The 322km/h Alpina B5 Touring is probably the fastest wagon on earth but also the most comfortable. And you’ve never heard of it.
Who doesn’t love a wagon? Hardly anyone and if they don’t like a wagon, they’ve had a bad experience. Still no excuse. Redemption for those people can come from loving fast wagons.
Audi is at the forefront of this kind of delicious nonsense, the RS4 Avant and tremendous (soon to be renewed) RS6 Avant exemplars of the breed. They are fast, they are fun, they are practical.
BMW’s last genuine attempt at a seriously fast wagon was the E60 M5 Touring. I’ve seen one, in the flesh, in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel and it was glorious. M, however, has since backed away from full-house wagons, tempting you instead with big fast SUVs.
Alpina, though, they know you better. They also know what M knows and that’s the cold hard fact that hard-riding sports cars do not make great wagons.
So Alpina takes a 5 Series Touring, mixes in its own blend of a new suspension tune, a colossally torquey twin-turbo V8 and some signature bodywork and delivers what is quite possibly the fastest, most comfortable wagon on earth.
How much is an Alpina B5 and what do I get?
$210,000 + ORC
Rather generously, Alpina offers both the sedan and hatch for the same price. That’s quite nice of them. It’s also only a few bucks more (okay, ten thousand of them) than a BMW M5 which is not a wagon as I may have already established.
Your money buys you a 12-speaker stereo, Alpina 20-inch alloys, four-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, cameras everywhere, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, DVD player (how very), electric heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, LED headlights with high beam shadowing, power tailgate, sunroof, head-up display, beautiful embossed leather seating, auto parking, auto wipers and tyre pressure monitoring.
The stereo is run by BMW’s Operating System 7.0 with some lovely Alpina-ising and you get wireless Apple CarPlay and DAB+ radio on top of the usual stuff. It’s a good stereo, but I have tinnitus, so you’ll have to judge for yourself if it’s amazing. It also comes with the usual excellent BMW sat nav.
You can choose from a range of colours, starting with the only freebies, which are Jet Black and Alpine White. For $1679 you can get Azurite Black, Black Sapphire, Bluestone, Imperial Blue Xirallic, Mediterranean Blue, Almdandine Brown, Atals Cedear, Jatoba (another brown), Champagne Quartz, Sophisto Grey II, Cashmere Silver, Glacier Silver and Mineral White.
Rhodonite Silver is a sobering $2332 and Alpina Blue and Alpina Green will send you back to the booze for $4109. Yowzers. The former is beautiful, so it might be worth it.
You can specify all sorts of toys, like Night Vision with Pedestrian Recognition (no, it doesn’t wave at them and call their name) for $3770, a solid $8770 for the Bowers & Wilkins stereo, a pair of interior options called Lavalina I ($12,253) and Lavalina II ($22,244!) and various other bits and pieces. You can also specify a limited slip diff for $5923 should you fancy some sideways silliness.
Safety – 5 Stars (ANCAP, 2017)
The B5 has six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, cameras all around, forward and rear collision warning, forward AEB, reverse cross traffic alert, speed sign recognition, lane departure warning and lane keep assist.
The 5 Series on which the Alpina B5 is based scored five ANCAP stars in April 2017.
Look and feel
Nobody is pretending the 5 Series Touring is a design classic, but its quiet elegance is rather nice. I’m not taking on the world when I say that sometimes – sometimes – Alpina mods aren’t always particularly sympathetic. I drove a B4 once that was so 1980s West Germany I nearly puked 99 Luftballoons. The pinstripes…*shudder*
Anyway, the larger B5 has very tasteful bumper and sill extensions, Alpina lettering in the lowest section and badges that actually fit. The hundred spoke alloys look fantastic and I’m a big fan of the way the rear bumper/diffuser frames the quad exhausts. And the blacked-out chrome on the windows works a treat.
The cabin is full of Alpina delights like, again, badging that fits, the lovely blue and green stitching on the steering wheel, blue-backed digital dash lighting, really nice treatment of the leather on the seats, it’s all understated and nice. Earlier efforts were less so.
Obviously you can fit four adults in comfort and take all their stuff with you in the massive 570 litre boot. You get two cupholders in each row for a total of four and bottle holders in each door. If you’re not taking the tribe, you get 1700 litres of boot space and if you spec the tow bar, you can drag 2000kg braked or 750kg unbraked.
The B5 Touring includes some excellent chassis mods.The most Alpina of them is their very own Comfort+ mode. While the engine might be hugely powerful, Alpina has added a more relaxed rather than overtly sporty M-style mode. It’s quite impressive.
You also get four-wheel steer, turning all of the 20-inch wheels which are shod with Pirelli P-Zero rubber (255/30 at the front and 285/30 at the rear).
The all-wheel steering not only makes it a piece of cake to park but aids high-speed lane changing, which is nifty. It already has a long wheelbase at 2975mm but with the rears turning in the same direction as the fronts at motorway speeds, it feels even longer and more stable.
The Touring scores rear air suspension to keep things off the deck when loaded up and that’s in concert with the Alpina-tuned adaptive damping. They’re from ThyssenKrupp-Bilstein. The B5 also has adaptive roll stabilisation which uses electric actuators to keep things flatter in the corners.
Long story short, there’s a lot underneath you making sure you waft along in comfort while taming the two-tonne kerb weight.
This is the fun bit. Alpina takes BMW’s 4.4-litre twin-turbo 90-degree V8 and tunes it for 447kW at 6250rpm and a stinking 800Nm between 3000 and 5000rpm. Alpina says that 675Nm is available at just 2000rpm.
The turbos are both twin-scrollers (but don’t seem to be replaced by Alpina as in the B4) but there’s a whole new air intake system. There’s also a full Alpina stainless steel exhaust.
As ever, the eight-speed ZF is along for the ride and sends power to all four wheels. You can’t switch out the fronts, but as you already know, it’s not that kind of car. Alpina says the internals are strengthened and if you use the Launch Control, you don’t have to put up with reduced torque.
The Alpina B5 Touring cracks the 0-100km/h sprint in 3.7 seconds and will nail 200km/h in under 12 seconds. Top speed is a wild 322km/h.
Fuel consumption – 10.9L/100km
I’m always impressed by BMW engines. Despite the fireworks, the official combined cycle figure is 10.9L/100km and I managed 11.2L/100km. While not spectacular, it’s a good deal for all that power and torque.
It’s an extraordinary deal when you consider a 2.0-litre in the worst car on sale, the Mitsubishi ASX, can’t do better than 12.5L/100km while reluctantly handing out a quarter of the power and torque.
The Alpina B5 is really made to draw a fast, straight line across Continental Europe. Normally when a car journalist writes that, they mean it’s a low-slung GT from, say, Aston Martin, but, really, that’s not how those folks travel.
No, what this car is about is finding a comfortable cruising velocity and staying there. Quietly, composed, a little bubble of calm while you reel off the miles. There aren’t many cars that can do that while carrying a few hundred kilos of people and things.
I pointed this car at the Blue Mountains and I reckon it rarely got out of eighth gear on the climb. The effortless, endless torque just hauled us up the hill without barely a growl.
On the M4 motorway it thundered along, clearing all before its path. That road’s terrible surface was reduced to a distant rumble and the worst excesses of its amateur construction consigned to soft bumps rather than the heave you get in sportier machines.
While in Sport+ it will absolutely deliver a very competent and sporting drive, that mode underlines the colossal scope of the car’s chassis, from the A380-like smoothness of Comfort+ through to the Germanic tautness of the sporting end. It’s quite glorious.
If you’re looking for snarling, bellowing machine, the Alpina ain’t it. The RS6 Avant has that market cornered and won’t cover the ground the same way as an Alpina can.
For long trips or serene urban use, the B5 is unbeatable. It never feels its almost five metre length or its considerable weight. And despite being over $200,000, doesn’t feel like a rip-off.
If only we had autobahns or, at the very least, police with a sense of propriety and proportion, this car would be perfect for this country.
Peter Anderson is the Editor and founder of the theredline.com.au. He’s been writing about cars for years and finds it difficult to talk about anything else.