BMW Alpina B5 VS Mercedes-Benz E63
BMW Alpina B5
- Cleaning the wheels
- Room and storage space could be better
- Not the most engaging car to drive
- Incredible performance, easily accessed
- Amazing duality between performance and luxury
- Relatively subtle looks for battling tall-poppy haters
- No wagon version for Australia
BMW Alpina B5
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|
The faster you go, the less comfortable things become. Any race car will prove this theory, and the current C 63 S AMG also backs it up with its, shall we say, 'performance-focused' package.
As you’d expect, its mighty E 63 S bigger brother is faster again. But surely it can’t afford to be less comfy than its C-Class sibling, particularly when it adds more than $80k to the sticker price and typically appeals to a more mature audience.
And sure enough, it isn’t, but rather than simply becoming the larger equivalent of the C 63 S, the new fastest E-Class somehow has enough bandwidth to satisfy expectations of three-pointed-star luxury and boast more performance than any four-door AMG ever.
Oh, and it’s also all-wheel drive (AWD) for the first time in Australia. None of this seems to add up, so how have they done it?
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW Alpina B57.9/10
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 E 63 S is proof that you can be supercar quick without having to feel like you’re in a racecar all the time.
It’s hard to find a single thing wrong with it once you’re past the near-quarter of a million dollar asking price, but even that’s more than 10 grand cheaper than before.
The only thing I’d like to see is the wagon version in Australia, but not enough us want to buy one.
In my opinion, it’s the best four-door AMG you can buy, and the new M5 will have to be pretty amazing to topple it.
Would you be happy to park an E 63 S in your garage, or would you wait to see how good the new M5 is? Tell us what you think in the comments below
BMW Alpina B58/10
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.
Like the C 63 S, the easiest way to pick the E 63 S is by its bespoke front air dam, pumped front guards and the AMG-characteristic double-bulge bonnet. To the uneducated, it looks little more than an AMG-kitted lesser model, but is smartly distinguished from the regular body treatment.
No doubt a lot of $200k-plus performance sedan buyers would prefer it this way, instead of a giant rear wing and a bunch of extraneous vents to underline its supercar-like capabilities.
The wheels are unique to the E 63 S, with the 20-inch cross-spoke forged design measuring 9.5 inches wide up front and a full 10 inches at the rear. That’s as wide as Brocky’s Group C Torana A9X racer by the way, yet they snugly fit within the standard rear wheel arches.
The interior isn’t too far removed from a regular E-Class either - which is already a pretty swish place to be - but gets grippy, hard-backed 'Performance' seats, Alcantara grip sections and a straight-ahead marker added to the AMG steering wheel, plus a smattering of AMG logos.
BMW Alpina B57/10
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.
No supercar will ever be as easy to live with as the E 63 S, with the passenger-car requisite two cupholders front and rear with bottle holders in each door, ample legroom and headroom for rear-seat passengers, and a 40/20/40 split-fold back seat leading to a cavernous 540-litre boot.
The E 63 S’s Performance front seats do lose their map pockets, though.
Price and features
BMW Alpina B58/10
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).
With a list price of $239,611, it’s more than 2.5 times the price of a base E200, but Mercedes boasts that it’s also more than $10,000 cheaper than the model it replaced in May 2017, with a lot more equipment fitted standard.
This still puts it $82,000 higher than a C 63 S sedan and $80,000 more than the quite-quick V6 E 43, and a full $30,000 more than the regular E 63 that joined the range in December.
Whether the E 63 S’s extra fruit is worth it is up to you, but Mercedes expects most E 63 buyers will opt for the S.
Its extensive list of standard kit helps to justify its ask somewhat, with the only concession for performance being the deletion of the PRE-SAFE Impulse Side system because of the more sculpted Performance seats.
Our E 63 S was also optioned with $4200 worth of designo Selenite Grey magno matte paint, and the ceramic composite brakes signified by the gold calipers add a further $9900.
Engine & trans
BMW Alpina B59/10
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 E 63 has also followed the C 63 in bucking the “no replacement for displacement” adage, dropping 1.5-litres over the model it replaced but gaining 20kW/50Nm for new totals of 450kW/850Nm.
This is thanks to an uprated version of the 4.0-litre twin turbo M177 V8, which is paired to a multi-plate clutch version of the excellent nine-speed auto for the first time.
BMW Alpina B57/10
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.
This area is unlikely to be a top priority if you’re shopping for a $240k V8 performance saloon, but the E 63 S’s 9.3L/100km official combined fuel figure should catch your eye if it is. We experienced 11.6L/100km on test, which is pretty amazing given how tempting that throttle pedal is.
Also helping to forgive this temptation is a bigger 80-litre fuel tank (20-litres more than the base E-Class) which promises a comfortable range between fills.
BMW Alpina B58/10
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.
Push the start button and the ensuing rumble will annoy your neighbours if you leave for work early. This has come to be an AMG V8 trademark, but even with the exhaust button’s ability to liberate a few more decibels, it’s still a smidge more discreet than the C 63 S.
Not all AMG exhausts are created equal you see, with the E 63 S’s particular flavour sitting somewhere between the C and the SL tune, based on my recent experience.
What you’re left with is still up there with the industry best, with the range of tunes from angry burble to pops and cackles on overrun setting the scene well for the E63 S drive experience.
Range is a key word when it comes to the E 63 S, with an incredible 0-100km/h claim of 3.4 seconds headlining the performance end of its personality. This is a full six tenths faster than the C 63 S sedan, and it feels every bit of it.
It’s difficult to articulate just how fast this is, but bear in mind Ferrari’s mid-noughties F1 racer for the road, the Enzo, carried a 3.6 second claim. The E 63 S is 0.2s faster than that!
The AMG’s full 850 Newton metres are available from just 2500rpm (to 4500 for the record), making any prod of the accelerator very effective.
The nine-speed auto doesn't fail to impress either, with fast and responsive shifts in the sportier drive modes, with none of the slow-speed lag or shunting and clunking you tend to get from some rivals' dual-clutch units.
Helping all those Newtons get to the ground is the fully active AWD system, which has been set up to preserve the AMG-characteristic tailiness with a 31:69 default torque split front to rear.
Controlling the apportioning of power side-to-side is an electronic rear-axle limited slip differential (as opposed to the regular E 63’s mechanical unit), and the net result will let the rear end hang loose just enough before the torque vectoring sends more power to the front to pull you back into line.
Unlike pretty much every AWD system this side of a ute, the E 63 S is able to send 100 per cent of its power to the rear wheels when ‘Drift Mode’ is engaged, with Race selected from the drive menu.
This also means deactivating the stability and traction control altogether, flicking the transmission to manual mode and pulling on the shift paddles, but in the interests of retaining employment and my general wellbeing, we’ll save Drift Mode for the race track.
Another claim we’ll have to leave purely theoretical is that the speed limiter has been relaxed by 50km/h to permit a full 300! This is a large four-door sedan, remember. How very German.
The abundance of aluminium in the W213 E-Class shell has led to a feeling of lightness that I feel detracts from the classic E-Class ‘bank vault’ sensation in the lesser models, but this actually works in the E 63 S’s favour.
At 1955kg, it’s a full 300kg heavier than the C 63 S sedan, but doesn’t really feel it. Granted, a lot of that weight would be down low, due to the AWD system, but it retains a general feeling of lightness and a willingness to change direction.
Also helping are bespoke front suspension architecture for a wider track and more hardcore geometry, a unique steering column, and the S also gets hydraulic engine mounts that tighten up to sharpen feel in the more aggressive drive modes.
Grip from the 265mm wide front tyres and 295mm rears is fantastic, but they will break away gently to give confidence when driving at the limit. This also makes a bit of tail wagging out of corners a lot less nerve-wracking.
The ceramic composite brakes fitted to our car also do an excellent job of reighning in all that performance quickly and consistently, and unlike a lot of similar setups they don’t squeal when cold.
Beyond this outstanding performance and driver appeal, the E 63 S’s trump card is its ability to return to regular E-Class luxury at the flick of a switch - back into Comfort mode.
The airbag suspension is arguably what is most responsible for this duality, but it’s also a sign of all the mechanical components being developed together to work in harmony, with such a spectrum of ability being targeted from the get-go. This is not an E-Class with AMG mods, this is an E-Class that’s been designed to be an AMG from the beginning.
Adding a “but wait, there’s more” edge to the E 63 S’s drive experience is the fact that like all versions of the new E-Class, the active safety systems work together to enable Drive Pilot semi-autonomous driving, which represents Level 2 autonomy.
This means you can drive down a motorway with only an occasional touch of the steering wheel as an input, and it will even change lanes if the indicators are activated. As amazing as they are, we recommend exercising great caution when using these features, however.
BMW Alpina B59/10
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.
Like all versions of the W213 E-Class, the E 63 S carries the maximum five-star ANCAP (tested 2016) and EuroNCAP safety ratings. A brilliantly integrated suite of active and passive safety features go well beyond its standard AEB, nine-airbag count, 360-degree parking cameras, rear cross-traffic alerts, and a pedestrian-protecting active bonnet.
The only slight compromise is the deletion of the PRE-SAFE Impulse Side system which moves the occupant away from a collision if a potential side impact is detected.
This is because of the E 63 S’s standard “Performance” front seats, but the system is restored if the less sculpted “sport seats” are optioned through the Active Comfort package.
As with all Mercedes passenger cars, the E 63 S is covered by a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. Service intervals are either 12 months or 20,000km and the first three services are capped at $736, $1472 and $1472 respectively.
This compares with $668/$1356/$1356 for the E 43, and 456/912/912 for a base E200, and the latter two models have 25,000km intervals.