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Alpina B5 Touring: the 202mph luxury estate with poise as well as power

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Alpina B5 Touring - July 2017
Subtle but oh so fast: Alpina's take on a super-fast BMW 5-Series estate

There is a wonderful disconnect between the way the engineers at Alpina talk about their products and the cars themselves. For instance, they describe the B5 with words such as “modest”, “cautious” and “subtle” and then let you loose in a car with 600bhp and a top speed of 202mph. And that’s just the estate version.

Alpina has been warming up BMWs for more than half a century and the difference between it and any other aftermarket tuning company is that Alpinas are and always have been fully factory-approved, many of the modifications being fitted on the main BMW production line.

In the mid-Sixties it might have been a larger carburettor or a more efficient cylinder head. Today its cars are totally transformed. For instance, the B5 comes with the 4.4-litre V8 from the 7-series limousine, but tuned with bigger turbochargers and myriad other changes to raise its output from 444bhp to that magic 600bhp figure.

The gearbox is strengthened and makes quicker shifts. The car has BMW’s four-wheel-drive system, but Alpina’s modifications ensure it sends more power to the rear wheels and does so more of the time for better balanced, more engaging handling.

Its suspension comes with new springs, roll bars and dampers, different geometry and reprogrammed software, while its brakes are simply enormous.

Simply handsome. And, with 600bhp on tap, devastatingly fast

So now you’re expecting some kind of hotrod, but here’s the thing: it is anything but. Alpina prides itself at least as much on its ability to augment ride quality as performance. It is telling that in addition to all the normal driver-selectable programs BMW includes with the car, Alpina adds its own, but it’s not called “race”, “track” or “scare yourself witless” but simply “comfort plus”.

Summon up this mode and the whole car just relaxes as might you falling into your favourite old sofa. The point, says Alpina boss Andy Bovensiepen, is to occupy a place in the market entirely distinct from that of BMW’s own in-house tuning division and the “M” cars it creates. “M cars are more like Porsches,” he claims. “Ours are more like Bentleys.”

As well as tweaking the engine and chassis, Alpina also adds its own seats and wooden trim

When I drove the B5, the world’s motoring press was eagerly awaiting the launch of BMW’s all new M5. Like the B5 it is based on the 5-Series and has 600bhp, is much more visually overt and has a more sporting suspension set-up - but one thing is absolutely certain: there will be no Touring version of the M5, so if you want an scorchingly hot, full-sized and fully approved BMW estate, Alpina alone has the answer.

Frustratingly, however, Alpina was so keen for the press to drive the car, it launched it before it was fully homologated for road use which meant I could only drive on a circuit. Alpina makes much of the fact that unlike most high-performance cars, it develops its products almost exclusively on roads rather than race tracks, but of its long distance ride and refinement I can tell you nothing.

If you want a high-performance 5-Series estate, it has to be an Alpina B5 since BMW doesn't make an M5 Touring

What I can say is that the B5 is not just pulversingly powerful, it is also a delight to drive, even as an estate weighing comfortably more than two tonnes.

Alpina has a way of adding all those things you want from a high-performance car, such as linear steering and exemplary body control, without also making the car feel aggressive or nervous.

The new motor has a little turbo lag but is liquid smooth and brilliantly tuned into the eight-speed automatic transmission, while the chassis may not offer quite as much grip as the most sporting BMW “M” cars but makes up for it in feel and precision.

For such a mighty car, the styling is mercifully discreet. The chassis oozes with feel and precision

I like, too, the more discreet visual approach (another favourite Alpina adjective), although those magnificent 20-spoke alloy wheels do rather give the game away.

As you can see the Alpina B5 has a much to commend it and it will also be exclusive: there are Alpina versions of BMWs from the 3- to the 7-Series yet, in total, it makes only 1,700 cars per year, of which only about 150 come to the UK. Ferraris are commonplace by comparison.

If I’d be able to drive it on the road, it might have had a five star verdict to its name, too.

THE FACTS

Alpina B5 Touring

TESTED 4,394cc twin-turbocharged V8 petrol, eight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE from £91,000/now

POWER/TORQUE 600bhp @ 5,750rpm/589lb ft @ 3,000rpm

TOP SPEED 202mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 3.6sec

FUEL ECONOMY 26.4mpg/19.0 mpg (EU Combined/Urban)

CO2 EMISSIONS 247g/km

VED £1,700 first year, £450 next five years, then £140  

VERDICT Fast, fulfilling, effective and rare, the B5 is a thoughtful yet characterful take on what a fast BMW should be. BMW’s new M5 (for which there will be no estate) will need to be very good indeed.

TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five

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