Alpina B3 Touring 2021 review – the other BMW M3 touring
With pukka M-power and a finely-honed chassis, the B3 Touring just about has you questioning why you’d bother waiting for an M3 Touring
You wait forty years for one BMW M3 Touring to arrive and then two come along at once. Okay, not exactly two at the same time and, technically speaking only one is a bonafide M Car, or rather it will be, once it arrives in 2022, but with Alpina’s new B3 Touring touting a genuine M motor (a first for an Alpina), it’s cause for celebration.
Alpinas have always had a cult appeal, a car that if you know you know. And if you don’t, you think it’s merely a BMW with a bodykit, some wheels that look impossible to clean and a set of coachlines that add a retro design touch in today’s flame surfaced world.
This latest G21 3 Series based Alpina Touring is no different, although our press demo is minus the stripes, because beneath the subtleties of the bodykit lies a package of upgrades that have the tantalising prospect of being the only car you’ll ever need (trademark every motoring journalist, ever). After all, it’s based on the M340i Xdrive, which having recently been added to evo’s Fast Fleet is already proving to be one of those cars that adds up to more than the sum of its parts. Quick, subtle, engaging enough to interest you, even fun when the opportunity arrives. The B3 is all that but wound up pretty close to 12.
Engine, transmission and 0-60
It starts with the engine, which is impossible to ignore. Previously Alpina has been one to fettle and tune in an old school way, taking BMW’s straight six and eight-cylinder engines and enhancing them to considerable effect and often installing them in a model unavailable through BMW. Being able to push the Munich motors to performance parameters global manufacturers are held back from doing so for all manner of legislative reasons, therefore allows bespoke manufacturers such as Alpina to continue the engine designer’s original intentions and showcase the performance are truly capable of.
In this instance out goes the M340i’s B58 three-litre straight-six and in goes the S58 engine that is currently doing time in the X3/4M and will be soon making an appearance in the new family of M3 and 4 saloon, coupes and later the Touring. It’s not a straight swap install, however, with Alpina replacing the turbos with its own that are smaller and designed for improved low down responses. Peak power drops to 456bhp as a consequence, down from 503bhp in the UK bound M3 Competition, although the B3’s torque is set at 516lb ft (47lb ft more than the M3/4s Competition models will have).
Alpina has also designed and developed its own cooling system for the B3, which we wouldn’t be surprised if it’s very close to the system BMW M will also be employing. If you don’t have an M340i close to hand when you first drive the B3 you might question Alpina’s claim of installing an M engine behind the kidney grilles. Roll along and apply nothing more than a gentle tickle to the throttle and the difference between a B3 over a M340i feels negligible.
Other mechanical changes include Alpina’s upgrades to both the limited slip diff installed in the rear axle and the torque split for the xDrive four wheel drive system. Both have been calibrated to match the increased torque and power and the manner in which they arrive to provide a higher rate of response in a more complete and linear fashion.
The variable steering rack has also been fettled, which has a more organic feel to its weighting when you climb up through the modes and a more linear response that helps deliver more direct feedback as a result.
What’s it like to drive?
There’s more pep at lower engine speeds and more of a bite through the midrange that sees the revs climb quicker, but it’s probably perhaps not the fireworks you were expecting. But today’s performance car is often managed via multiple driver modes and the B3 is no exception. Flick it through to Sport + and the Alpina’s character snaps you into focus. Now it’s meeting your expectations.
There’s a new level of responsiveness in the S58 that the B58 motor just can’t match, the revs pile on and the blend of torque and power becomes addictive. As the torque shove bleeds away at 4500rpm (having arrived 2000rpm) the power delivery takes over with the peak arriving at 5500rpm and hanging around for an additional 1500rpm after that.
By now the B3 is flying, covering the ground at such a rate an RS4 would be perspiring to keep the Alpina’s chrome exhaust tips in sight, and a C63 would be looking nervously in its mirror. And while it shares the same ratios in its eight-speed ZF auto as the M340i, Alpina has strengthened the internals where necessary and upped the shift speeds and response times between you pulling on the CNC machined paddle and the gear engaging, with each shift connecting with heightened level of immediacy.
On the road the changes made by Alpina result in a far more fluid chassis and detailed dynamic response over an M340i. The more alert powertrain allows you to play closer to the B3’s dynamic edge more of the time, with an increased precision and delicacy that allows you to push through an M340i’s slight numbness during the initial turn-in phase and lean on the B3’s Pirellis (a P Zero specifically developed for Alpina) with more conviction to the point where the electronics sense they need to start rediverting the torque to the rear axle; all the time bringing the Touring alive.
At all times it feels so well within itself, judging the boundary between grip and slip and telegraphing back to you the response that allow you to act accordingly. Having spent several thousand miles behind the wheel of evo’s M340i the B3 quickly highlights the difference between what’s possible with a car produced in unlimited numbers and one that’s been finessed and tailored to suit a more focussed and discerning driver. Wound up to its maximum and the B3 is as quick a point-to-point car you could ever need.
Yet it’s not only a performance car for dissecting those roads we turn to when we need to let off steam. New springs and stiffer anti-roll bars that make up the core of Alpina’s sport suspension are accompanied by a revised state of tune for the adaptive damper system BMW installs, with a Comfort+ mode that takes the edge of that unavoidable consequence of fitting 19 (or optional 20) inch wheels with such a low profile tyre. Sport remains too harsh for any road in the UK, but that’s true of the M340i, too, but when you aren’t chasing the B3’s ultimate performance the Comfort damper modes deliver a GT-like quality to the chassis, absorbing the conditions it finds itself with little to no complaint while remaining alert.
Prices and rivals
Our demo car also had Alpina’s high performance brake system fitted, which adds £1600 to cost and includes 395mm and 35mm diameter drilled discs front and rear with a more aggressive pad also included. The result being stronger, more consistent retardation over BMW’s optional M Performance brake set up. If you plan to use the B3’s performance as intended (and why wouldn’t you?) it’s £1680 well spent in our book. We’d also want the Alpina Green paint (£1740) and while we’d always steer clear of larger wheel diameters for the sake of it, resisting those 20-inch multi-spoke items would be hard, despite the additional £2,080. All in, our test car books at £84,625, an additional £16,675 over the B3’s base price, but includes a number of BMW factory options you could happily chip away at.
With the first M3 Touring appearing on the horizon there will be some questioning the B3 Touring’s appeal, but that would be to miss the rationale behind such a car. Alpina’s are much calmer cars than full bodied M cars. The are both smoother on the palette and are able to deliver a richer, more concentrated performance because the company’s objectives don’t need to provide something for all tastes, rather they can focus more on the connoisseur looking for a performance car that’s more discerning yet no less rewarding; and the B3 Touring passes this test like few others.