Alpina B5 VS Maserati Ghibli
- Cleaning the wheels
- Room and storage space could be better
- Not the most engaging car to drive
- Okay warranty
- Marginal on value
- Fast but not furious
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|
So, there’s two hundred grand burning a hole in your pocket, and you’re keen to extinguish the flames by purchasing a premium, full-size, high-performance sedan.
Both can tear the tarmac off the road thanks to outputs in the ‘getting on for 600 horsepower’ range, and dynamic systems finely honed by unhinged boffins in Munich and Affalterbach.
But what if you prefer to follow a less-predictable path? One that sends you due south to Modena in Northern Italy, the home of Maserati.
This is the Maserati Ghibli, specifically the new S version, offering more power and torque than the standard issue.
It’s the famous Italian brand’s take on a serious sports sedan. But the elephant-sized question in the room is, why choose the road less travelled? What does this Maserati have that BMW or Merc’s finest doesn’t?
|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.
Maserati will tell you people are drawn to its motor-racing heritage and sporting DNA, and that the Ghibli offers something different in a world of grey, business-like conformity.
There’s no doubt the M5 and E63 are left-lane autobahn hot rods, stunningly fast but relatively remote. The Ghibli S delivers a more nuanced driving experience. And the design details all through the car actually do connect with the brand’s history.
So, before you go Deutsche you might want to think about a high-emotion Italian relationship.
Does the Maserati Ghibli S GranSport's dynamic character put it at the top of your premium performance sedan wish list? Tell us what you think in the comments 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.
For 2018, the Ghibli is available in two new trim levels. Add $20k to the ‘standard’ price tag and you can choose between the GranLusso, with a focus on luxury (including the option of a Zegna silk interior treatment!), or the more performance-focused GranSport you see here, the high-output S version, resplendent in ‘Blu Emozione’.
The GranSport is identified by its unique front and rear bumpers, as well as a chrome concave grille, with two wings and a prominent splitter underneath it.
More recent Maserati design signatures, including three stylised vents in the front guards, and aggressively angular (adaptive LED) headlights, merge with classic references like delicately formed trident badges on each C-pillar to form a distinctively dynamic exterior. It’s aerodynamically slick, too, boasting a low 0.29 drag coefficient (down from 0.31 for the 2017 car).
Then you open the door and step inside. In this case, the bright-blue exterior is matched with a black and red interior. Make that mostly red, in fact mostly very red leather on the seats, dash and doors, with trademark touches like the oval-shaped, dash-mounted analogue clock, hooded instrument binnacle, and racy alloy-finish pedals setting the tone.
Taking a different path to its Teutonic competition, the Ghibli S dash and centre console combination manages to blend gentle curves with an occasional sharp turn. Cover over the trident badge and other brand giveaways inside, and it doesn’t feel like the usual suspects. It‘s a distinctive, characterful design.
Also worth calling out is the fact that when you crack the bonnet open to impress your friends they’ll actually be able to see the engine, or at least major parts of it. Like alloy cam covers, complete with Maserati in old-school cursive script in the casting. Yes, there’s some plastic dressing on top, but the ability to lay your eyes on real metal warms the heart.
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.
Front-seat passengers enjoy a spacious feel, thanks largely to the dashboard’s progressive slope towards the windscreen, rather than the hard-edged, upright layout more commonly found in high-end sedans.
There are two cupholders in the centre console, but locating anything bigger than a piccolo latte in them would be a struggle. Same goes for the doors. Yes, there are storage bins, but forget water bottles or anything much thicker than an iPad (in a Gucci slipcase of course).
That said, there are several covered storage boxes in the centre console, as well as multiple connection options including an ‘auxiliary in’ socket, USB port, SD card reader and 12v outlet, plus a specific drawer for your mobile (in place of a now-deleted DVD player).
No surprise then that rear space is generous. I was able to sit behind the driver’s seat, set for my 183cm height, with plenty of legroom and more than adequate headroom. The gap for your feet under the seat in front is kinda squeezy, but it’s nowhere near a deal-breaking issue. Three large adults across the rear is do-able, but tight.
There are two adjustable vents for rear-seaters, map pockets on the seat backs, small door bins, plus a neatly configured storage box and (small) twin cupholder combination in the folding centre armrest.
The rear seat backs split-fold 60/40 to increase the standard 500-litre cargo capacity and improve load flexibility. There’s a 12v outlet, a side net pocket, and decent lighting back there, too. But don’t bother looking for a spare, a repair kit is standard issue, and an 18-inch space saver is an option.
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).
Cost of entry to this exclusive Italian club is $175,990 (plus on-road costs) for the Ghibli S, with an additional $20,000 opening up the choice of Ghibli S GranLusso or S GranSport ($195,990).
No small chunk of change, and in the same territory as the M5 and E 63, so what does that mean in terms of standard spec and tech?
For a start, the S GranSport rolls on 21-inch ‘Titano’ alloy rims, and features an eight-speaker, 280-watt Harman/Kardon sound system (including DAB digital radio). You’ll also luxuriate in extended leather trim (including a leather-wrapped sports steering wheel), carbon and piano black interior highlights, 12-way power-adjustable and heated front seats, keyless entry and start, sat-nav, LED headlights, power rear window sunshades, power boot lid (with hands-free mode) and soft-close doors.
There’s also dual-zone climate control air, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera (plus surround view), rain-sensing wipers, a sunroof, ambient lighting, alloy-finish pedals, a 7.0-inch TFT instrument display, and an 8.4-inch colour multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto present and accounted for.
That’s plenty of luscious fruit, which is cost-of-entry in this rarefied market territory.
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 Ghibli S is powered by 3.0-litre, 60-degree, twin-turbo V6 petrol engine, designed by Maserati Powertrain in Modena and manufactured by Ferrari, just up the road in Maranello.
It’s an all-alloy unit featuring direct-injection, variable cam timing (inlet and exhaust), low-inertia parallel turbos, and a pair of intercoolers.
While it can’t match the powerhouse Germans on outright numbers the Ghibli S still produces just over 321kW, or around 430 horsepower at 5500rpm, and 580Nm of torque from 2250-4000rpm. That’s a boost of 20kW/30Nm over the outgoing Ghibli S.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via a ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic 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.
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.
So, the first thing to say is the Ghibli S GranSport is fast, but it’s not in the same eye-widening league as the M5 and E63. The sprint from 0-100km/h is covered in 4.9 seconds, and if you’re game (and your driveway is long enough) claimed maximum velocity is 286km/h. For reference, the just released (F90) M5 is claimed to hit triple digits in 3.4sec, and the E 63 in 3.5.
The V6 turbo sounds nice and growly in the Sport setting, the soundtrack controlled by pneumatic valves in each bank of the exhaust. In ‘Normal’ mode, the bypass valves are closed up to 3000rpm for a more civilised tone and volume.
Maximum torque is available across a useful band from 2250 to 4000rpm and the twin-turbo set-up helps with linear power delivery, while the eight-speed auto is quick and positive, especially in manual mode.
The sports seats (12-way electric adjustable) feel great, a 50/50 front to rear weight distribution helps the car feel balanced, and the standard LSD helps put power to the ground without fuss in tight going.
And despite a 1810kg kerb weight, it does, in fact, manage to feel lighter and more involving than its high-profile, highly powerful German rivals.
Braking is courtesy of big (red) Brembo six piston calipers at the front, and four piston at the rear on vented and cross-drilled rotors (360mm front/345mm rear). They’re up to the task, and the claimed 100-0km/h stopping distance is impressive at 36m.
The new electrically assisted power steering (a first for Maserati) is light at parking speeds, but it points nicely and road feel improves as the speedo needle twists to the right.
Suspension is double-wishbone front, five bar multi-link rear, and despite big 21-inch rims wrapped in high-performance Pirelli P Zero rubber (245/35 front-285/30 rear), ride comfort is amazingly good, even on patchy surfaces.
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.
Maserati’s ‘ADAS’ (Advanced Driver Assistance Package) is standard on the Ghibli S, and now includes lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and traffic-sign recognition.
There’s also AEB, forward-collision warning, ‘Advanced Brake Assist’, ‘Rear Cross Path’ and a tyre-pressure-monitoring system.
The 2018 Ghibli and larger Quattroporte sedan are also the first Maseratis to feature IVC (Integrated Vehicle Control), a tailored version of ESP (Electronic Stability Program), using a smart controller to predict driving situations, adapting engine speed and torque vectoring (by braking) in response.
The ‘Maserati Stability Program’ (MSP) also wraps up ABS (with EBD), ASR, engine brake torque control, ‘Advanced Brake Assist’ and a hill holder.
In terms of passive safety the Ghibli is equipped with seven airbags (front head, front side, driver’s knee, and full length curtain) as well as anti-whiplash headrests.
There are three top tether points across the rear for child seats, with ISOFIX anchors in the two outer positions.
Although ANCAP hasn’t assessed the Ghibli it rates a maximum five stars from EuroNCAP.
Maserati supports the Ghibli S GranSport with a three year/unlimited km warranty, which is now some way off the industry leading eight years (160,000km) from Tesla, and seven years (unlimited km) from Kia.
But the recommended service interval is a lengthy two years/20,000km, and the ‘Maserati Maintenance’ program offers pre-paid schedules for Ghibli and Quattroporte owners, covering required inspections, components and consumables.