Even so, just because the B5 chooses not to brag about its potential, that doesn't mean it's not there, for the truth is the B5 is a 608hp monster.
Explaining every detail of how it got that way would take more space than I have, but the first thing that happens is Alpina takes the 4.4-litre twin turbo V8 from the 7-series, adds larger turbos, stronger internals, better breathing and additional cooling and then, once its power has been hiked from 450hp to the aforementioned 608hp, it gets shoehorned into the front of a 5 Series saloon or, crucially, Touring. BMW didn't make an estate version of the last M5 and it's not going to do with the new generation either.
Alpina also completely upgrades the chassis and I'm not just talking about springs, dampers and bars. There's different geometry at the front with different wishbones providing much more negative camber than BMW uses, while at the back there is not only BMW's rear steer but Alpina's own tune for that too. And of course, the main steering software is reprogrammed to suit the Alpina philosophy of progressive, linear, non-aggressive handling.
A shame then that the only place I was allowed to drive the B5 was on the Bilster-Berg race track in the middle of Germany. Alpina freely concedes that the B5 will not be as quick as the new M5 because it has not been set up with a lap time of even the tiniest consideration. It is not how fast you go, but how you go fast.
And fast you shall go. I drove the Touring version because the power delivery is even more incongruous and it's the car with no direct BMW rival. On part throttle it's whisper quiet and, so far as I could tell on a track by running it over the rumble strips, its ride quality is exemplary. But the moment you call upon the big V8 to do its thing, the B5 does a passable impression of an artillery shell.
There is an immense sense of gathering momentum as 608hp throws 2,150kg of Alpina estate around the Rhineland. The engine note is beautiful though I'd say there was perhaps a touch more lag than I'd expected. The gearshifts are as good as you could ever hope for from a car with a torque converter. Most impressive, given the work they have to do, are the brakes which, while still made of steel were absolutely tireless around Bilster-Berg. Alpina says its metal brakes are actually at least as good in terms of both fade and retardation as Audi's ceramics, though I am in no position to corroborate that.
A 202mph estate car as it happens. I love it that a company like Alpina can still exist and that the market, however small, remains big enough to keep it in business making such deftly designed, fluently executed cars. Around a track, the B5 estate was unexpectedly impressive and the lighter, better-balanced saloon even more so. All of which leads me to suspect that out on the public roads for which it was designed, it would be little short of brilliant.
ALPINA B5 TOURING
Engine: 4,394cc, eight-cylinder twin turbo
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 608@5,750rpm
Torque (lb ft): 589@3,000rpm
Top speed: 202mph
Weight: 2,150kg (including driver and fluids)
MPG: 26.4 (NEDC combined)