“We could have had a rear-drive B5 and I’d have preferred it, but even I accept that with 589lb ft, the customer wants four-wheel drive,” he says.
So they fiddled with that, too, and now the B5 sends more of its torque (up to 90 percent) to the rear wheels and does so more of the time.
Interestingly, despite the all-wheel drive hardware adding 70kg, the entire car is 30kg lighter than the previous, rear-drive B5. And Alpina has broken with years of Michelin-shod tradition and developed a new Pirelli tyre to go with the car.
Unleashing the B5’s power on the track
The irony is that although this car was principally developed on the road, it can only be driven on the track – for now.
As I write, Alpina has just three production-specification B5s and none is yet homologated for road use. So it is around the Bilster-Berg test track, smack in the middle of Germany, that I make my acquaintance.
And the fact that it doesn’t just give up at the first corner is remarkable. This is a deliciously evil track, undulating, very fast and perfect for light, track-tuned cars laden with downforce, such as the Porsche 911 GT3 RS I drove there, and not at all for softly sprung 2150kg estates.
The engine sounds superb and completely natural – although a slightly embarrassed-looking Bovensiepen confesses it’s the first Alpina to synthesise just a tiny bit of sound through the loudspeakers – and is completely simpatico with its new gearshift strategy.
It feels properly rapid, as you might expect, but perhaps not quite as alarmingly so as the Mercedes-AMG E 63, which has the same power, even more torque and a lot less weight.
Where it breaks free of expectation is in the corners. Drive as fast as you can around a circuit as fiendish as this and, of course, it’s going to torture its tyres, understeer in the long turns and wobble a little over cambers and crests.
But if you’re conservative with entry speed, get the nose into the apex on the brakes and then power on, it transforms into this most deliciously neutral, adjustable plaything.
And its brakes are incredible: Vollmer proudly says his steel brakes offer better retardation and fade resistance than Audi’s ceramics. All I can say is they didn’t get stressed once in many, many laps.
I wish I could tell you more about the B5’s ride and refinement – I find it telling that in addition to BMW’s usual Sport Plus setting, Alpina has added its own Comfort Plus mode – but slaloming around Bilster-Berg playing with switches reveals very little. I’d be surprised if its ride was less than excellent, but we’ll only know for sure when we drive it in the UK.
Is the Alpina B5 worth a splash?
The B5 Touring might be a five-star car – in fact, I have a sneaking suspicion it is – but too much of its story remains untold for me to rush to that kind of judgement. So we’ll call it four, and heading in the right direction.
There may be no BMW M5 Touring in this new generation of 5 Series, but nor is one needed. When I think what I want from such a car, the B5 would appear to provide it.
You’d have needed to try and ford the Amazon before finding an environment to which it was less suited than Bilster-Berg, but it did very well. Out in the real world that is its natural home, I expect it to be nothing less than brilliant.
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