Learning to Fly

Is there a better way to fly? Few inches from the ground, the pleasant roar of a V8 and the smell of leather all around, while the wonderful sweeping roads of Eastern Allgäu unfold before your eyes… this is what driving is all about. Rhythm and pace, enjoyment and professionalism, relaxation and concentration: like in the finest cuisine, good driving it’s all a matter of balance and creativity.

It’s not often that you happen to drive a car that goes exactly as you imagine. The Alpina B5 Biturbo Allrad is that very car and it even manages to go beyond your expectations, opening a whole new world for you to explore. ALPINA is a brand that stands for something different: not only because you see only very few on the streets but because they have a completely different nature than your average Bimmer.

When it comes to Buchloe’s creations, there’s always one question: are they better than a BMW M? Well, the answer here is a matter of perspectives, but to objectively put it in straight terms… they’re different. M and Alpina represent different sides of a great medal and both aim at achieving ultimate driver’s satisfaction. Just in different ways. Let’s put things this way: M Division driving pleasure is found into eliminating seconds to your average laptime, while ALPINA’s pleasure won’t mind you being just a bit slower but enjoy more every road you might be on. Perhaps, as we’re almost 30 year-olds, we’re beginning to focus more on cars that privilege road-focused development rather than all-out track performance… or maybe it’s time for us to just want to try something different.

Nevermind, the fascination with ALPINA has always been strong, but not enough to shed some light into the mainstream petrolhead-scene. Is this a good thing? While it might not grant huge sales numbers, it truly helps keeping the Brand true to its origins and the choice for the few who truly know what an ALPINA really is: quite simply the charm of these cars is appreciated by true car-connoisseurs and they’re driven by selected and loving customers. BMW has always provided a great basis for great cars: traditional in their front-engine-rear-drive layout but advanced with their class leading dynamics.

In the factory in Buchloe, a small town in the Ostallgäu district of Bavaria, cars have been produced for more than 50 years. Everything started in the 60ies just by having the Founder, Burkard Bovensiepen tweaking BMW 1.5l Neue Klasse engines with his own intake system: + 10 hp and that classic German saloon became something else. Discreet for everyday use and lively enough for some proper fun, that was the key that led towards what Alpina is today. The new B5 Biturbo Allrad Touring  has been hailed as the M5 wagon we always wanted but it’s quite different in almost every way. Escape on Wheels truly experienced something new and besides driving the excellent B5 Touring, it went inside for an in-depth tour of ALPINA, visiting the manufacturing departments that produce everyday these magnificent motorcars. 

So what was this Escape? Definitely not just driving the B5 through endlessly beautiful roads on a glorious day, but traveling inside one of those “dens” of automotive passion that fulfill our days with joy. After all, there is much more to a car than just driving it: the people that make it and live it every day are the key to properly understanding it. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to take pics, but as we had one person from Alpina’s sales and marketing department entirely for us during that day and this helped us to have a much better understanding of what these cars are all about. 

Stepping inside the Alpina factory right after being welcomed at the reception is like going back in time. The old teals and the atmosphere made us wonder whether a 1973 Jägermeister CSL would show up somewhere under repairs… but no, we found an Alpina-Blau B10 Biturbo instead and we were not disappointed. Small shops with few expert technicians working on respective mansions: those on the racing department, while there are others servicing customer’s engines (interesting that they remarked that all Alpina heads had ported heads until 3 years ago). The leather shop is as bespoke as it could get, where all the trimming and re-trimming is done by hand in the classic Lavalina leather: owners are instructed on how to preserve it over the years, without it becoming too worn-off after few years of use. 

The development department is where the magic unfolds: multiple dynos have all engines tested before they go in production. Alpina and BMW still work closely together to develop their cars accordingly and sometimes much of Buchloe’s know-how is merged with Munich’s expertise. However, Alpina’s are developed differently, with bespoke engine and gearbox recalibrations and parts, which are all manufactured by billet that are a different side to your Bimmer world.

All that laboriousness and dedication comes down when you sit behind the steering wheel, fire up the 4.4l twin-turbo V8 and head out for the test drive.  The B5 is a reflection of all that men and women’s work, so you have to treat it with respect: pretty much like Paganini’s every unique thing never repeats itself. The B5 is… well the station wagon we all hope to drive one day. It’s a full-on luxurious yet discreet workhorse, perfect for your daily life needs. But first… you have to know that, if there’s a similar car able wing past 200 kph as easily, you shall let us know. The massive powerhouse that is the M1/2 engine is beyond your wildest dreams: besides the 600bhp, it’s the 800Nm of torque that push you against the seat and it’s a truly addictive thing.

As we set off in comfort plus mode, the whole Alpina thing became clear: the car goes exactly as you wish every high-level car should go. It’s supremely comfortable and it has such a class that it’s hard to find in most contemporary motorcars. Firstly, the gearbox doesn’t change gears constantly and in automatic mode it always hangs onto the gears a little longer, changing at 3.000 rpm. This gives you a clear sensation of the car’s potential, savoring the potential even before pressing down the throttle. While you cruise along you truly develop a feeling with the car: the massive 20 inch wheels might seem the right recipe for screwing up the ride but they cope perfectly well. The B5 gives you a clear sense of connection without too much drama. The interior is all about quality and refinement: you hardly see any plastic and the smell of leather is the perfect companion for such a refined experience. 

The suspension geometry gives the front wheels 1 degree of negative camber, helping cornering dramatically: combine it with rear steering and the 2-or-so tones of the car disappear immediately. Despite we could have stared all day at the beautiful comfort plus cluster and cruise along without caring of the speeds we were doing, we decided to put the hammer down: in sport plus, the B5 becomes the most comfortable ground-to-ground missile you can possibly imagine. Cuddled by the V8 voice screaming towards the redline, the B5 shows an impressive precision and pace: the sweeping roads surely provide the perfect ground for this Alpina. There’s a slight hint of body-roll but there’s no inertia at all: it’s not as M-Division sharp but it’s as effective as you want. The Switchtronic transmission is smooth and responsive but never harsh.The complex vehicle dynamics with custom wishbones and adaptive sport dampers ensure all the magic and the electromechanical steering rack gives enough feedback for you to know what the front wheels are doing. What’s great though, is the torque. It’s a massive wall of torque that will make you angry and ravaging for more and more speed. It’s savage as much as it’s refined and poised. 1.4 bars of boost is quite a lot, even by today standards: nothing can beat the wall of torque of a properly turbocharged engine. Here, turbo is synonymous with “proper” rather than “green” and “efficient”. In our view, if 4.4 liters have 600bhp and 800 Nm of torque, they’re the definition of efficiency: you’re going to burn through gasoline anyway, so you’d better extract every single drop of power out of it.

Besides all these numbers and figures, what truly makes the Alpina B5 so exhilarating to drive it’s its overall development, i.e. its character. Every mode has its own “twist” and specific personality, but it never becomes harsh or rigid: in every level, the B5 just intensifies but never changes its nature. Such a coherence is so refreshing in the world of today, where standardization is key everywhere: at Alpina, each car is treated individually. At 120.000 something Euros, well… the B5 it’s money well spent. 

It’s not often that you drive a car that you desire. The urge to drive it again that prevails over you when you give back the keys is more than you quite imagine: the B5 is not “just another great car on our list” but something that we’d truly want to own in our dreams. If you love that sensation of flying through the canyons at high speed, while cuddled by real luxury, you shall at least experience an Alpina once… you’ll be in for a change. In our view, there’s no better way to be learning to fly.

Many thanks to Alpina Automobiles


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