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Shoot out: BMW M5 vs Alpina B5 - The shout route

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Shoot out: BMW M5 vs Alpina B5
The shout route
styling
The power difference
The verdict
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Our shoot route is the B660 between the A1 at Glatton and the A14 at Brington. It's a classic British driving road. Twisty, fast, technical, bumpy and challenging. It's a tough test of any machinery, be it a rally-bred rice rocket or a full-on supercar. And for a couple of big, heavy saloons with stupendous performance, it'll take them to the absolute limit.
The tale of the tape might show that there's very little to choose in terms of performance on paper, but on the road the M5 is a completely different animal. It feels at once more urgent, more visceral. It feels more modern, too, with its plethora of electronic systems to allow you to tailor the car to your preferred setup. The B5, meanwhile sets its tone with thick, embossed leather and shiny wood trim.
The M5's ride seems much firmer than the Alpina's, even with EDC in its softest setting, but the upside is a tauter body control over choppy surfaces. It might give your fillings more of a workout but it recovers its composure more quickly than the Alpina and through quick direction changes seems planted and more surefooted. A couple of times the Alpina felt a bit uneasy on the way into bumpy braking zones from speed, whereas the M5 just felt sorted and settled.
In the B5, with traction control on, the tell-tale light flickers away like a firefly on speed. Turn it out, and even in the dry, it's capable of vapourising its back tyres. Because there's no LSD, the inside rear wheel just spins up on the way out of tighter turns.
The M5's DSC copes much better due in part to the lower torque levels in the middle of the rev range.
You can also use the M track mode to knock back the level of intervention and even allow for some mild opposite-lockery with the back up of the computer should you get into difficulty.

b5_vs_m5_front

If you prefer to drive without interference, the M5 is by far the more focussed driving tool. Crank up the EDC to its firmest setting, put the engine in P500 S mode and use the paddles with the SMG box at full speed and the M5 comes alive. It feels raw and scalpel sharp, with razor-edge throttle response, excellent steering which benefits from a meatier wheel rim. The SMG III shift is whipcrack fast compared to the B5's Switch-Tronic system and the fabulous blipped downchanges are great when you are on a charge.
Grip levels are fairly similar but the M5 feels more four-square, more level during hard cornering and seems to work all four tyres. When adhesion is breached, the variable locking rear diff enables the rear tyres to eke out more available traction while also allowing the car to slide cleanly and progressively.
Braking is better in the M5, too, in my opinion. The B5's 760LI sourced stoppers are good, and quiet, but I'll live with the slight rumbling from the 348mm drilled rotors on the M car. They seem to have a bit more bite and feel than the Alpina's and on this kind of route, you need all the help you can get.
On a proper charge, the M5 is stunning: you just can't believe it's not an out and out sports car. The Alpina never feels less than super fast - but it always feels what it is: a huge, hugely powerful, sumptuously appointed machine. I won't pretend that the M5 is hot-hatch chuckable, but it really does shrink to fit thanks to its on-the-button turn-in and unflappable poise teamed to the kind of chassis adjustability that means you're never short of options.


 
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