The Alpina name has heritage and credibility as not merely a BMW tuning house, but an official manufacturer in its own right. Yet can its high-performance BMWs stay relevant against BMW’s own M Cars? We’ve tested the B3 Bi-Turbo to see if it’s a worthy answer to the forthcoming M3 saloon.
What’s Alpina done to the engine?
Make no mistake: this is not a quick series of tweaks, but a thorough reworking of the 335i M Sport that the B3 is based upon. The 3.0-litre six, which uses a single turbo as standard, has had a two smaller turbos fitted instead for improved throttle response, with power upped from 308bhp to 404bhp – only 4bhp less than the outgoing V8 M3. Breathing through a stainless steel exhaust, there’s loads more torque, too, with 443lb ft (up from 295lb ft) being sent through an eight-speed ZF automatic. In order to cope, Alpina has strengthened the diff and rear axles, with its own ECU running the show.
Alpina says that the B3 will charge from zero to 62mph in 4.2sec – that’s 0.6sec better than the dual-clutch M3 and 0.3sec up on the Mercedes C63 AMG. It’s also a full second faster on the standard 335i M Sport, while the B3 has a top speed of 190mph and it can reach 125mph in a mere 14sec.
What about around corners?
To make the most of the power, there’s a set of stiffer Eibach springs, anti-roll bars and Alpina’s own bump stops. There’s more negative camber on the front wheels, and while the ride height is actually standard, a set of Michelin-shod 20in alloys, Alpina body kit and bootlid spoiler gives the B3 a menacing stance, especially in sinister black. The wheels host massive 18in brake discs, squeezed by four-piston front and twin-piston rear calipers using Pagid pads.
So what’s it like compared to an M3?
The sheer power of the B3 is undeniable: turn the key and the warm, bassy idle turns into a shriek when you give the spongy throttle the full right foot, with a near instant response. The trick is to use the adaptive damping modes, because while Comfort is great around town, it’s too spongy to make use of the extra poke effectively. Hit Sport and the added firmness gives the B3 much more poise into a corner: there’s brilliant turn in, with the one of the most direct steering set-ups of any saloon on sale, but body control could be better. The B3 is upset by every single dip in the road, losing focus and clarity on longer corners as it won’t stay true like an M3 would. There’s plenty of traction, but the dynamics can’t make the most of the power and the brakes aren’t up to it either, with the weighting of the pedals and steering so far apart that it just can’t put it all together. As good as the out-going M3? No.
Where and why would I buy one?
The B3 is sold at Alpina’s sole UK dealership in Nottingham. It’s not a case of turning up in your 335i and asking for it to be fettled – the B3 is sold as a complete package. Why would you go for one? It offers exclusivity and more performance in a car that’s based on a benchmark saloon, so it can hardly be dismissed. There’s still the BMW fit and finish, the same ergonomics and driving position inside that are core to the standard 3-series’ class-leading success.
The factory car’s finesse is slightly diluted for the B3, forsaken for a boy racer, in-your-face character that makes it fun, but not as honed and refined as an M Division product. And, at £55k, it’s pricier than the more accomplished M3 saloon to boot.