Alpina B3 Bi-Turbo: Review

With the engine switched off, the Alpina B3 Bi-Turbo's tacho needle points to a script that reads - with boundless good sense - 'OFF'. At idle it points to 'READY'. Although it's actually related to BMW's Eco Pro start-stop system in this context it seems to serve as a titillating, knowing hint at the fun and excitement that will ensue.

BMW has gone back to single turbos, not Alpina
BMW has gone back to single turbos, not Alpina
Even before you've lowered yourself into the superb cabin - standard BMW 3 Series, lifted by the familiar blue dials and premium hide - the sharply-cut front splitter, 20-inch Alpina Classic wheels and four stubby exhaust pipes have put you in mind of a focused performance car. As has the knowledge that up front rests a 410hp, torque-rich six-cylinder bruiser.

Although the powerhouse is based on the N55 engine fitted to PH's new 435i long-termer, Alpina's engineers have reverted back to twin-turbocharging rather than following BMW in its switch to a single blower, instead preferring the instant spool up that comes with a pair of smaller turbos. ZF's superb eight-speed auto switches gears while power is sent rearwards to an open differential. A limited-slip differential is optional, which, as we'll find out, is just as well.

Looks pretty discreet, doesn't go like it
Looks pretty discreet, doesn't go like it
Two times the fun
What would be the point of an Alpina if it didn't ride? In typical fashion the B3 Bi-Turbo is wonderfully supple in Comfort mode, soaking up lumps and bumps with cushioned control. Despite the 20-inch wheels and 30-profile rubber, the ride quality really is right out of the top drawer. Even when knocked into Sport or Sport+ - the 3 Series' optional adaptive damping is standard fit here - there's enough compliance for daily use.

In Comfort mode the steering is spookily light. Around the straight-ahead position there's often a sense that the steering column has been disconnected entirely from the wheels. The Sport modes address this with added weight, but never do you have total faith in the steering and nor is there any degree of feedback.

Muddied waters
On a twisting, narrow road that can become an issue because you find yourself unable to place the car with total accuracy. Allied to a chassis that, even in one of the Sport modes, feels a little blunt you do find yourself having to second guess your steering inputs and correct your lines. The B3 soon feels uncomfortable being hustled down a demanding stretch of blacktop for there isn't the precision and iron-fisted body control to make such a thing enjoyable. On open, flowing roads the B3 feels much more at home and is monstrously quick.

If it's subtle on the outside it's lush in here
If it's subtle on the outside it's lush in here
That engine really is spectacular. It both revs out cleanly and punches hard from low down and delivers 911-baiting straight line performance. Only the slightly lazy throttle response in Comfort mode irritates. With the traction control system disabled entirely it also overwhelms the rear tyres with alarming ease. Feed in the power any more keenly than a wizened nun might do and the inside rear wheel just spins hopelessly. Rarely has available power so comprehensively outweighed traction levels in a vehicle as refined as this one. With the systems on power is cut a little indelicately. That optional limited-slip differential would ultimately save you money in tyres bills.

Born slippy
As ever, the ZF gearbox can't be praised too highly. Alpina's curious nipple buttons on the back of the steering wheel are certainly unique, but when pressing on a larger paddle would be easier to locate and therefore more effective.

Thinking man's M3 reputation remains intact
Thinking man's M3 reputation remains intact
The B3 Bi-Turbo isn't Alpina's interpretation of what the F30-based M3/M4 will be like. It's much more idiosyncratic and cosseting than a typical M-car. For the quality of the ride, cabin, engine and transmission it is difficult to express just how brilliant a B3 Bi-Turbo, particularly in Touring guise, would be as a daily ride, but it doesn't back up that appeal with genuine sports car tactility.

Ultimately, the Alpina is ready to dissect a continent rather than destroy your favourite B-road or blitz lap times on a certain German race track.

2,979cc, six-cylinder, twin-turbo
Transmission: 8-speed ZF automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 410hp@5,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 443lb ft@3,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.2sec
Top speed: 190mph
Weight: 1,680kg
MPG: 37.2mpg (claimed)
CO2: 177g/km
Price: Β£54,950

Β  Β 

Photos: Autocar

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (31) Join the discussion on the forum

  • mrclav 03 Oct 2013

    Mmmm - tasty.

  • paulmon 03 Oct 2013

    Want the touring version of this so much it hurts but unless Alpina start offering silly lease deals then its never going to happen. weeping

  • arkenphel 03 Oct 2013

    I've never thought of the 3 series as a B-road blaster, even in e46 form. It feels far too large, and my E92 M3 is something that i would certainly not wring out on a B-road. A-roads are the natural environment for these cars IMO.

    As I get older, I'm drawn more and more to these Alpinas. Must be a pipe and slippers thing...

  • jas xjr 03 Oct 2013

    fifty five grand , no ta

  • lufbramatt 03 Oct 2013

    Pistonheads journo man said:
    curious nipple buttons

View all comments in the forums Make a comment