What’s it like?
Two things quickly become clear. The first is that, while BMW has given Alpina an unusually good base to work from, the B3 Touring is extraordinarily well-rounded.
Take it as read that the 3 Series Touring now feels ideally sized for fast family-car duties. There’s plenty of space inside and you get a real sense of maturity on the move, but the car avoids the occasional awkwardness that comes with driving something as large as the 5 Series Touring – or Alpina’s V8-engined B5 Touring – through towns and along B-roads.
Compared with the M340i, what the Alpina then gives the driver is, simultaneously, a more connected feeling with the road and, in the unique Comfort Plus damper setting, the ability to tread and move more fluidly over all but the roughest surfaces. It’s an extremely neat trick, even if this car’s optional 20in Alpina Classic wheels and 30-section sidewalls can still generate a slight fidget and are marginally noisier than you might expect (though these are well within acceptable levels for something of this performance potential). In short, in normal driving, the B3 covers ground in more satisfying fashion than the M340i, and indeed its esteemed rivals from Audi and Mercedes.
The second thing is the mad adaptability of the car’s temperament. The previous-generation B3 and its B4 coupé sibling had a tendency to step off the mark quite abruptly and the torque delivery thereafter was, in a word, boosty. This new car seems considerably more deft when you’re just mulching around with the engine below 2500rpm, which is when the performance really starts to kick in. The powertrain is softly but muscularly responsive, the steering well geared and weighted, and the whole show just very easy and comfortable to live with. Sinking into the optionally Merino leather-clad seats for an hour or three is no chore at all, whatever the environment and conditions you’re travelling through.
Knock the powertrain and chassis into Sport or Sport Plus, though, and you’ll begin to discover the other side of the B3 Touring. The car never comes over as raw as the Mercedes-AMG C63 Estate, or as fun-loving, but it really is unspeakably quick. And despite the fact Alpina has shifted the default torque-split subtly forward in comparsion to the M340i, it feels thoroughbred on the move. There is balance, poise and composure in abundance.