(Photo Credit: @jabariphotos)
The BMW ALPINA B5 Bi-Turbo may seem like just a more exclusive BMW, but what it does is elevate its mass-produced 5 Series-based platform into a bespoke experience usually found in Rolls-Royces and Aston Martins.
So you're a rich fella, but not just nouveau-riche; you're proper old money rich. The kind which people not only refer to you by name, but also which family you're from. Sort of like Nicholas Young from the film Crazy Rich Asians. You want a nice car to drive that is befitting of your status, but yet isn't too flashy or ostentatious.
A normal BMW 5-Series is too nondescript and common for you, but the M5 nameplate has been sullied by too many spoilt young punks, sometimes in upbadged and bodykitted 520is, hooning around on the roads. Being in an M5 also means that people will challenge you to race on the road, and passers-by will judge you for flexing around daddy's money.
What then is left for the discerning gentleman who wants a proper bespoke automotive experience that isn't attention-seeking at the same time? Well, here's where ALPINA comes into the picture.
ALPINA? Who that?
ALPINA is an independent company founded in 1965, and its business is focused on creating high-end premium automobiles based on BMWs (as if BMW wasn't already premium enough).
However, unlike other independent brands like Brabus, which modifies Mercedes-Benzes, ALPINA shares an extremely close relationship with BMW, which means that ALPINAs are produced alongside the BMW production line in BMW's own factories.
BMW's recognition of ALPINA as not just an independent tuning company, but as a full-fledged partner, means that you get full integration of ALPINA features in the BMW-based vehicles.
For example, the key fob is exactly the same as that of a BMW 5-series, except you get an ALPINA plaque instead of a BMW badge. Each ALPINA also comes with a BMW chassis number, and their own unique ALPINA production code.
So what exactly sets the B5 apart from the M5? The B5 also has a 4.4 litre V8 engine and xDrive all-wheel drive system similar to the M5, but the B5 is tuned to produce slightly more torque (800nm) than the M5's 750nm.
Additionally, while both models feature the same ZF 8-speed torque converter gearbox, ALPINA have tuned their gearbox differently. The suspension is also different from that of the M5's, featuring revised suspension tuning and damping to provide a more comfortable ride while not compromising on handling.
To that end, the ALPINA B5 Bi-Turbo also features an "Integral Active Steering", or four-wheel steering, which is absent in the M5.
Specially attuned to the ALPINA suspension and Pirelli P-Zero performance tyres, the rear axle steers opposed to the front axle at low speeds for increased agility and dynamic handling, while steering with the front axle at higher speeds for maximum high-speed directional stability.
In essence, one can think of ALPINA as a modern day coach-builder, taking "basic" BMWs and customising them according to one's bespoke preferences.
This means you get to appoint the cabin in any leather you want, and you also get a nicer trim in the interior compared to the M5.
The different tuning and engineering works done to the B5 also ensures you get a smoother and more comfortable ride than the M5, while still not compromising too much on performance.
On the exterior, not much betrays the fact that you're looking at a bespoke automobile that's priced above half a million Singapore dollars. This is, after all, meant to be a subtle performance vehicle meant for the discerning customer.
The badges on the bonnet and boot are still BMW, and the only telltale signs that the car is an ALPINA is a very subtle ALPINA body kit and iconic 20-spoke 20" wheels, which give a glimpse of the massive lightweight drilled brake discs that are accompanied by callipers painted in the brand's trademark blue colour.
The big question is, do all of these changes worked? Let's first take a look inside the cabin to see if one really gets the experience of being in an exclusive and bespoke car.
Interior and Features
Step into the cabin and you're greeted by LAVALINA leather upholstery, which we've been told is of a higher grade than Nappa leather or any other leather option that is available in a run-off-the-mill BMW.
This supple leather is wrapped around the entire cabin, and the seats are quilted as well, with bespoke ALPINA embossing on the headrests.
On that note, the front memory seats are extremely comfortable and can be adjusted electrically in almost any configuration you want, from the seating height and headrest to the lumbar support, and even how tightly the seats are hugging you.They also come with ventilated and heating functions too! In addition, the seats are very appropriate for spirited driving, as they tighten up to hold you more securely when driving in Sport mode.
A glaring omission was the lack of any massage function, which we would have thought a car of this calibre ought to have.
The rear seats are also unadjustable, electrically or otherwise, but then again, this is a B5, not some 7-series limousine, and the focus is up front in the driver's seat where you'll spend most of your time in.
Mind you, between the amazing upholstery and the raw unlaminated walnut wood trim, you'd probably be basked in so much luxury that you wouldn't notice the lack of the aforementioned niceties.
For example, there are soft close doors, which means you won't have to go through the absolute inconvenience of hearing your doors slammed shut. All you need to do is close the door until it is in contact with the door sill, and the car automatically shuts it gently for you — isolating you from all the noise and problems of the real world outside.
The car also boasts an electric tailgate, which opens up to 530l of boot space, although we cannot understand for the life of us why a sedan with a low loading height actually requires an electric tailgate.
But maybe we're just too poor and acclimated to manual labour to not understand the necessity of electric tailgates on sedans.
Being based on the high-tech BMW G30 5 Series platform also means that the B5 boasts many features, like a self-parking function that we think is the best system we have tested yet.
Unlike other manufacturers' self-parking systems, the one on the B5 genuinely allows the car to park itself without any input by the driver to brake or change gears between reverse and drive.
However, the B5's self-parking capabilities seem to be quite limited, as it is only capable of finding parking spots when there are cars on either side of the lot, though one might argue that such occasions are when the self-parking feature is actually required.
The head-up display feature is also extremely well-integrated, showing you directions from the navigation system in a very intuitive fashion. That is a good thing, considering that Apple CarPlay is not a standard feature, but a paid subscription, so you may not have easy access to Google Maps or Waze.
The B5's 10.25" touchscreen infotainment system also features the latest BMW iDrive gesture control, where one can simply twirl one's fingers around in front of the screen as though turning an imaginary volume knob to control the volume of the system.
It is pretty cool, but we think that this feature is quite gimmicky at this stage as it is hard to finely control the volume settings using gesture control.
There are so many customizable features in the ALPINA that really elevates its status as a bespoke car. For one, the steering wheel is stitched with both of ALPINA's trademark colours: iconic green on the top half, and blue on the bottom half.
And then, there's also the unique plaque set in the centre console which reminds you that you're driving bespoke limousine number 130.
We genuinely love being in the cabin of this car, but it's no good to only sing praises about the ALPINA B5 Bi-Turbo.
Here are some complaints that we have. First, the car doesn't come with a sunroof as standard (although that can be optioned), and the car does not have wireless charging for your phone, or Android Auto compatibility (these can't be optioned).
On the Move
Put the car in Sport (or Sport Plus) mode and the electric seats' bolsters tighten to hold you in place. Suddenly, you hear a deep, bassy burble from the exhaust.
And then the lights turn green. You step on the pedal, and you're pushed back into your seat as you're rocketed from zero to a hundred in just three and a half seconds, with a top speed of 330km/h.
Even the M5 can't match the B5 Bi-Turbo's top speed; it's electronically limited to 250km/h only.
Unlike in some of its coupes, ALPINA has elected not to equip the B5 with an Akrapovic exhaust system, so the sound you get isn't as loud or intrusive as a fully raw M5.
To us, this is a wise decision on ALPINA's end. The B5, with its cushy interior, just doesn't feel like it needs to be that loud or showy. From inside the cabin, you get a faint bassy rumble, which allows you to enjoy the howl of its V8 engine when you prod on the throttle.
You still enjoy the sense of refined "waftability" (though much reduced in Sport mode) while being reminded that there is massive power within its core, capable of propelling you to illegal speeds faster than you can imagine.
In spirited driving, the B5 is rather counter-intuitive. Typically, one explores the limits of a car's engine performance and grip. Yet, needless to say, one cannot possibly wring out an engine that can bring you from 100km/h to 200km/h as easily as it can bring you from a standstill to 100km/h.
The 20-inch Pirelli P-Zero tyres are also specially manufactured for the ALPINA B5 Bi-Turbo, so it's not as if they can really be driven till grip is broken under any sane conditions.
And so it goes that spirited driving in the B5 entails going down the B-roads at breakneck speeds, with no hint of understeer, and no need to wring the car to the redline at all.
Such a description may make it sound like the B5 is unrewarding in the conventional sense. Afterall, that's why Mazda specifically designed the MX-5 to not have a lot of power and grip. This allows the driver to really push the car to its limits.
Our preferred choice of drive mode in the B5 Bi-Turbo is Comfort Plus. In this mode, you're greeted by a different gauge cluster, a more serene blue, and the steering weight lightens up.
The faint exhaust sound in Sports mode also fades away, and you're suddenly in a serene palace of peace and tranquility. Watching the Alpina drive in Comfort Plus from the outside is truly a sight to behold.
You will see a graceful beast wafting gracefully down the road, seemingly unaffected by bumps on the tarmac despite the 20-inch wheels.
In this mode, you could drive the car for what it is, a bespoke luxury sedan, without ever betraying the fact that it is also a car that could smoke almost any car on the road.
Simply tap lightly on the throttle and you glide away from traffic without ever needing to exceed 2,000rpm, even when you're on the expressway.
The B5 Bi-Turbo simply feels like an extremely well-sorted large comfortable limousine. In fact, when we drove across the same roads in our own peasant-like executive sedan after returning the B5 Bi-Turbo to BIS Automobiles, the road suddenly felt a lot bumpier and less smooth.
It is a truly unique sensation, amusing almost, driving away from everyone else at a rate that one is simply not used to, but doing it still in absolute comfort.
The B5 in comfort mode is so amazing that we only have one bugbear. The road noise insulation seems to be insufficient and unbefitting of the car, although we suspect that this could be chalked down to the humongous 20-inch wheels that bring in more road noise.
The ALPINA B5 Bi-Turbo is what one might call a "transformative experience". It is an experience that, much like having child, truly transforms your understanding about the world.
(Photo Credit: @jabariphotos)
Is this comparison too far of a stretch? We think not. Where else would you find a luxury sedan that is also capable of besting the finest from Stuttgart and Maranello?
The B5 takes all conceptions about luxury and performance that you have, and elegantly invites you to throw them into the bin. And when you exit the B5 Bi-Turbo for the first time, you really have to take a step back and wonder, "Damn, I didn't know cars could do that!".Yes, we are aware that a sneaky competitor known as the BMW M5 exists, but we'd argue that the ALPINA B5 Bi-Turbo is in a league of its own.
Despite being based on the 5 Series, the B5 Bi-Turbo isn't simply just a more exclusive BMW; it's been elevated onto a genuinely bespoke experience.
The B5 is indisputably more than the sum of its parts. It isn't the interior or performance alone, but the way everything melds together — a luscious interior with bespoke trimmings, and the ability to out-accelerate any car while wafting comfortably.
No, the B5 isn't some in-your-face Jekyll-and-Hyde car like the M5.The B5 Bi-Turbo's unique feature is that there isn't a duality of comfortable luxury and performance. Rather, the ALPINA is able to give you these two seemingly diametrically opposed qualities at the same time, instead of making you choose between the two.
Under normal driving conditions, you could ferry the matriarch of your blue-blooded family in absolute comfort. But prod the pedal a little and your entire perspective of what cars are capable of changes.
This truly is a car that can outperform almost every supercar, yet is comfortable enough to ferry your granny in.
And most importantly, the ALPINA B5 Bi-Turbo is a statement about its owner - confident and secure, with nothing to prove to anyone.
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Engine: 4,395cc Bi-Turbo V8
Power: 600hp @ 5,500-6,500rpm
Torque: 800nm @ 2,000-5,000rpm
Fuel Consumption: 9.5km/l
0-100km/h: 3.5 seconds
Top Speed: 330km/h
Drivetrain: 8-Speed ZF Torque Converter Automatic; All-Wheel Drive
Brakes: All-Round Disc Brakes
Dimensions (LxWxH): 4,978mm x 1,868mm x 1,466mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 68l
Boot Capacity: 530l
Heated and Ventilated Seats
Photos in this article by: @jabariphotos
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