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?
As its name implies, Audi's A6 lives in the luxury sedan zone between the brand's volume-selling, mid-size A4 and limo-length A8.
Although it sits in the same size, price and performance ballpark as BMW's evergreen 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, traditionally it hasn't been able to lay a glove on the other German 'Big Three' competitors in terms of sales in the Australian new car market. Although it does manage to topple the seemingly unloved Jaguar XF and Lexus GS.
So, what to do? After seven years in market, the fourth generation (C7) A6 departed the local market in June this year, and the fresh metal designed to push Audi up the leader board stands before you.
Revealed in Germany early in 2018, the fifth-gen (C8) A6 brings new engines, leading edge safety, upgraded media tech, and an evolution of the brand's distinctive design language.
We scored an early, preview drive to see if the A6 has what it takes to challenge the '5' and 'E'.
|Fuel Type||95 Ron Premium Unleaded|
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 55 TFSI quattro S line 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. Owners in this part of the market tend to be rusted on loyal to their preferred brand, though, and it will be interesting to see of this impressive newcomer can shake a few of them loose.
Could this new A6 tempt you out of your 5 Series or E-Class? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
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.
In recent years Audi has shown impressive commitment to design consistency, with signature elements like the 'Singleframe grille', crisp, angular lines and tightly wrapped surfaces obvious unifying factors.
But the line between consistency and sameness is a thin one, and you could argue a strong case that, scale aside, all Audis from the last decade look much the same. And while this all-new design sharpens and tweaks the brand formula it's hardly a clean-sheet revolution.
Our test car's mega (optional) 21-inch alloys are further proof that Audi is currently playing a strong wheel design game. They fill the wheelarches to capacity and arm wrestle with the massive grille for visual prominence.
The standard 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 strongly curved roofline accentuates the car's steeply raked C-pillars, giving it a close to fastback style. Short overhangs accentuate the carefully sculpted, muscular look.
The interior is a model of design quality mixed with Teutonic restraint, the dash and instrument cluster layout showcasing the three digital screens covering instruments, media 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.
At just over 4.9m long, close to 1.9m wide, and a little under 1.5m high the new A6 is marginally longer and wider, yet fractionally lower overall than its predecessor. And each of those key measures are within millimetres of its core competitors.
So, large rather than huge, yet while the wheelbase has stretched 12mm, Audi says it has eked out an extra 21mm of interior length.
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.
Those in the back are in equally good shape. I was able to sit behind the driver's seat set for my 183cm position with heaps of head and legroom on offer.
The fold-down centre armrest features a lidded storage tray and twin pop-out cupholders. There are netted pockets on the back of each front seat and the door bins are big enough for large drink bottles.
Three adults across the rear is definitely do-able, but not a realistic long-distance option.
Ventilation, connectivity and power are also well buttoned down for back-seaters with the standard spec including climate control adjustment for the rear, plus two USB ports and a 12-volt socket.
For the record, our test example was upgraded with the 'Rear Seat Comfort Package' ($2500) consisting of four-zone climate control, heating for the two outer positions and 'extended upholstery' for the door armrest and centre console. The two central vents are also supplemented by additional adjustable outlets in the B-pillars.
Boot capacity is around the average for the class at 530 litres, and the A6 swallowed our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres) with masses of room to spare, as it did the jumbo size CarsGuide pram.
In fact, it was able to take the biggest case as well as the pram at the same time, which is pretty impressive. 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, and a space-saver spare sits under the boot floor.
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 $100K barrier is a substantial one, and the Audi A6 55 TFSI quattro S line well and truly vaults over it, landing at a price of $116,000, before on-road costs.
For context, BMW's 530i Luxury Line weighs in at $111,900, Jag's XF 35t S will set you back $128,528, the Mercedes-Benz E300 sits at $111,642, and the Lexus GS350 Sport Luxury will lighten your wallet by $106,312.
So, you'd expect this top of the three model A6 range to be packed with standard features as part of the pitch to win market share from BMW, Merc and Co. And sure enough this car is laden down with enough fruit to satisfy Carmen Miranda's milliner.
Included are 20-inch alloy wheels, sports suspension (with electronically controlled adaptive dampers), matrix LED headlights (with LED DRLs, dynamic cornering lights, auto headlight range control and rear dynamic indicators), 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), 'Valcona' leather upholstery (door trim inserts in Alcantara), three-zone climate control air, a flat-bottom leather-trimmed sports steering wheel (with manual gearshift paddles), 'aluminium fragment' interior inlays, ambient lighting, and aluminium illuminated front door sill trims (in S design).
Plus, 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, a head-up display (colour, with speed, nav and assistance info), 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.
On top of that lot, our test car featured a quartet of options starting with air suspension ($2000), stepping through metallic paint ($2200), to the 'Rear seat comfort package' described in the practicality section above ($2500), and 'Premium plus package 1' ($9800) which tips in Bang & Olufsen's '3D Sound System' (16 speakers, 15-channel amp, and 705-watt output), HD matrix LED headlights, panoramic glass sunroof, privacy glass (rear and rear side windows), LED interior lighting package (30 selectable colours and six colour profiles), electric opening and closing boot lid, electric steering column adjust, S line interior package (S line embossing on the front seats, perforated leather steering wheel grips, inlays in dark matt brushed aluminium and stainless steel pedal and footrest faces), plus 21-inch alloys. The final price, before on-road costs, totting up to $132,500.
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 VW Group (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 peak power of 250kW from 5000-6400rpm, and maximum torque of 500Nm between 1370rpm and 4500rpm.
A 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.
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 is 7.2L/100km, the A6 55 TFSI emitting 164g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over five days of city, suburban and freeway running we recorded a figure of 8.8L/100km, courtesy of the on-board computer. Pretty impressive for a close to 1.8-tonne luxury sedan.
Stop/start is standard, minimum fuel requirement is 95 RON premium unleaded, and you'll need 72 litres of it to fill the tank.
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.
The A6 55 TFSI's S line tag infers sporty performance, and there's no doubt 0-100km/h acceleration in a claimed 5.1sec is rapid.
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.
The aim is to sharpen throttle response and deliver power in a smooth, linear flow. And with maximum torque available from just 1370rpm all the way to 4500rpm, that's exactly the way it feels.
Select Sport mode, squeeze the right-hand pedal, and the V6 delivers a firm, consistent shove in the back. Keep pushing and peak power arrives at 5000rpm, remaining on tap all the way up to 6400rpm, on the cusp of the engine's rev ceiling.
But don't expect a brash, macho personality. The A6 is quietly quick, remaining composed and relatively quiet as speed rises.
Low noise acoustic glass is a key factor here, as is a comprehensive sound absorption package throughout the cabin. Some may find the drive experience too low-key, even sterile, while others will embrace the cool sophistication.
The seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch auto transmission is beautifully executed, delivering ultra-smooth shifts at around-town cruising speeds and crisp, positive changes in manual mode.
A self-locking centre differential sits at the heart of the 'quattro' all-wheel drive system, normally distributing torque in a 40/60 front to rear ratio. Up to 70 per cent of drive can be sent to the front axle and a maximum 85 per cent to the rear.
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, with the switch between dynamic and comfort settings swift and pronounced.
Flick the 'Audi Drive Select' system into its softest setting and the ride smooths out to an ultra-complaint mode. Never floaty or unwieldy, just refined and well damped, despite our test car's optional 21-inch rims shod with 255/35 Pirelli P Zero rubber. But it's important to note optional air suspension was also on-board.
Tweak things up to the sportier end of the spectrum and the ride height drops by 10mm, the suspension firms up appreciably, and steering weight toughens up a few notches. Hustling the big Audi along a favourite backroad it remained balanced and predictable. But even in this context, Comfort's the better option.
Speaking of steering, the A6's electro-mechanical system supplies speed-dependent power assistance, and while it points accurately the assistance is overdone and road feel isn't a strong suit.
Brakes are 375mm ventilated discs at the front, clamped by six-piston alloy calipers, with 350mm rotors at the rear. In some enthusiastic, 'long-way-home' driving they inspired confidence with progressive feel and more than enough bite to calmly bring the 1.8-tonne A6 to heel.
Need to hitch up a boat, float or van? You're all clear up to 2.0 tonnes for a braked trailer and 750kg unbraked.
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.
Up front we mentioned this new A6 features leading-edge safety, and the crash test dummies in Ingolstadt must have been working overtime because this car leaves nothing on the table.
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 manoeuvres.
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 years ($1700) and five years ($2630).
In making the call between the two plans it's worth noting the four year/60,000km service is a big one including filters, a timing belt replacement, transmission fluid and spark plugs.