Driven: the Alpina B3 Bi-turbo

2 August, 2013 | by Top Gear

Hang on, there’s something wrong with that name.

How so?

It says Bi-Turbo, when the BMW 3-Series only has single turbo petrol engines these days.

Good spot. And totally bang on. The Alpina B3 does indeed sport a twin-turbo engine – the older 3.0-litre straight six that used to underpin the 335i until BMW decided it could do the job with a single turbo (which they call, somewhat mischievously, the Twinpower turbo). The trouble is BMW no longer makes that engine, so Alpina has got hold of the tooling for it and is now making it themselves. In tuning circles, this is called going the extra mile.

So why do they bother?

Because they’re German and believe that if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Alpina’s engineers thought the twin turbo set-up better suited the needs of the B3, giving better low rev response and pick-up, and maintaining power better across the rev range. Nor is that the only change. The intercooler is 40 per cent bigger, the exhaust is by Akrapovic and saves 7.5kg, there’s a new fuel pump, spark plugs, wiring loom and ECU. These are far reaching mods and they’ve had the desired effect. 306kW and a fearsome 599Nm at 3000rpm.

Cor, all that must add a few grand to the price, yeah?

Um yeah. A standard BMW 335i in M Sport trim with an auto box is around *R600 000. The Alpina is just over *R835 000. The M3 (which went off sale only a month or so back in anticipation of the new M4) was almost exactly the same price and that boasted a bespoke 4.0-litre V8, different body panels, suspension and all the rest. Let’s just say Alpina is being punchy with its pricing strategy.

But the B3 must be pretty much as fast as an M3, isn’t it?

I reckon it’s faster. It is on paper, with a claimed 0-100kph of 4.2secs and a non-limited top speed of 306kph. And while the turbocharged motor might not have the sparkling response of the M3′s naturally aspirated V8, it makes up for it with a massively forceful mid-range that’s more useful and exploitable in everyday driving. It’s a perfectly tractable, well mannered and smooth engine and if it wasn’t for the straight six’s gorgeous exhaust fizz on start-up, you wouldn’t think the B3 was anything other than a badge n’ wheel upgrade.

But it’s an auto isn’t it?

It is, but not only is it the superb ZF eight speeder, but it suits the car’s more relaxed demeanour almost perfectly. Almost perfectly because I don’t think the software overlap between Alpina and BMW has been perfectly matched. If you let it take care of its own affairs, it can hunt a little – it’s as if the BMW genes want to change up to bigger gears, while the Alpina genes demand lower, and they wind up having a gentle tussle. But you can override that by using manual shifts, operated by little nipple buttons on the back of the steering wheel. Personally I’d prefer paddles, but this is the way Alpina has always done it and they work perfectly well.

Anything been done to the suspension?

Masses, including a strengthened rear axle, driveshafts and differential, plus Alpina’s own adaptive suspension settings and Eibach springs that are a massive 45 per cent stiffer than standard. That’s a vast change. The wheels are 20s and run more negative camber, too. So how in god’s name has Alpina made it ride so well? Not even Jaguar can make big wheels deliver such compliance and suppleness. It’s staggering. Yet in terms of handling the uprated suspension delivers everything you could hope and more besides. It’s a delight to drive, pure and simple, a step ahead of the standard BMW chassis.

Any drawbacks at all?

I can think of only one: I wish the adaptive suspension’s default mode was Sport instead of Comfort. Comfort rides well, but is too slack on the throttle. Sport still rides well, but everything is that much tauter. Honestly, this is like automotive alchemy. It might not have as much guts-and-thunder as a Merc C63 AMG, but this is a car that would be fabulous to live with, able to match your mood and loaf with the family on board or tear around the countryside, and, crucially, excel at both.

Comfy inside then?

As much as any 3-Series, which is to say very. Excellent driving position, extremely capable infotainment system, and easily enough space for four and their kit. The 3-Series is now a useful size and doesn’t feel as cramped. Alpina upgrades are limited to stitching and badging, a plaque, blue dials and a bit of trim finishing here and there. It’s just about enough for you not to forget you’re driving something special.

Some come on then, is it worth a ten out of ten?

If it was under R750k, then I think it would be. It does move the game on from a standard 335i and I can’t think of a single upgrade or change that I don’t agree with. It’s a genuinely superb car. And for what it’s worth the amount of work that Alpina has done is probably worth the asking price. Yet *R835 000 for a 3-Series sticks in the throat. It’s a nine.

Ollie Marriage

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