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Alpina B5 review: A BMW with brawn

It might look like a BMW, but beneath the recognisable silhouette the Alpina B5 is a sublime supercar.

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The Alpina B5 has gobs of power. Its 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine, with twin turbochargers and variable valve timing, is good for a very healthy 608 horsepower and a stonking 800 Newton-metres of torque.

BT_20180406_BMW3_3382839.jpg
The Alpina B5 has gobs of power. Its 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine, with twin turbochargers and variable valve timing, is good for a very healthy 608 horsepower and a stonking 800 Newton-metres of torque.

BT_20180406_BMW3_3382839.jpg
The Alpina B5 has gobs of power. Its 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine, with twin turbochargers and variable valve timing, is good for a very healthy 608 horsepower and a stonking 800 Newton-metres of torque.

Buchloe, Germany

SUPERCARS. They sure are a blast on a racetrack. Great down a long, straight road, too. And don't forget, brilliant at attracting unwanted attention. Shame about that Achilles heel called versatility.

In the real world of passengers, luggage, speed bumps, and multi-storey carparks, supercars don't do so well. Purists may argue these are purpose-built, no compromise machines. But show me where it is written that supercars need to be one-trick ponies. It certainly isn't the approach at Alpina.

The Bavarian auto manufacturer has been in the business of making BMWs go fast for over 50 years. Its flagship model, the Alpina B7, has won multiple "World's Fastest Sedan" accolades since its inception in 1978. It's safe to say that Alpina knows a thing or two about building fast sedans.

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Yet, it is the strangest of car companies. It doesn't modify BMWs, as some people think. If anything, BMW is a contract manufacturer for the brand. Alpina's engineers design the parts that they deem fit for their cars and BMW incorporates them accordingly, assembling the Alpinas in four of its own factories.

The cars are then transported to Alpina, where its team of craftsmen install handmade items for the interior. Fewer than 1,700 BMW-Alpinas are made every year, and the high degree of customisation available to clients means that each car is more or less unique.

If the approach to building cars is unusual, the Alpina philosophy is simple: supercar performance without supercar constraints. A BMW-Alpina is for the businessman who enjoys driving fast on the autobahn but prefers not to show up for meetings in a flashy, obviously expensive sports car.

Picture if you will a four-door sedan with over 600 horsepower and a top speed far north of 300km/h. It would be phenomenally stable at high speed yet easy to drive in traffic. It would average 10 km/L, accommodate four large adults comfortably and require no more frequent servicing than a normal car. That, in a nutshell, is the promise and the premise of the new BMW-Alpina B5 Bi-Turbo with all-wheel drive.

The car is based on a BMW 5 series, and shares its muscular yet elegant profile. And that's about where the similarities end.

For a start, the Alpina B5 has gobs of power. In fact, saying it's powerful is a bit like saying an erupting volcano is a bit warm. Its 4.4-litre V8 petrol engine, with twin turbochargers and variable valve timing, is good for a very healthy 608 horsepower and a stonking 800 Newton-metres of torque.

To put that into perspective, the Alpina B5 makes more power than a Ferrari Portofino.

An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard, allowing the car to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 3.5 seconds. In fact, 0 to 200 km/h is dispatched in a breathtaking 11.4 seconds, and it won't stop accelerating until the speedometer shows 330 km/h.

An exclusive invitation for The Business Times to visit Alpina at its headquarters in Buchloe in the south of Germany sees me behind the wheel of the B5. The test route is a mix of country lanes, B-roads and stretches of the autobahn, some of which is slick with ice because the temperature outside is 15 below zero. Thanks a lot, climate change.

I try to push the car as fast as I dare without hurling myself into a ditch, and a couple of things are evident within the first few kilometres. The Alpina B5 is one of those cars you can get comfortably up to speed with very quickly. It feels intuitive. Throttle response is predictable and linear, as are the brakes. All-round road visibility is excellent. The engine note is engaging under hard acceleration but is otherwise unobtrusive, at least in Comfort mode.

While the car will happily dawdle at street-legal speeds, the way its prodigious power is transmitted with such civility is astonishing. At 2,000 rpm, this engine is already putting out more than 80 per cent of its maximum torque, so what is a gentle stroll for the Alpina would be a strain for an ordinary car.

Up the pace, and the car maintains that composure. Stability at speed is exceptional. High speed driving on a highway is, after all, its raison d'etre. Safely transmitting all that power to the ground is BMW's xDrive system working in conjunction with Dynamic Stability Control and the engine management system. The distinctive Alpina 20-inch wheels are forged aluminium and adorned with Pirelli P Zero tyres that were tailor made for this car.

One unit of the B5 is in Singapore for sneak previews, ahead of its launch here in June, and the price has been set at S$528,800 including Certificate Of Entitlement. That might seem like a lot for a car, but it's a bargain for one that does 330km/h. Alpina may be dedicated to providing supercar performance without the supercar compromises, but it's worth pointing out that it also does so without the superpricing.


BMW-Alpina B5 Bi-Turbo

Engine 4,395cc, 48V, turbo V8
Power 608hp at 5,750 to 6,250rpm
Torque 800Nm at 3,000 to 5,000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
Top Speed Approximately 330km/h
0-100km/h 3.5 seconds
Fuel efficiency 10.5L/100km
Price S$528,800 including Certificate Of Entitlement
Agent Munich Automobiles
Available June 2018