Alpina B5 VS BMW 3 Series
- Cleaning the wheels
- Room and storage space could be better
- Not the most engaging car to drive
BMW 3 Series
- Rear headroom
- No spare
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?
BMW 3 Series
Over 44 years BMW has produced more than 15 million examples of the 3 Series. That's roughly one every minute and a half... for over four decades.
And the latest, seventh-generation version of what the famous German maker defines as the "heart and soul" of its brand has landed in Australia.
The new '3' is longer and wider. It's also claimed to be slicker aerodynamically, up to 55 kilos lighter, more fuel efficient, and faster.
And it'll need every advantage it can muster to take a chunk out of its arch rival, the all-conquering Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular 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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Despite BMW's wholehearted embrace of the SUV its 3 Series is still a critically important model for the brand in Australia. And this new version certainly has the spec and tech to take the fight up to Merc's C-Class. And if you're in the happy position of making that choice, it's now a whole lot harder. For our money the 330i marks the sweet spot with extra performance, safety tech and standard features for only a fraction more than $3k over the 320d entry-point.
Could this new 3 Series steer you away from a Merc C-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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Changes to the exterior design are more evolutionary than revolutionary. You're never going to mistake this car for anything other than a BMW 3 Series.
But even if the face is familiar, aerodynamic efficiency is outstanding. BMW admits its claimed Cd of 0.23 was achieved with a base model running on 17-inch wheels (not offered here), but even if bigger rims knock a few fractions off that number it's still an amazing result for a conventional four door sedan.
Big contributors are a full width front spoiler, 'air curtains' managing flow around each corner of the nose, almost complete sealing of the largest areas underneath the car, and a functional rear diffuser section.
The signature kidney grille has grown and is delivered as a single piece, with active shutters incorporated to manage cooling air flow through to the engine. Twin adaptive LED headlights (standard on all models) feature a sharp notch on their lower edge, a big clue for new model spotters.
Broad, carefully managed surfaces characterise the bonnet and flanks of the car, with a distinct character line just above door handle height enhancing its confident stance.
The slightly smoked L-shaped LED tail-lights sit proud of the body, and 18-inch alloys are standard on the 320d, stepping up to 19s on the 330i.
The interior has been redesigned with revised controls and new materials, including slick 'aluminium teragon' finish on the console and dash in the M Sport.
As you can see in our interior images, it's been tidied up and simplified considerably, although it will still be instantly recognised by current BMW drivers.
Highlights are a 12.3-inch configurable digital 'Live Cockpit Professional' instrument display (lifted directly from the X5), a new 10.25-inch media touchscreen and a standard (larger) head-up display.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
A longer wheelbase (+41mm) has helped increase overall cabin space and rear room specifically.
There's plenty of storage provided with a large lidded box between the front seats as well as two large size cupholders in a recessed section in front of the gear shift (which can be closed off with a roll-top style cover).
The glove box is large and there are big bins in the doors with separate holders for full-size bottles.
Rear legroom is generous. At 183cm, sitting behind my own driving position, there was plenty of fresh air between knees and seatback, with lots of foot room to boot.
Headroom was more marginal with a straight back leading to a bonce/roof interface. But there are adjustable rear vents, twin cupholders in a fold-down centre armrest, and big bottle holders in the doors. Multiple USB ports (Type A and Type C) and a 12-volt power outlet are provided front and rear.
The boot space offers up a 480-litre luggage capacity with a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat increasing cargo flexibility. Local towing capacity is yet to be confirmed, but indicative (European) ratings for both models are 750kg for an unbraked trailer and 1600kg braked.
Standard rubber is run-flat so there's no spare of any description.
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).
BMW 3 Series8/10
Pricing for the two-model launch line-up starts at just under $67,900 before on-road costs for the 320d, rising to $70,990 for the 330i.
Given many previous Australia-bound 3 Series models have been built in South Africa it's fair to ask where is the BMW 3 Series built, and the answer this time around is Germany.
And the standard features list is long, including 'Adaptive LED headlights' (with 'High-Beam Assistant'), LED fog lights and tail-lights, electrically adjustable and heated exterior mirrors (with electric fold-in function), rain-sensing wipers, three-zone climate control, electrically-adjustable sports front seats (with memory function for driver and front passenger), wireless smartphone charging, 'Aluminium Tetragon' interior trim finishers, 12.3-inch 'BMW Live Cockpit Professional' digital instrument display, 'Navigation System Professional' with 10.25-inch digital touchscreen display also managing a 10-speaker, 205-watt sound system, including a 20GB hard drive and DAB+ digital radio. Apple CarPlay is included.
Also included are 'BMW TeleServices' taking in 'ConnectedDrive'(free use of vehicle apps via 'BMW Online'), real-time traffic info and 'Concierge Services'. The 'BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant' responds to a "Hey BMW' voice command with a range of hands-free functions like nav, calls and texts. We had mixed success in challenging this friendly PA.
The default M Sport trim includes 18-inch 'M Double-spoke' light alloy wheels, BMW Individual high-gloss 'Shadow Line' black treatment on the window frame and air breather surround, the 'M Aerodynamics package' (aero front and rear bumper trims, and side sills), Alcantara/Sensatec (vinyl) upholstery (black with contrast blue stitching), Anthracite BMW Individual headliner, and an M leather steering wheel (with multifunction buttons).
The no-cost 'Luxury Line' treatment swaps in 'Vernasca' leather seats, ash grey-brown interior wood trim, a sport leather steering wheel, the instrument panel trimmed in Sensatec and standard level sport seats for the driver and front passenger.
Step up to the 330i and you can add 19-inch alloys, 'Vernasca' leather upholstery, 'Comfort Access' (keyless entry to all doors), adaptive suspension, M Sport brakes, 'Driving Assistant Professional' (active cruise control with 'Stop&Go' function, front and rear cross-traffic warning, steering and lane control assist, lane keeping assistant with side collision warning, crossroads warning and 'Evasion Aid'), and 'Parking Assistant Plus' ('Parking Assistant' with 'Active Park Distance Control' rear, 'Reversing Assistant', 'Surround View', 'Panorama View', and '3D View').
In terms of colours, 'Alpine White' and black are no-cost, wihle metallic shades - 'Black Saphire', 'Melbourne Red', 'Glacier Silver', 'Mineral White', 'Mineral Grey', 'Mediterranean Blue', 'Sunset Orange', 'Velmont Bronze' (brown), and 'Portimao Blue' add $2000 (rrp). And the 'BMW Individual' metallic shade of 'Dravit Grey' adds $2350.
Lots and lots of fruit without any change to the price. Clearly BMW is determined to bring the 3 Series back to prominence.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
The 320d is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel, featuring common-rail direct-injection and variable inlet timing. It produces 140kW at 4000rpm and 400Nm between 1750-2500rpm.
The turbo's multi-stage design incorporates a small, high-pressure, fixed-vane turbocharger as well as a larger, low-pressure, variable-vane turbo to maximise response, performance and efficiency.
A 2.0-litre single turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine sits under the 330i's bonnet incorporating direct-injection, as well as variable valve and cam timing. Peak outputs are 190kW from 5000-6500rpm and 400Nm between 1550-4400rpm.
Mark the date because this is the first time the BMW 3 Series has been offered in Australia without a manual gearbox option. Both launch models send drive to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic (with wheel-mounted shift paddles) only.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
Despite each car's performance potential claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is commendably low.
BMW says the 320d delivers excellent diesel fuel economy, consuming a miserly 4.5L/100km, emitting 119g/km of CO2 in the process, with the 330i's fuel consumption figure coming in at 6.4L/100km and 147g/km.
You'll need minimum 95 RON premium unleaded in the 330i, with both petrol and diesel requiring 59 litres to fill the tank to full capacity.
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.
BMW 3 Series8/10
First, the performance figures. BMW claims the 320d will accelerate from 0-100km/h in 6.8sec, which is agreeably quick, while the 330i knocks that down to 5.8sec, which is properly fast.
Both engines deliver the same 400Nm of maximum torque at low rpm; 1750-2500rpm for the 320d, and a broader 1550-4400rpm spread for the 330i. Mid-range acceleration is strong and satisfyingly linear in each, the 330i that bit more urgent at the top end.
The eight-speed auto is velvety smooth, with the wheel-mounted shift paddles on hand for rapid 'manual' changes. Engine noise is muted at low revs but nice and rorty under pressure.
A stated aim in the development of this 3 Series was "dynamic engagement", and the standard strut front, multi-link rear suspension has been tuned to reinforce the driving part of the brand's long-standing 'ultimate driving machine' promise.
The standard suspension includes tricky two-stage dampers front and rear, but with all cars at the local launch fitted with the optional active damper system we'll have to wait to report on its quality (or otherwise).
This car's centre-of-gravity is 10mm lower than the model it replaces, which may not sound like much, but in engineering terms, absolutely is. In concert with a perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution, and wider tracks front and rear, it helps deliver an overall planted feel and predictable cornering balance.
The electro-mechanically assisted steering is accurate and linear with good road feel, which is not always the case in recent Beamers.
The launch fleet was also rolling on 19-inch rims (standard on 330i, optional on 320d) shod with Bridgestone Turanza run-flat rubber (225/40f - 255/35r) and despite that type of tyre's reputation for harsh characteristics and a moderate level of road noise, ride comfort on the typically coarse rural roads we covered in the Victorian high country was impressive.
Braking on both models is by ventilated disc front and rear, and even in spirited cornering maintained their power and efficiency. The M Sport brake package fitted to the 330i dials things up with four-piston alloy calipers (sourced from Brembo) up front.
The standard sports steering wheel is fat and grippy, the sports front seats combine firm location with long-distance comfort and overall noise levels are low. Overall, this is a super-impressive touring car.
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.
BMW 3 Series9/10
The new 3's active safety package is exactly where it needs to be, with all the 'cost-of-entry' items like ASC, DSC, ABS, 'Braking Assist', and traction control included. But additional tech includes everything from all-speed AEB, 'Lane Departure Warning', 'Lane Change Warning', head-up display and 'Front Collision Warning' (with brake intervention), to 'Cornering Brake Control', 'Rear Cross-Traffic Warning', 'Rear Collision Prevention', 'Speed Limit Information', 'Parking Assist' (with 'Reversing Assistant') and 'Dynamic Braking Lights'.
Step up to the 330i and you can add 'Steering and Lane Control Assist', 'Emergency Stop Assistant', 'Auto Speed Limit Assist', 'Lane Keeping Assist', 'Front Cross-Traffic Warning', 'Evasion Aid', 'Crossroads Warning' (with 'City Braking' function), 'Wrong Way Warning', as well as 'Parking Assistant Plus' (with 'Surround View Camera' and 'Remote 3D View').
On the passive side, the airbag count runs to eight (front and side airbags for driver and front passenger, and head airbags for all four outer seats). 'Intelligent Emergency Call' is also included.
There three top tether anchors for child seats/baby restraints across the back seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.
This seventh-generation 3 Series is yet to be assessed by ANCAP or EuroNCAP, but it's a safe bet it will pick up a maximum five-star safety rating.
BMW 3 Series7/10
BMW offers a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is drifting off the pace now with the majority of mainstream brands stepping up to five-year cover, with some at seven.
On the upside, bodywork is covered for 12 years, the paint for three, and 24-hour roadside assistance is complimentary for three years.
Servicing is condition based, so the car tells you when maintenance is required, and BMW offers a range of service packages in 'Basic' and 'Plus' grades up to 10 years/200,000km.