Well what would you think of a 500bhp / 500+lb ft executive saloon from a company as accomplished as ALPINA? How will the gentleman’s M5 stack up?
When looking at how and why the B5 came to have a supercharged V8 you must go back to 2000. At this time ALPINA was considering what the successor to its 7-Series based B12.
The obvious answer was for another naturally-aspirated large V12, the last B12 having first a 5.0-litre, 5.7-litre and finally a 6.0-litre. This would also have made
good short-term financial sense. However, ALPINA chose to spend much more time/money on the development of a charged V8 for the B7.
The two main reasons for considering a charged V8 over a large V12 were:
Firstly, ALPINA could achieve a much better power-to-weight ratio, with a greatly-reduced moment of inertia (V8 to V12). For this think of an ice skater at the end of her programme. She spins, and pulls her arms in to reduce her moment of inertia, thereby spinning much faster.
The analogy shows that lopping off the four cylinders (V12 to V8) that are farthest away from the centre of mass of the car help make it much easier to turn,
thereby becoming more agile, even without the 160kg weight reduction that was also gained going from the V12 to the V8.
Secondly, ALPINA could share the cost of development of the engine (N62B44-based 'H1') over at least three model ranges: the B5, B6 and B7.
So why a supercharger and not a turbo or twin-turbo or even a quad-turbo? The answer to this was down to packaging, under-bonnet heat,
and concerns about turbo lag. In fact, ALPINA took it upon themselves to not only use a supercharger but design an entirely new one. One that is deceptively simple
and thanks to modern metallurgy now possible.
The supercharger is unique and patented. There is, at present, nothing like it in the industry.
It uses what looks nominally like the intake half of a turbo, but is driven through a fixed-ratio planetary gearset off the crank, hence being termed a "Radial" or
"Nautilus-type compressor". Using this system, 6,000rpm at the crank changes to 7,000 at the super-charger's bell housing pulley (driven over a poly-V belt),
and rises to 105,000rpm at the turbine. As you can imagine that produces quite a bit of air pressure.
The real key is that the radial compressor's geometry is quite efficient. ALPINA talk of parasitic losses of about 20bhp at 6,000rpm. Most
Roots-type or Lysholm super-charging systems use over 100bhp just to operate themselves at full song.
That's why the fuel economy is so good. Most Magazines are reporting ALPINA fuel economies in their double-tests of about 30% better than the competition.
Another reason for the good mileage of the B7/B6/B5 is the generously-dimensioned, air-to-air inter-cooler. It is of the size and thermal capability usually found in a 7.5-tonnes lorry.
Kris Odwarka, Sales Operation manager, told us that 'In my drive from Munich to Geneva this Spring for the Motor Show, I had three people in the car and a boot full of kit. (We were to be ensconced
in Geneva for 11 days!) At mostly 80-85mph speeds average, we did 28.8mpg in the B5. As we were driving, we had the laptop plugged in for real-time data feeds, and we were getting a delta between the outside air temperature
and the intake air temp into the cylinders of 0.8° Celsius...that's almost 100% efficiency! Normally, even a naturally-aspirated engine will have higher intake temps due to air compression, mebbe 15°C, mebbe 25°C. A
super-charger, even an efficient one, will heat up ambient air 50°C to 70°C...then it's up to the inter-cooler to do its thing...'
Lastly, and the reason for another patent on the system, there is the throttle switch or throttle plate before ("upstream of") the radial compressor. It feathers
just the right amount of air over the turbine vane, sometimes only 3%-4% of maximum volume, so that when it's disconnected or 'free-wheeling' (under 1,100rpm) it's still spinning at
exactly the same speed as the input shaft from the crank. When you want to accelerate, it hooks up immediately and without noticeable lag, since it was already
turning at the right rpm.
This all goes to show the lengths that ALPINA got to in their development. It doesn't stop there. The same levels of effort go into setting up the car dynamically, aerodynamics etc.
In fact this is one of the reasons for such a good relationship between ALPINA and BMW over the years. The relationship is very symboitic with both parties benefiting from the relationship.
ALPINA and BMW
There is often much confusion on what ALPINA do. Many consider them to be a tuner, which is not the case, they are a car maker in their own right. The confusion for this
concerns their relationship with BMW, the sole maker of cars on which ALPINAs are loosely based.
So to clarify, ALPINA starts with a clean sheet just as BMW does and specs the car from there, choosing both BMW parts and non-BMW parts. Take the engine in the B5 as an example. The engine is made up of about 1/3 BMW parts, 1/3 parts from BMW suppliers, and 1/3 parts from ALPINA's own suppliers
that BMW do not use. ALPINA orders the N62B44 block from Steyr, just as BMW do, but to their own spec. The crank is forged, whereas the BMW cranks for the 735i/745is were cast.
The pistons are from Mahle, and of course set up for the 9.0:1 nominal compression. There are little things like one of the thermostats. ALPINA couldn't find
anyone who could make it to their spec, so they actually carve it out of a solid block of aluminium, using one of their five-axis Computer-Aided Manfacturing machines.
The bell housing for the compressor is also such a piece: conceived, designed and manufactured only at ALPINA.
Once ALPINA complete the construction of the engine in its entirety at its Bulchoe factory, they send it to the relevant BMW factory for installation in the BMW
ALPINA. There, the engine meets the transmission, wheels/tyres, suspension, drivetrain, seats, leathers, wood, dash steering wheel, all the bits that
ALPINA route from their supplier chain. ALPINA buy assembly from BMW, for those bits they could never do themselves: chassis painted, wiring loom, glass,
entertainment systems (Radio(TV/NavSat) and passive safety systems. ALPINA then gets the car back, and installs and adjusts the radial compressor/hoses/mountings,
complete the aerodynamics package, road-test and sign off for legal liability (as they are the automaker on the official record), the car is then sent to the relevant importer.
It is also here that any specialist desires in terms of leather: bi-colour, LAVALINA leather, the gloving of window lifts, wood panels, dash bits....anything a customer wants in fact (as long as it
isn't a safety hazard!).
The e60 (new 5-Series) shape was a bit of a shock when the first photos were released. Even at its launch I was still a little unsure. However, it is now more familiar in fact I’ve been amazed how many I have seen on the road. I was also impressed that on the road from a distance, there was a definite family resemblance to the last 5-Series (e39).
Sharp suited German means business. ALPINA Classic Wheels fab.
As for my feelings on the shape I actually like it. The car is more edgy and less safe, something the new 3-Series is certainly not. The ‘Bangle-isation’ of the BMW styling was risky but I think it was something that was needed. The cars look refreshingly different, the last thing you need is a forgettable car.
So what has ALPINA done to the standard 5-Series shape? Well as you’d expect they have been subtle. The front gets the trademark front lip spoiler. This has the effect of both lowering the cars stance and making the front suitably more aggressive.
The rear gets a boot lip spoiler and of course the ALPINA badges: ALPINA B5 looks pretty plain against the outgoing B10 3.3 and B10 V8s but has a menacing message in its simplicity. It also acts as a good link to M5, which is a universally known mark of performance. When I first heard about the change in the model designation, I was pretty upset, B10 sounded great and in mind stacked up well against the M5. However now the concept has grown on me and it suits the car.
The car being tested is in Cosmos Black and looks pretty darn good to say the least. I personally think that I’d plum for ALPINA Blue and may even go as far as having the full gold decal set. Regard the decal set I think these are coming back into fashion. At the very least highlighting the ALPINA wording on the front spoiler. Certainly the later is become far more common.
The classic 20-spoke alloys look fabulous and more importantly really fill the wheel arches. The e60 shape really suffers when the car has small wheels. In fact these wheels are probably as good as it gets.
I must admit straight away that I am not a fan of the new e60 interior. I don’t appreciate the move away from the driver-focused layout. Nor do I like the asymmetry of the dual binnacle, I’d go as far as saying its ugly.
Normal ALPINA touches - roundels now standard. Choice of wood not to everyones taste.
However, like the exterior, familiarity breeds (at least in cars) acceptance. So I’m kind of ok with the layout. The guys at ALPINA have started with a high specification, so there are plenty of toys to keep you amused.
In addition there are the traditional ALPINA touches: Blue dials, Roundels on the seats (now standard), ALPINA plaque, ALPINA mats and finally ALPINA wood. Unfortunately the later is a bit of an issue. The wood chosen is very bright and certainly not to most people’s taste. I confirmed this suspicion when I found out that most of the owners who have already ordered their cars have opted for alternative BMW options. Does this matter? Well like the blue dials it’s an ALPINA thing and the wood gets an ALPINA logo in it. A subtle thing but a tradition. For the time being we can rest assured the message has been fed back.
Ride, Handling & Steering
This is traditionally where ALPINA excel, they manage the seemingly impossible of combining superb ride with great handling. The B5 is a big car, so it will be interesting how much ALPINA can shrink its dimensions when you drive it.
The car feels bigger than the outgoing B10 the instant you climb in. Hardly suprising as it is in virtually every way:
The big plus for me is that the V8-engined cars now get the advantage of rack-and-pinion steering. I still can remember the trade off I got from moving from my straight six B10 3.3 to the V8 engined M5. The M5 had lots more power but at the expense of steering feel and precision. It was a big trade off. The outgoing B10 V8 and V8S both had the limitation of recirculating ball steering too. Thankfully the B5 has great steering – nicely weighted, precise and lots of feel.
The B5 drives very comfortably, wafting along thanks to the oodles of torque. You can accelerate swiftly in any of the six gears and with such torque and power on tap it's painfully brief before the statutory speed limits that loom everywhere. The ride is quite firm, but still compliant and comfortable. The car does roll during cornering, but remains neutral and feels far more agile than its size and weight should dictate.
At this point it is worth adding in some comments about my experience of the B5 on Donington race track. Alas I was not driving but was been chauffeured by Frank Sytner. The man responsible for bringing ALPINAs into the country for as long as most can remember. Frank has now sold his Sytner empire but still remains a fan, owner and supporter of ALPINA. Frank has had many ALPINA over the years including his last, a Roadster S and his next (he has also already ordered his B5). Frank is first to point out that the B5 is not a track monster – it is too big to be this. Nor is the M5 for that matter, on the track size and weight are not good things to possess. However what this exercise does prove is that if you do take it onto the track it won’t disappoint either. The car can be navigated round the track deftly and with traction control off, plus a bit of talent can be made to behave like a hoodlum – power over steer is not only on offer but highly enjoyable.
Engine, Gearbox and Performance
The B5 gets a 4398cc - 493bhp (at 5500rpm) and 700Nm (at 4250rpm) supercharged V8 engine. The official figures for the car are 0-62mph in 4.7secs and
a top speed of 186mph. However Auto Motor und Sport have tested the car and have more comprehensive figures. They were able to achieve 0-62mph (100kph) in
4.6 seconds, so you can expect c. 4.4 seconds to 60mph. Even more impressive is the car’s zero to one hundred dash which they achieved in 9.5seconds. Two
hundred kilometres per hour (or 125mph) was achieved in just 14.5 seconds. And at Nardo ALPINA’s own Andy Bovensiepen piloted a touring version of the car
to a Top speed of 198mph.
4.4-ltr Supercharged 500 bhp/516 xlb ft V8 - give it some AIR !
Some will be disappointed that ALPINA haven’t created their own engine, they will instantly dismiss the car as just being a supercharged version of the standard
4.4-litre engine. Others will be pleased that ALPINA has returned to its forced induction background. After all, these developments brought us some of the most
exciting ALPINA’s like the B7 turbo, awesome B10 bi-turbo, and let's not forget ALPINA’s first diesel the D10 biturbo diesel. The later which played a large
part in the development of BMW's own critically acclaimed 530d and 730d.
ALPINA have not just shoved a stock supercharger onto the BMW 4.4-litre. Far from it, they have created an entirely new take on the problem.
First the engine is not a stock BMW one, it is built to ALPINA's specification utilising BMW and non-BMW parts. They have added a Nautilus-type charger
in front of a large intercooler. This helps increase boost pressure and ensure the engine gets good clean cold air. They also employ clever electronics
to minimise the effects of the supercharger at low speeds, merely spinning it fast enough to ensure rapid pick up when the accelerator is punched. All
this means that the supercharger itself is highly efficient in fact it only takes 20bhp to power it at full-boost. As a result the cars economy and
performance are improved.
The biggest difference to is closest rival is not power but torque. The M5 has officially more power at 507bhp but only has 383lb ft of torque
(4% more than the outgoing e39 M5). This torque arrives such that the peak is at 6,100 rpm. Compare this to the B5 that has 516lb ft (that is 133lb ft more)
available from 4,250 rpm. In fact 330+lb ft is available before the car has even reached 2,000 rpm. Driving characteristic of the two therefore couldn’t be
further apart. In fact the B5 is closer to the E55 and RS6 than its in-house rival.
Interestingly in raw numbers the B5 beats all its rivals when you take weight into account:
Firing up the engine you are instantly aware of the deep engine note. It has more character at idle than the V10-engined M5, which is curiously a little ordinary.
On the move the V8 sounds powerful, Gruff and the dominant sound. The supercharger is barely audible, occasionally on lift off you’ll hear it more. The
ALPINA/Sytner-hosted event at Donnington alluded to before gave all the attendees a live show of how evil the B5 sounds at full chat. It is a very unique sound,
at times it sounded ungodly. There are aspects of the guttural E55 howl but to my mind it sounded even more raw. It was also a good opportunity to see the raw speed.
It was comfortably the fastest car of the night and literally blew other cars out of its path.
On the road the car is FAST, that is fast not with a capital F but a capital AST too. From the drivers seat it is deceptive thanks to the comfort and ride. Make
no mistake though, this is a car that can accelerate from zero to sixty-two mph in just 4.7secs and even more impressively from zero to one-hundred mph in 9.5 secs.
To put this in perspective the FQ-400 Mitsubishi Evo can achieve similar numbers. However, the experience is very savage and all or nothing, in fact you have to be
pretty talented to actually achieve anywhere near that figure. In the B5 the same is possible, repeatable and all done without any drama. Devastating performance,
faster than an E55, RS6 and it could even eclipse it’s M sibling.
Alpina B5 - (E60 (05 - ))
BMW 5 series M5 (E60 (05-))
Jaguar S type R (2)
Maserati Quattroporte - (V (04 - ))
Mercedes E class E55 AMG (211 (02 - ))
The engine doesn’t disappoint visually either, open the bonnet and the first thing that strikes you is the huge inlet trumpet of the supercharger. It literally
takes up the front of the engine, behind that is an equally large air intake, that is sculpted to make sure it takes up as much room as possible when the bonnet
is down. Breathing is obviously important to this car. The engine itself is well presented with an ALPINA roundel and ‘B5 supercharged’ sitting proudly atop the
The B5 benefits from the larger dimensions of the e60. This improves rear legroom, increases the boot space (520ltr vs. 460ltr)
and generally makes the interior feel roomier.
Thirsty certainly, but not quite the George Best we were expecting.
Fuel economy figures for the B5 saloon are: 15.2mpg urban, 32.5mpg extra-urban and 23.0mpg combined. The B5 touring returns 15.1 mpg /32.1 mpg / 22.8 mpg.
For the size of the car not to mention it's performance it very impressive and thanks to both
the BMW Vanos engine and also ALPINA's clever use of the supercharger.
Around Donington where the B5 was thrashed for three solid hours the car managed a scary 10 mpg. However talking with Frank Sytner, who is probably the only person to have borrowed a B5 for any realistic time, he had seen 24 mpg.
Given those figures and the fact the car has a 70-litre tank that would equate to a 360mile range.
Emission-wise the B5 Saloon rates at 294g/km with the touring a slightly higher 296g/km.
The B5 offers massive performance. There are few cars available that can muster 493bhp, fewer still that can do so in such a dismissive way.
The term 'effortless power' is probably overused, in the B5 the style of the car, its comfort and civility hides the eye-watering performance.
To some this will be enough to dismiss the car, choosing the more raw M5. The fact is though, if you are to really live with a car everyday, you do need a
certain amount of refinement. If only for those days when you have a headache, are tired or just don't feel in the mood. These are the days when the all-or-nothing
cars lose their appeal. I myself felt the same when I tested the B10 V8 vs. the outgoing M5. The B10 was just too accomplished, I prefered the rough edges of the M5 and
that was why I ended up buying one. But as I found to my cost the instant appeal of raw cars may not be the best decision. In fact ALPINAs require more than a quick test drive,
it is a car that gets under your skin. Talk to any ALPINA driver and they all have this affection to 'ALPINAness' of their cars. Once you've bought one it will be hard not
to own another.
So how does the car compare to its obvious rivals?
Its in-house rival the M5 costs very slightly less, but can't be further from the proposition offered by the B5. It has a 7-speed SMG, loads of modes, buttons for sport, for M, many suspension settings etc. It is the biggest boys toy
out there. In comparison the B5 offers similar performance but setup by ALPINA not by the owner. The M5 also requires revving to get at the power, it is more sportcars, more compromised - but still one hell of
The Jaguar is now really outdated, it offers last-model performance, with compromised packaging, depreciation is also a headache unless you buy used. But it is still a great car and whopping £13k cheaper than any of the other rivals.
The Quattroporte is typically Italian. It rips up the rule book and creates a stylish car that looks fantastic - unlike the other cars it isn't the performance model of a full-range of cars, so there aren't any cheaper versions driving around. However it
is similar to the Jaguar with only around 400bhp on tap. Its gearbox is also something you have to grow to appreciate. And when I drove it at Millbrook it was one of the cars
that actually felt as big as it was. It also happens to be the most expensive by quite a long way. This is really a heart-leading head car.
Finally, the previous daddy, the E55. It had the performance, loads of shove but lacked any involvement in its drive. In some aspects it had the same ease of performance of the ALPINA, but unlike the B5,
it didn't go around of corners too well. Also as our own Irfan found out, of all these cars it is the one that blends into the range of cars the most. Irfan added larger wheels, a new grille and blacked out windows with weeks
of buying his.
Audi's RS6 is also an option but is not available new anymore. The next car is rumoured to also have a 5-litre V10 gunning for the new M5. Time will tell.
To my mind the ALPINA B5 is the greatest all rounder of the group with huge performance, talented handling and mile-munching comfort. If I had sixty-odd thousand pounds I'd have no
doubt who I'd be giving it to.