There is then the old problem of convincing customers why they should buy, for example, that delicious B5 Biturbo for £90,000 when BMW is offering £20,000 discounts on the M5. The former will have stronger residuals, is every bit as fast as the M car and, honestly, will better suit the lives of most owners, but try getting all that across to someone who sees Alpina as an expensive trim level. CEO Andreas Bovensiepen says he isn’t desperate to raise volumes above 2000 cars, but with rising development costs – mostly emissions-related, predictably – the revenue certainly wouldn’t hurt.
The silver lining is that you can’t help feeling that the current pandemic landscape might just end up helping Alpina. If you could swap airports and unpredictable air bridges for your own lavishly appointed and effortlessly quick personal pod, with the ability to go wherever, whenever, you’d be mad not to consider it. Of course, this is one of the fundamental joys of any motor car, but without forgetting the thrill of a good B-road, Alpina in particular aims to make long-distance driving a pleasure. And while crossing Europe in an Aston DBS Superleggera or Ferrari 812 Superfast plays out with almost irresistible romance in our minds, the reality is different: the fuel bills are crippling, you’ll worry about the security of that expensive and eye-catching coachwork overnight, there’s no space for family, and the rolling refinement isn’t anything like as good as you might think. You may even feel insecure about what the other hotel guests make of your ostentatious car, so what you really want, says Alpina, is something like the B3 Touring.
Which is what, exactly? Much more than spindly wheels and pinstripes, as you’d expect from a company where more than one-third of the 280-strong workforce are employed in engineering. Underneath the bodykit sits an M340i, although the driveline is beefed up and the suspension and steering geometry revised for a more natural motion and greater stability. The B3 now exclusively uses four-wheel drive, so the torque split has also been tinkered with. Depending on the drive mode, it’s still heavily biased to the rear, although, interestingly, not quite so much as the standard M340i, which is so generously tail-led that the Alpina’s extra power and boosty torque would mean things could quickly become interesting on twisty, wet, unpredictable roads. In short, British roads.
This leads us to the really big news. For the first time, the B3’s engine is the same as that used for its M3 cousin. To meet CO2 targets, BMW was forced to narrow the bore of the regular B58 straight six. As a consequence Alpina, even after recasting the block and adding an additional turbo, as is its typical approach, still would have been unable to surpass the 434bhp of the B3’s excellent predecessor. This, in the Top Trumps era, would have been marketing suicide, but the close relationship with M meant borrowing the new S58 unit and turning it into the most torque-rich 3.0-litre series-production engine yet made was an obvious fix. To do this, Alpina revises the cooling system, changes the turbo housings and adapts the electronic tuning. The result is 516lb ft and 456bhp, compared with 503bhp but only 479lb ft in the M3. The B4 will be the same when it arrives in 2022 (with, yes, the reviled gopher nose). To cope with it all, the B3’s torque converter shares much hardware with the one Alpina uses for its V8 models. It’s larger than that found in the M3 and marginally slower-shifting, but the character of the two engines will also be considerably and necessarily different in more far-reaching ways. The M3’s S58 is peakier, the B3’s more robust.