owners in this part of the market tend to be rusted on loyal to their preferred brand, and it will be interesting to see of this impressive newcomer can shake a few of them loose.
Pick of the bunch? Save 10 or $15K or dial down the repayments and go for the entry-level A6 45 TFSI, with all the safety tech on-board, plenty of performance, and most of the luxury features included in the more premium models.
Interesting is the right word for it, because while it might be questionable that Alpina's changes to the exterior are aesthetic pleasing, they are definitely intriguing to those who aren't familiar with the brand.
First, there are those 20-spoke wheels. Alpinas have worn this style of wheel forever and they've become the most famous outward sign that this is not just another BMW. So don't under any circumstances take them off and replace them with anything else. You'd be run out of town by the Alpina mafia.
Yes, they're more painful to clean than a cheese grater (trust me, I know. And if you look closely at these images you can see the dirty bits I've missed), but if you really don't like them then perhaps it's a sign this car isn't for you.
Then there's the boot-lid spoiler. It's square and 1980s'-looking, it also appears a bit like it's been bought online and installed by a teenager, but again, this is another Alpina tradition and it suits the car's character perfectly.
All right, those pinstripes; they're known as the Deco-Set and are a hat-tip to the Alpina racecars of the 1970s and '80s. Again, don't take these off, your Alpina will drop through the centre of the Earth in value. These are also part-and-parcel of owning one of these cars. I'm not a massive fan of them.
But I'm all about that front spoiler, with the floating Alpina lettering that you can option in silver, high-gloss black or gold.
Inside, there are fewer Alpina additions, but they're nonetheless unmissable. There's the Alpina-badged steering wheel, and a new virtual instrument cluster, embossed headrests and illuminated door sills.
There's also the little numbered plaque on the centre console which proves its authenticity, ours was number 49. Out of how many? I don't know. But I do know Alpina produces only about 1700 cars globally a year. Rolls Royce does about 4000. So, you can rest assured your B5 is exclusive.
At almost 5m long, 1.9m wide and 1.5m tall, the B5 is a large saloon, but having recently reviewed the Alpina B7 it feels small in comparison. How does it drive? We're getting there.
Revealed in Germany in early 2018, the new-gen A6 brings fresh engines, leading edge safety, upgraded media tech, and an evolution of the brand’s distinctive design language.
Always a subjective call, but to my eyes the A6’s exterior, while crisp and contemporary, is evolutionary rather than a game-changing step ahead.
The signature single frame grille is even bigger than before, to the point where it feels like Audi has entered an arms race with the current oversize grille superpower, BMW.
A strongly curved roofline accentuates the car’s steeply raked C-pillars, giving it a close to fastback style. Broad, sweeping surfaces are combined with harder defining edges and creases, while short overhangs accentuate the carefully sculpted, tightly wrapped look.
The A6 45 TFSI rides on 19-inch ‘5-twin-spoke’ design alloys which fill the wheelarches nicely, while the 45 and 55 S line run on similar design 20s.
The S line exterior package incorporates specific front and rear bumpers with honeycomb inserts, side air inlet grilles in ‘matt titanium black’ with inserts in ‘platinum grey’, rear diffuser in the same black, this time with chrome trim, side sill trims, and illuminated aluminium door sill trims with S logo at the front
The interior is a model of Teutonic restraint, the sleek dash and instrument cluster layout showcasing three digital screens covering instruments, media and other functions as well as heating and ventilation.
Long, horizontal vents are an Audi design favourite, the seats look and feel superb and the entire cabin reeks of quality and attention to detail.
Practicality is not really a BMW strong point no matter which model you pick. See, BMW mostly makes the car equivalent of uber-stylish and skin-tight active wear which looks good and performs brilliantly, but sometimes you just want pockets and a bit of room for your… um… bits and pieces.
So while there are two cup holders up front and two in the back, the bottle holders in the doors aren't huge, the centre console bin is on the small side, there's a hidy-hole in front of the shifter, the glove box is just a box for little more than gloves and there's no other great cabin storage options.
Legroom in the rear is good but not great, too - I'm 191cm tall and have about 30mm between my knees and the seat back in my driving position. Middle-seat passengers will also have to straddle the drive shaft hump in the floor. Headroom is restricted in the back, too (you could blame the sunroof) with my hair just skimming the headlining (I do have big hair).
Under that power tailgate, the B5's boot capacity is 530 litres which is 15L more than its big sister, the B7. There are two plastic storage areas either side of the luggage space for wet things. While there is one USB outlet in the front there aren't any in the rear.
Room for the driver and front passenger is generous, with ample storage provided including dual (covered) cupholders in the centre console (also incorporating a 12-volt outlet and key holder slot), a decent glove box, and door bins allowing easy bottle storage.
The lidded storage box/armrest between the front seats is relatively shallow but includes a wireless Qi (chee) charging mat (for compatible devices), plus SIM and SD ports, as well as a pair of (Type-A) USB sockets.
The wheelbase has stretched 12mm in this new model, but Audi says it has eked out an extra 21mm of interior length, with 17 of those added to the rear section. And I’m able to sit behind the driver’s seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer. Three adults across the rear is definitely do-able for short to medium length trips.
In the rear, a fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders (the latter on S line models only). There are netted pockets here and the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles. There’s also climate control ventilation, USB ports, 12-volt power… the lot!
Boot capacity is around the average for the class at 530 litres, and the A6 swallows our three-piece hard suitcase set with masses of room to spare, as it does the jumbo size CarsGuide pram. In fact, it was able to take the largest case as well as the pram at the same time. Drop the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat to liberate even more volume.
There are pop-up tie-down anchors at each corner of the boot floor, a netted storage cavity behind the passenger side wheel tub, a 12-volt outlet on the driver’s side, a handy fold down shopping bag hook, an elasticised net is included on the S lines, and a space-saver spare sits under the boot floor.
Towing capacity is the same across the range – 2.0 tonnes for a braked trailer, and 750kg unbraked. The spare is a space saver on all models, too.
Price and features
The BMW Alpina B5 lists for $210,000, making it only $10K more the BMW M5 which comes with almost identical features apart from the Alpina engineering to the engine and chassis.
Arriving standard is leather upholstery, four-zone climate control, nav, the Alpina embossed-headrests, a 10.25-inch display, digital radio, Alpina door sills, sunroof, proximity key, power front seats, 12-speaker Harman Kardon stereo, head-up display, Alpina virtual instrument cluster, heated front and rear seats, and the 20-inch Alpina wheels.
The test car I drove had been optioned with a limited-slip differential ($5923), steering-wheel heating ($449); soft-close function for doors ($1150); sunblinds ($1059); TV function ($2065) ambient air package ($575), and front-seat ventilation ($1454).
The A6 launches with three models, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-petrol 45 TFSI at $95,500, before on-road costs, the more premium 45 TFSI S line at $105,200, and the top-shelf 3.0-litre turbo-petrol V6 55 TFSI S line at $116,000.
Included on the A6 45 TFSI are 19-inch alloy wheels, matrix LED headlights with LED DRLs, dynamic cornering lights, automatic-dynamic headlight range control and rear dynamic indicators (the Matrix beam detects and blanks out oncoming vehicles or vehicles in front, but continues to fully illuminate other areas), keyless entry and start including a sensor controlled (leg swish) boot release, electric heated sports seats for the driver and front passenger (including memories for the driver), ‘leather appointed’ seat upholstery, three-zone climate control air, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, ‘aluminium fragment’ interior inlays, ambient lighting, and aluminium front door sill trims.
Plus, ‘Audi Drive Select’ allows the selection of various driving modes, there’s Audi’s smartphone interface providing Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, ’Qi’ wireless charging, 10-speaker/180-watt audio driven by a six-channel amp and featuring digital radio, the 12.3-inch configurable ‘Audi Virtual Cockpit’ digital instrument cluster, 10.1-inch high-res colour media touchscreen, ‘Navigation Plus’ (with 3D map display including places of interest and city models), and a third 8.6-inch colour display for the climate control system (with handwriting recognition and a favourites list).
The recently introduced ‘myAudi’ app also allows you to connect to the car and access real-time info on everything from how much fuel’s in the tank, to maintenance milestones, and service warnings. You can remotely lock and unlock the car, plan journeys (at home) and send destinations and routes directly to the car.
Then the 45 and 55 TFSI S Line models add ‘Valcona’ leather trim (seat centre panels, seat side bolsters, head restraints and centre armrest, and door trim inserts in Alcantara faux suede), a flat-bottom leather-trimmed sports steering wheel, a head-up display (colour, with speed, nav and assistance info), illuminated front door sill trims, 20-inch alloy wheels, and electronically controlled adaption of the dampers.
Engine & trans
The Alpina B5 uses the same 4.4-litre V8 engine found in the BMW M5 (and also the B7). But, and it's a big but, the M5 makes 441kW and 750Nm, while the B5 outdoes it with 447kW and 800Nm. Admittedly, the B5's torque arrives at the 3000rpm mark, while the M5's is all there from 1800rpm.
How does the B5 beat it? Alpina installed its specially developed twin turbochargers and intercoolers, a high-performance cooling system, a reconfigured air intake set up and a different exhaust system.
The B5, though, is a tenth of a second slower to 100km/h compared to the M5 with a time of 3.5 seconds, but it will blast on to a top speed of 330km/h while the M5 is limited to 250km/h in regular form and 305km/h with the optional M Driver's package.
Both uses the same ZF eight-speed automatic transmission with identical gear ratios, and both are all-wheel drive.
The 45 TFSI is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo four, and the 55 TFSI by a 3.0-litre turbo V6, both featuring a mild-hybrid system recovering braking energy to enable coasting at higher speeds and in the latter case power the stop-start system.
The VW Group (EA888) engine used in the A6 45 TFSI is an iron block/alloy head single turbo unit featuring direct-injection and variable valve timing on the inlet side. It produces peak power of 180kW from 5000-6000rpm, and maximum torque of 370Nm from 1600-4500rpm.
The (EA839) engine used in the A6 55 TFSI is a 90-degree 3.0-litre, all-alloy, single (twin-scroll) turbo V6 featuring direct-injection, variable camshaft adjustment (intake and exhaust side) and variable valve timing on the inlet side. It produces 250kW from 5000-6400rpm, and 500Nm between 1370rpm and 4500rpm.
The 55’s 48-volt mild hybrid electrical system recovers regenerative braking energy to power the stop/start system and enable coasting (for up to 40 seconds) between 55-160km/h. It consists of a 10 Ah lithium-ion battery under the boot floor, a water-cooled belt alternator starter (BAS) mounted to the engine’s front end, with a V-belt connecting it to the crankshaft.
As is increasingly the norm with Vee engines from the ‘Big Three’ German brands this one has its single, twin-scroll turbo located in the V6’s ‘hot V’ to shorten gas paths from the exhaust to the turbo, and from the turbo into the inlet side for better throttle response (as in, minimal turbo lag).
Drive goes to all four wheels via the latest gen version of Audi’s quattro system and a seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission.
The Alpina B5 needs petrol. By that, I mean it needs quite a lot of it if you want to enjoy it properly. What type of mileage does it get? Officially, it should use 11.1L/100km after a combination of urban and open roads, where as the M5 is set to 10.5L/100km.
That makes sense, the B5 produces more power and torque, and it's 85kg heavier than the M5 at 2015kg.
Our test car's trip computer was reporting 13.2L/100km after flying low over country roads and slow city piloting. The more time spent in the urban warfare that is the daily peak hour commute, the more that figure crept and hovered around the 15L/100km mark.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle hovers all the way from 7.2L/100km for the 45 TFSI, to 7.3L/100km for the 45 TFSI S line, and back to 7.2L/100km for the 55 TFSI S line.
CO2 emissions sit in a similarly narrow band, the 45 TFSI producing 165g/km, the 45 TFSI S line 166g/km, and the 55 TFSI S line 164g/km.
Stop/start is standard on all models, minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you’ll need 73 litres of it to fill the tank (on all models).
The local A6 launch drive program ran to the south of Adelaide in South Australia, with some freeway running followed by the twisting rural B-roads running through the McLaren Vale wine growing area. Spending most time in the 45 TFSI S line (because we’d previously driven the 55 TFSI S line) we saw a real-world average of 9.1L/100km, courtesy of the on-board computer.
In our previous review of the 55 TFSI, over five days of city, suburban and freeway running we recorded a figure of 8.8L/100km. Both numbers impressive for a close to 1.8-tonne luxury sedan.
Ok, stay with me here. For this next bit you'll need a fresh egg, a lounge chair, and it might be a good idea to have some plastic bags and carpet cleaner on hand.
First, in front of the lounge chair flatten out the plastic bag and place the egg on it. Next, sit down on the chair and very carefully rest the ball of your foot on the egg with as little pressure as humanly possible.
This is exactly how little force you need to apply to the go-pedal of the B5 to accelerate from a standstill to 60km/h in about five seconds.
If anything sums up the driving experience of the B5, it's that sense of effortlessness.
Stomp on that accelerator, and you'll be shot to 100km/h in 3.5 seconds, without a hint of broken traction thanks to the all-wheel-drive system.
The ride should have been terrible on 20-inch wheels shod in low-profile rubber (Pirelli P Zero 255/35 front, and 295/30 rear), but the Alpina-tuned air suspension is close to miraculous in the way it cushioned and censored the potholes out of Sydney's worst roads. Yes, it can be a touch floaty, particularly in the Comfort Plus setting, but this is benchmark-setting stuff for a comfortable ride.
Don't expect this beast to roar. Unlike the M5, the B5 gets its work done without deafening everybody around it. Sure, the B5's V8 sounds amazing when you push it, but it's not brash, not loud and not lairy. Buy an M5 or Mercedes-AMG E63s if you want to be heard half a block before you get home, but you won't get that with the B5 and its exhaust system.
The B5 also handles well, but I have to say the engagement factor is low. I piloted it effortlessly through the twists and turns of my country test circuit and roads which normally have me grinning like a maniac behind the wheel had me feeling a bit disconnected in the B5. That air suspension, the numb steering and pedal actions make it difficult to ‘feel' the road.
It's highways where the B5 is a king, but even at 110km/h there's the sense that this car is still fast asleep and won't get out of bed for anything less than 150km/h - making it perfect for Germany's autobahns, but maybe not for here in Australia.
Audi claims the 45 will sprint from 0-100km/h in six seconds, and the 55 in just over five. So, quick, and very quick.
Both are super responsive in the mid-range with peak torque available from just 1600rpm in the 45 and less than 1400 in the 55.
As is increasingly the norm with Vee engines from the ‘Big Three’ German brands the 55 TFSI’s single, twin-scroll turbo is located in the V6’s ‘hot V’ to shorten gas paths from the exhaust to the turbo, and from the turbo into the inlet side.
The aim is to sharpen throttle response and deliver power in a smooth, linear flow. And with maximum torque available from so low down in the rev range, that’s exactly the way it feels.
Select Sport mode, squeeze the right-hand pedal, and the 55’s V6 delivers a firm, consistent shove in the back. The 45 is less urgent in terms of acceleration, but more than adequate for easy highway cruising and confident overtaking.
Both are quietly quick, thanks in part to low-noise acoustic glass and comprehensive use of sound absorption materials around the cabin, remaining composed and relatively subdued as speed rises.
The seven-speed dual-clutch delivers ultra-smooth shifts at around-town speeds and crisp, positive changes in manual mode.
In normal, suburban-style conditions the quattro system decouples the rear axle and sticks with front-wheel drive economy. If all-wheel drive is required, a tricky clutch instantly activates it, in certain situations predicatively.
On top of that, in aggressive cornering torque vectoring by braking (Audi calls it ‘Wheel-Selective Torque Control’) retards the near-side wheels before they slip.
Suspension is a five-link set-up front and rear, with much of the hardware made from aluminium to fine tune response and reduce unsprung weight.
Electronically controlled adaptive dampers are standard on the S line models, with the switch between dynamic and comfort settings swift and pronounced.
Rims are 19-inch on the 45 and 20s on the 45 S line and 55 S line, but all variants are comfortable. Never floaty or unwieldy, just refined and well damped.
The electromechanically assisted steering points accurately but the assistance is overdone and road feel isn’t one of the A6’s strongest suits.
Brakes are 375mm ventilated discs at the front, clamped by six-piston alloy calipers, with 350mm rotors at the rear. They inspire confidence, with progressive feel and more than enough to confidently arrest the 1.8-tonne A6's progress.
The Alpina B5 is based on the BMW 5 Series which had a five-star ANCAP rating awarded to it in 2017.
Along with the comprehensive suite of airbags, traction and stability control, there's an impressive array of advanced safety equipment. Coming standard is AEB (front and rear), evasive steering, front and rear cross-traffic warning, blind-spot alert and lane-keep assist. The Alpina B5 also comes with BMW's emergency call function.
For child seats you'll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points across the rear row.
If you're unfortunate enough to get a flat tyre, there's a puncture repair kit in the boot which works provided the hole isn't giant, as I've experience in the past with these systems.
Safety is literally five star, the A6 scoring ANCAP’s maximum rating when the car was tested in 2018, and active and passive tech is amazing.
The usual active safety suspects are all present and accounted for, namely ESC (with electronic wheel-selective torque control), ABS, ASR, EDL and ‘Brake Assist’.
But from there the list of standard tech reads like a who’s who of recent innovations, including ‘Adaptive Drive Assist’ (adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop&Go’, distance indicator, traffic jam assist and lane guidance assist), AEB (5.0km/h to 85km/h for pedestrians and cyclists, and up to 250 km/h for vehicles), ‘Collision Avoidance Assist’ (additional steering torque in critical evasive situations), rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, and lane departure warning.
The 360-degree camera set-up includes a kerb view function, with four wide-angle cameras covering the entire area immediately around the vehicle for improved visibility during low speed maneuveres.
There’s also an exit warning system (detects vehicles and cyclists when opening doors, triggering a warning light and delaying door opening), ‘Attention Assist’, tyre pressure monitoring, ‘Audi Parking System Plus’ (front and rear with visual display), and ‘Intersection Crossing Assist’.
That last one operates at speeds up to 30km/h, monitoring the area in front and at the side of the car, detecting “oncoming objects” at junctions and exit roads. If the situation is critical the system triggers a visual and acoustic warning as well as a quick jolt on the brakes (at speeds up to 10km/h).
But it’s not over yet, with auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers and ‘Turn Assist’ included. Turn Assist monitors oncoming traffic when you’re turning right at speeds up to 10km/h and applies the brakes if necessary.
If all those measures aren’t enough to avoid an impact passive safety leads off with front airbags for driver and passenger, side airbags for front and rear side passengers, plus curtain airbags covering both rows.
Also included is ‘Audi Pre-Sense Rear’ (tensioning of front seat belts, closing of windows and sunroof and flashing hazards on detection of an impending rear collision), the standard active bonnet helps to minimise pedestrian impact injuries and there’s a first-aid kit as well as a warning triangle and high-vis vests in the boot.
No surprise the new A6 scored a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, the assessment done in 2018 and the score applicable from August 2019 onwards.
Audi covers the A6 with a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is in line with BMW and Merc, but lags the mainstream market where five years/unlimited km is the norm, with Kia and SsangYong at seven years.
That said, body cover runs to three years for paint defects and 12 years for corrosion (perforation).
Recommended service interval is 12 months/15,000km, and ‘Audi Genuine Care Service Plans’ offer capped price servicing options over three and five years.