Bavaria’s alternative M3 gets an added injection of performance and dynamic polish
The ‘B’ stands for Benzin – or petrol. Alpina has used the letter as a model prefix on all its petrol-engined cars for more than five decades.The ‘3’ designates a BMW M340i xDrive-based car. Together, they signal perhaps the most serious threat to the new BMW M3 yet, attached as they are to the back of the latest Alpina B3.As automotive relationships go, the one between Alpina and BMW is rare. Alpina, founded in 1965, doesn’t just take BMWs and add go-fast parts to create models like the B3. Instead, it enjoys a closely knit partnership with the German car maker and is integrated into the development process of each BMW, to the extent that it is often called on to engineer and test new factory components at its base in Buchloe near Munich in Germany before they actually go into production. In every BMW, there’s a hint of Alpina, or so it is said.Priding itself on exclusivity and the ability to offer bespoke solutions not offered by BMW itself, Alpina has never wanted to sell cars in huge volumes. As chairman Andreas Bovensiepen tells us: “We’re happy to sell 2000 cars per year – no more, no less.” All of which explains why it so successfully coexists alongside BMW, whose global sales extended to over two million last year.Set for UK launch later this year, the new four-wheel-drive B3 extends the number of Alpina models on sale to eight. Like its predecessor, it is set to be sold in both saloon and Touring bodystyles. It begins life at BMW’s Regensburg factory before being shipped in a partly built-up state to Alpina’s HQ, where it goes through a final assembly process. In overall positioning, the new B3 is aimed at a niche between the four-wheel drive M340i xDrive and upcoming M3. While pricing has yet to be announced, expect to pay more than £70,000 for the saloon driven here.We hold the B3 in high regard at Autocar. The old model, known as BMW’s other M3 around these parts, wasn’t far off scoring a full five stars in our road test, when we described it as “rapid, rewarding but undemanding”. Can this new one deliver in the same way? We’ve got a circuit and an extended route on German country roads to find out.Subtlety has traditionally differentiated Alpina models from their BMW cousins – and that holds true here. The new B3 updates the latest 3 Series design nicely, taking on a determined yet unobtrusive appearance that is highlighted by a unique front bumper extension, Alpina’s signature multi-spoke aluminium wheels, a bootlid spoiler and four round chromed tailpipes within a reworked valance to the rear bumper.In combination with a moderate reduction in ride height over a standard 3 Series, the changes help to set it apart from the crowd. On the inside, there are unique trims and upholstery. A neat touch is the Alpina-specific digital instruments with the firm’s signature green hue featuring prominently within the speedo and rev counter.The new B3’s twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre petrol engine is based heavily on BMW M’s newly introduced S58 unit – the same inline six-cylinder that powers the new M3 and M4. It’s the first time Alpina has opted for an engine from M division rather than one from BMW’s standard line-up. Such are the changes, though, that it adopts a thoroughly different character.