Test Drives

2019 Alpina B5 review: 5 for Fighting



Wanna go fast, but without anyone noticing? The Alpina B5 is a discreet cruise missile that will fly under everyones’ radar. Except perhaps, the police’s speed ones…

Photos: Jonathan Lim & Jaden Low

SINGAPORE

“Have fun, but just be careful, yeah?”, said the sales rep handing me the keys to the car. “Your colleague from [publication redacted] got caught speeding in this when he drove it, and we just sent the police notice to him!”

Not exactly the most comforting words to hear when you’re about to get behind the wheel of a 608hp rocketship for half a day. But then again, would you turn down the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a 608hp rocketship for half a day?

For that’s exactly what the Alpina B5 is, and there really isn’t any other term that would do it justice. It’s the closest thing you can get to a land-bound missile in Singapore – more so than BMW’s own M5 – not just because of its explosive performance and the speeds it can travel at, but also because of how you wouldn’t notice it unless it’s bearing right down upon you.

With 608hp and 800Nm on tap, and a 0-100km/h time of 3.5 seconds, the potential for licence-losing speeds is right there if you so much as sneeze at the accelerator pedal too hard. And if you have the bottle to keep that pinned long enough, you’d find that you wouldn’t stop accelerating until you hit 330km/h.

Fun fact: that means there are only eight cars available in Singapore faster than the B5, yet none of them have more than two doors.

Any car that could simply breeze past most Ferraris, Lamborghinis and McLarens at full chat is an engineering work worth marvelling at, but a four-door luxury saloon? That’s barely comprehensible.

To make a B5, Alpina starts off with the fastest non-M 5 Series available, in this case the M550i that’s not available here. Nominally it uses the ‘N63’ 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 that you’d also find in the M850i and just-launched X5 and X6 M50i, but Alpina swaps in bigger turbos, uprated pistons and spark plugs, and improved cooling to produce M5-rivalling outputs.

Then, Alpina goes to work on the handling, and it’s not just simply a case of tweaking the spring and damper settings. There are those of course, but Alpina also went through the trouble of developing new wishbones so the car can run an extra degree of camber, which increases cornering grip. Alpina-specific non-runflat Pirelli tyres are also fitted, together with gorgeous 20-inch forged alloy wheels.

Finally, the aesthetics, and this is where the B5 feels really special. Its exterior exhibits none of the shoutiness of the M5’s angry air intakes and bulging arches, rather, just functional yet classy lift-reducing aero devices attached to the standard 5 Series bumpers; crucial when blasting along on the autobahn at the far side of 300km/h.

And its interior? Well, the Alpina-badged steering wheel, numbered build plaque and digital dials (reskinned in Alpina’s classic electric blue colour scheme) are visual treats, but it’s the trimmings that elevate the B5’s cabin to a level far beyond any other BMW.

Alpina’s options list is extensive, allowing you to personalise your B5 in a bewildering variety of materials. Alpina’s luxury ladder extends a few rungs higher than what BMW Individual’s can reach, and is what you’d expect of a half million dollar car. Our tester came equipped with mocha-coloured Nappa leather and gorgeous open-pore Walnut wood, though if you’re feeling particularly flush, an extra S$55,000 could get you the entire cabin wrapped in the same sort of leather Rolls-Royce uses.

For all its supercar-slaying performance figures, what’s most striking about the B5’s driving experience is how docile it is. At regular commuting speeds, it’s no more difficult, intimidating or even noticeably different to pootle around in than a garden-variety 5 series.

There’s no spikiness to the driveline, the controls are direct without being sharp, and the active exhaust is hush-hush quiet (too quiet, in my opinion). Heck, the adaptive suspension even has a Comfort Plus mode which you won’t find in any regular BMW, which means that despite the huge rims, it rides like a normal 5 Series, and far more softly than an M5.

The civility continues even when you give it the beans. Compared to an M5, the B5 will rev neither as high nor as keenly, but the punch is pretty much still the same – one that will leave you breathless and pinned against the seat. And the relative silence and smoothness of it all just makes its capabilities all the more absurd.

That the B5 serves up the same performance with less drama points to its character – it’s focused more on being an imperious grand tourer, rather than pretending to be a sports car. You get the feeling that the B5 would ‘tut tut’ at any hooning antics rather than encourage them.


READ MORE: If hooning’s what you want, have a look at the extra naughty M5 Competition


Alas, it rained heavily shortly into our test drive, and thus there wasn’t an opportunity to experience the car’s handling capabilities. However, traction from the rear-biased xDrive system is certifiably unflappable, even from a standstill, with the traction control off, in the middle of a monsoon downpour.

Still, Alpina buyers aren’t likely to be as inclined to corner carving as M owners are, and the terrible weather served to highlight the B5’s strengths. Where an M5 delivers its heavyweight punch with bare knuckles, the B5 hits just as hard with full boxing gloves on. Where the M5 puts its muscles out for the world to see like a bodybuilder wearing a tank-top, the B5 is like a trained bodyguard in a well-fitted suit – giving you security and peace of mind, yet devastatingly capable under the harshest duress.

Despite their on-paper similarities, the B5 and M5 are not similar cars. The Alpina appears to be more self-assured, more comfortable within its own skin. It doesn’t need to announce its presence, nor bully physics into pretending that the concept of a 2-tonne sports car makes sense. It’s a car that flexes for nobody but the driver, and thanks to low production numbers (Alpina only makes 1,700 cars a year), will continue to be noticed only by the cognoscenti.

Now, if only there were a way to let it go unnoticed by speed traps too…

 

Alpina B5 Saloon

Engine 4,395cc, V8, twin-turbo
Power 608hp at 5750rpm
Torque 800Nm at 3000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h 3.5 seconds
Top Speed 330km/h
Fuel Efficiency 10.5 L/100km
VES Band / CO2 C2 / 240g/km
Agent Munich Automobiles (2018) Pte Ltd
Price $458,000 without COE (indent)
Available Now

 

about the author

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Jon Lim
CarBuyer's staff writer was its fourth historical Jonathan. Old-fashioned in all but body, he thinks car design peaked in the '90s and is enthusiastic about vintage cars and old machinery.