If you really need a 200mph estate car, look no further
I await this autumn’s new BMW M5 with more than the usual interest. To me the outgoing car was not just the most disappointing M5 in five generations, but a strong candidate for my least favourite M of them all. Overweight, blunt and brutal, it had none of the finesse I always look for in such cars. But because the new one will be based on the outstanding recently introduced 5-series it should be lighter and, given M’s more recent work with cars like the M2, there are good reasons to hope it will be far more worthy of its sub-brand.
For those who can’t wait, or who want a hot BMW estate (as last time, the new M5 will be four-door only), those understated folk at Alpina would be delighted if you cared to cast your attention in the direction of this new B5.
The B5 has 600bhp – the minimum we can expect from the M5 – courtesy of the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 sourced from the 7-series, but modified in myriad ways both internally and externally to raise power from its standard 444bhp. It runs through a strengthened automatic gearbox with quicker shifts and directs its power in four rather than the usual two directions. But Alpina makes sure that, compared to BMWs using this four-wheel-drive system, more of the drive is sent to the rear wheels more of the time.
Alpina also completely retunes the suspension hardware such as spring rates, roll bar and damper settings, as well as the software for both the normal steering system and the rear-wheel steering. Vast Alpina 20-spoke wheels covering enormous brakes (unusually larger at the back than front) complete the picture from the point of view of dynamic enhancements. Visually there’s a subtle body kit and, inside, higher grade leather, Alpina-faced instruments and badging.
If the idea of a 200mph estate car sounds appealing, the reality is scarcely less so. Where Alpina has been smart is in resisting the temptation to build a hotrod and keeping the B5 as civilised as possible (it even has a ‘comfort plus’ drive mode that BMWs lack). Frustratingly, homologation issues meant I was unable to drive either saloon or estate on the road, but on the track even the Touring version was commendably composed and nicely balanced, if understandably a little underdamped for such work.
But the engine is magnificent, its torque delivery even more impressive than its power output, and all for the price of just a small amount of low-rev turbo lag. It makes just the right
noise too, and not too much of it at part throttle.
I fully expect the new M5 to be both quicker and more exciting than this, but whether it proves a more satisfying long-term ownership proposition is less easy to say. Every Alpina I have come to know has been an even better car to live with than it is to drive and I have no reason to think the B5 will be anything else.
As simply a more exclusive, discreetly styled and more practical kind of super-fast BMW family car, the case for the B5 in general and the Touring version in particular is both clear and compelling.
4.4 litres, 8 cylinders, turbocharged
590lb [email protected]
eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
POWER TO WEIGHT
279bhp per tonne
TOP SPEED 202mph