James finds himself a unicorn – a 301kW BMW 3-Series wagon. We drive the 2017 Alpina B3 Touring.
I heard a quote in a film the other day, “it only takes one unicorn to exist for all the stories to be true”. Worth noting too, that the rest of the film, Barbie Princess Fairytopia was poorly animated, seizure-inducing drek, but the line stuck with me.
It is a poignant statement about something that isn’t proven to exist and yet seems so possible, who’s very existence changes the game as we know it.
The thinking can be related to cars, where one particular unicorn has eluded us for 40-years. The BMW M3 wagon.
The M3 Touring, a mythical beast that is a combination of concept car and custom-build, sprinkled with a dash of Photoshop magic, is like the mono-horned equine, feasible. It could exist, it really should exist…
Luckily, bespoke German manufacturer Alpina has an answer, and as it turns out, the 2017 Alpina B3 Touring is a lot more than a horse with an ice-cream cone taped to its head.
Alpina has taken the stylish and practical 3 Series Touring, which for Australian buyers peaks at a 185kW/350Nm 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder 330i variant, and shoved its twin-turbo inline ‘six under bonnet.
The result is a 301kW/600Nm power wagon, equipped with a sub-five-second 0-100km/h sprint time as well as a 1500-litre cargo capacity. Unicorn, ho!
Alpina’s subtle styling upgrades work well on the already handsome 3-Touring. Like the B4 coupe, the B3 is based on the Luxury line trim and receives Alpina’s specific front spoiler, 20-spoke 20-inch wheels, and modified rear valance with quad exhaust tips.
Our car is Mineral Grey ($1679 option), but you can have your B3 in a choice of 25 premium shades from the BMW Individual selection as well as Alpina’s own palette. The signature ‘deko’ stripe kit is a no cost option, in either silver, grey or gold.
The wheels are almost too big for the lines of the Touring, but as a package it sits low and looks different, and suitably mean… but just imagine it with the M3’s pumped arches…
Everything else is the same as the ‘donor’ BMW. From the size of the roof spoiler to the placement of the chrome vents on the front valance. This is, after all, a car which is built along side a regular 3 Series Touring in BMW’s Munich factory.
So you know, Alpina ships its completed engines and other mechanical components to Munich. The cars are built and then sent back to Buchloe for final finishing like the aero kits and deko stripes.
All of this extra activity though, carries a cost.
Quite a bit of cost.
A standard BMW 330i Luxury Touring costs $73,300 (before options and on-road costs). Arguably, the B3 driveline is based closer to the six-cylinder 340i, which is only offered in a sedan. Doing a little bit of product line-up maths, we can assume that IF there was a 340i Touring and the price differentials against the 330 body styles and 30-to-40 models was constant, this would cost $93,255.
The Alpina B3 Touring costs $160,900.
I’ll just let that sink in a second.
That makes it $67,645 more than the theoretical 340i Touring, $9890 more than an Audi RS4 Avant and $2785 more than the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Estate.
If you threw a dollar in a bucket each time you wished they made an M3 Touring, and you made this a daily routine for each of the 40 years they haven’t made one, and then forced four friends to do the same (it’s a five seater after all), then you would have enough to make up that near $70k price gap, of a car you can’t buy anyway.
Even if we visited Dr Moreau’s island of unicorn engineering and created a BMW M3 Competition with the same wagon-style premium as a regular 3 Series, it would weigh in almost $20,000 less than the Alpina.
I could sit here all day and come up with even sillier mathematical examples, but the bottom line is, the B3 is expensive. Really, really expensive.
But, this way at least, Alpina all but guarantees you have to really want that unicorn to commit to the purchase. And you’re hardly going to park next to another one at the shops!
So let us assume you have the means and the desire to ride the Bavarian einhorn (laces out!), choosing the Touring body gives the B3 a lot of day-to-day flexibility.
The rear window can open separately to the powered boot-hatch for quick and easy loading, but a word of warning, the parcel blind can get in the way, and I always found I would flip it up to put things in the boot, then get back in the car only to see my rear view was completely blocked by the blind not returning to its place. Leave it retracted and tint the windows!
Boot space is 495 litres as standard, which expands to 1500 litres when the 40:20:40 split seats are folded. You can even relocate the cargo blind to a secure mount behind the front seats to use the Alpina as a 301kW delivery van!
Our car has the standard BMW Merino Individual leather interior (no $19,605 optional Lavalina leather this time), and piano black dash trim. These are standard BMW items, but the Alpina team has added the appropriate logos and stitches to set things apart.
I still think it could be a bit more special inside, perhaps with the green and blue Alpina colours used to greater significance, but I do like the crest embedded subtly on the dashboard.
The gauge cluster too, featuring the blue Alpina backing on the dials, does look pretty cool.
As on the exterior though, almost everything else here is the same as the regular BMW model. It is good in that it comes with the same intrinsic quality, functionality and ergonomic layout, but that does take away some of the special feels.
It is a lovely place to spend time, the seats are comfortable, vision good and all the technology works well. Our test car didn’t benefit from the latest iDrive 5 software upgrade, but Alpina Australia assures us this is coming in cars built from late-2016 on.
But as nice as it is, you don’t go and spend four buckets of wish money on this car for the seats. Alpina made its name for tuning and performance, and it is here where the unicorn really shows its strength.
The B3 is powered by the same twin-turbo 3.0-litre inline six we saw in the B4 coupe. It is based on the older 335i motor and not the 340i, and swaps the single, twin-scroll turbo for a pair of turbos. BMW fans will find this a little ironic, as the pre-LCI 335i actually ran the twin-turbo N54 engine, and only moved to the single-turbo N55, later in its life. This is essentially a modified N55 with twins.
The twin-turbo set-up has the smaller turbine helping at lower revs and the larger coming on boost higher in the rev range.
All this results in a 301kW, 600Nm lump of power which Alpina claims is good for a mid-four-second run to 100km/h. As you may note from the photos, we had a bit of trouble getting off the line when trying to match this, but were still able to see a clean five-second pass on the vBox, once the smoke cleared…
And yes, it was a private road etc etc.
That power figure is down from the BMW M3 and Audi RS4 (both 331kW) and particularly the C63 at 375kW. Reinforcing again, that the B3 is more of a grand touring jet than a supersonic strike bomber.
With all the Alpina tweaks at their most ‘Alpina’ setting, the drive mode in Sport-Plus and transmission tipped to Sport, peak power doesn’t hit until 6800rpm, where the full slab of torque is available from 3000-4000rpm. The result is a fast but not brutal application of speed.
You can modulate response further by using a kickdown switch at the base of the accelerator pedal. Above this, the wagon rushes forward almost imperceptibly quickly. Acceleration is smooth and highly manageable, particularly in gear from 60 or 70km/h and up.
Stomp hard though, pinning the pedal to the floor, and the rear wheels will try their hardest to spin faster than the tyres allow, resulting in an entertaining wiggle from the back both in a straight line and under corner exit application. Double digits make way for triple very quickly, and well… looks like we'll need that private road again.
Get used to all this, and the B3 has tonnes of grip through the bends, and is able to not only to build but hold speed with remarkable ease. It’s a stack of fun!
The quad-tipped Akrapovic exhaust offers a little bark at startup, and as temperature sinks into the pipes, starts to produce an ever more aggressive growl over time. It’s not overly loud though, especially when pottering about town.
Given the GT over RS nature of the car, it makes sense, but I’d love to see some form of active or bi-modal exhaust ability in the B3, to give the power wagon a more suitable soundtrack.
The only driver-based drawback of the B3 are the self-shifting nipples on the steering wheel.
The gearbox, a tuned version of the excellent BMW ZF eight-speed, works well and is a much more usable solution than BMW’s own M-DCT from the M3, but paddles are a much more functional way of changing gears yourself, and I for one opted to leave the car to do the work rather than press the silly Playstation buttons on the wheel.
This worked well when switching from sedate to un-sedate driving around town, the gearbox handling both ends of the driving spectrum with confidence.
It isn’t the brute force instrument the M3 or C63 is, but it’s a hell of a lot more fun than a regular 3 Series can be, and for lovers of the blue and white roundel, that is crucial.
With the 2017 Alpina B3 Touring, unicorns do exist. But like all exotic and exclusive animals it is rightfully and frightfully expensive, but just knowing it is out there is a beacon of hope.
I can only wish that my movie quote will strike a chord with the team at BMW M Division, and we’ll see a ‘proper’ BMW M3 touring at some point in time.
But until then, start saving.
Click the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.