New Alpina B5 Touring 2018 review
Alpina’s new B5 Touring is a grown-up, refined alternative to the M5, but with the added practicality of an estate
For want of a better cliché, the Alpina B5 Touring is the M5 estate that BMW will never build. Yes, it’s eye-wateringly expensive, but as a complete package little comes close. A Mercedes-AMG E 63 S is more characterful, but the Alpina is grown up and refined, despite being almost as fast and sweet to drive. The exclusivity factor lifts it higher still – if you can get your hands on one, you won’t be disappointed.
Alpina has been fettling BMW’s offerings for decades. Despite delivering a more refined edge to some of the brands brasher models, the tuner’s take is different even when it comes to petrol-powered models, offering buyers an alternative to more obvious cars like the all-new, all-wheel-drive M5.
The newest Alpinas to join the range are the 5 Series-based B5 and D5 models. We drove the diesel variant in the UK last month, but now we’ve been given the keys to the firm’s barnstorming BiTurbo petrol B5 in more practical Touring guise.
The model in these pictures is in fact a customer car – rather than a press demonstrator – as currently there are only a handful of B5s in the country. Apparently, only nine are expected to reach the UK before the end of the year. Every B5 gets the usual Alpina bodykit and badges, as well as unique digital dials and a numbered plaque on the centre console.
Despite boasting more power and torque than the M5, the Alpina B5 uses a tuned version of the 4.4-litre V8 engine found in the not-for-UK BMW M550i. Every car gets all-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering, as well as an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox. Our car sat on standard 20-inch wheels with Pirelli Sottozero winter tyres.
At this time of year, this set-up makes it alarmingly fast and agile point to point. In the right conditions, the B5 Touring will sprint from 0-62mph in just 3.6 seconds (one tenth slower than the saloon) and hit 202mph – despite tipping the scales at more than two tonnes. The engine isn’t as responsive as some of the finest modern V8s, but the shove past 4,000rpm is relentless. After some initial lag, the twin turbochargers spool and offer seemingly endless power right to the redline. A Mercedes-AMG E 63 is arguably more characterful, and its engine more visceral, but Alpinas have always been about taste and sophistication, rather than brutish flamboyance.
And that’s the thing that impresses most. Even with 600bhp and 800Nm of torque, the way the Alpina B5 Touring conducts itself over broken British B-roads is nothing short of astounding. The compliant ride and excellent refinement are two things now synonymous with the Alpina brand, and the latest 5 Series-based estate offers them in spades.
The engine is barely audible at motorway speeds, and road noise is kept at bay even on huge wheels and winter rubber. Wind noise is almost non-existent, as well. The suspension offers the most beautiful blend of comfort and composure, too, seemingly eradicating the ridges, creases and shallow potholes that are so common during the colder months.
Yet when you want to ramp things up, the Alpina will happily oblige. The B5 replaces the D5’s button shifters for proper wheel-mounted paddles, offering complete control of the sweet shifting gearbox. BMW’s usual EcoPro, Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Adaptive drive modes remain, changing throttle response, steering weight and shift times as you’d expect.
The sumptuous leather seats and Alpina-trimmed steering wheel offer the perfect driving position, while the familiar BMW controls and intuitive infotainment screen make it an easy car to live with. It comes at a price, however, costing over £36,000 more than the most expensive 540i xDrive Touring.
But sit it alongside the saloon-only M5 and it looks far better value. BMW has no plans for a full-fat M-badged wagon, so this is the closest you’ll get to a 600bhp 5 Series with room for the dog. In fact, with the same 570-litre boot (1,700 litres with the seats folded), you’ll have enough space for the entire family.
For your £91,000 (the B5 saloon costs £89,000) you get a long list of standard equipment, which includes heated seats, four-zone climate control and wireless phone charging, as well as BMW’s ConnectedDrive navigation, DAB radio and a reversing camera. In addition, you’ll also find those 20-inch wheels, the subtle bodykit and quad tailpipes. The stripes are a no cost option, though our car’s bold green paint is a £2,200 extra.
Those not concerned by the high list price are unlikely to worry about how much this car costs to run. However, what may be of concern is the relatively small 66-litre fuel tank, which dramatically affects range. While the D5 we drove previously will happily go more than 500 miles between fills, a heavy right foot will see you stopping far more frequently in the petrol-powered car.