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The Difference Between BMW ‘M’ and ‘Alpina’ Models

If you’re even remotely familiar with BMW, you know that the BMW M-Division is responsible for creating the most hardcore and race-focused cars the brand has to offer. They’ve been at it for a while too, representing BMW’s racing presence since 1972. However, another BMW subsidiary and partner has been breathing fire into factory BMW models for even longer, rarely getting the spotlight that they deserve. They are known as Alpina.

While BMW M and Alpina are similar in the respect that they build upon the standard BMW recipe, they have very different mission statements. While the BMW M-Division is dedicated to their mission of creating the perfect track weapon, Alpina is determined to create the perfect car for everywhere else.

Alpina is curated with luxury in mind, but that doesn’t mean that they are big hulking land yachts.  Alpina re-configures the production engines out of your normal 3, 5, and 8 series, in some cases pushing more power than the M variant. The results are true luxury touring cars that are incredibly fast. There are numerous differences between the two brands, but which one is arguably better on the roads we drive every day? Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the two.

Alpina vs. M Division

The M Division is responsible for making track weapons…period. That is reflected in everything from the highly-strung race-derived engines that they use, to the advanced chassis and suspension modifications compared to standard models, and even the outward widebody stance of nearly every M model. The M-Division leaves no expense spared and no detail overlooked when it comes to maximizing the performance of every car that they produce and that, quite frequently, interferes with how they drive on the street. 

While Alpina’s claim that they make cars for “Automotive Gourmets” sounds pretty ostentatious on the surface, that is actually a pretty good description of what they do. Unlike the M-Division that is focused on track driving dynamics exclusively, Alpina amplifies BMW’s original ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ moniker to the nth degree. Instead of making BMWs better in a track setting alone, Alpina makes BMWs better in every way. In doing so, they upgrade everything from the powertrain to the interior materials, making for a much more premium experience than you’d get from anything that rolls out of the factory in Dingolfing.

While there are unquestionably BMW enthusiasts who daily drive their M3 to run errands, that life definitely isn’t for everyone. Between a lack of storage space, stiff suspension, and low ride height, an M car isn’t exactly the most comfortable or practical option. But that is exactly why Alpina exists, to bridge the gap between performance and comfort while also adding their own flair to the mix. Unlike the majority of M cars, Alpina models are built to provide the most comfortable daily-driven experience possible.

BMW M5 CompetitionPin

The Alpina Difference

The M is the car for the track and the Alpina is the car to get you there.

Automotive passion, state-of-the-art technical training, the permanent implementation of innovations and a well-blended team of passionate “movers” produce unique and efficient high-performance automobiles made by ALPINA, which offer perfect every-day usability. –Alpina

In their quest to make the best driving car possible, Alpina makes some pretty significant changes to the cars that roll off the BMW assembly line. In fact, they make so many changes, that their cars aren’t even considered BMWs anymore, as Alpina is registered as their own independent vehicle manufacturer. 

More than anything, Alpina is known for their craftsmanship, which is immediately apparent as soon as you step into any of their vehicles. Most of that comes in the form of small details that add up to a sublime end result. All of the interior materials feel more supple, plush, and premium. The instrument cluster is modified to reflect Alpina’s signature vibrant color scheme. Specially designed suspension mediates bumps and road imperfections arguably better than a Rolls Royce.

Alpina started out as a tuning company that developed specialized carburetors and cylinder heads for BMW racecars, so it isn’t surprising that they are well-versed in making serious changes under the hood as well. In many cases, Alpina models have shown up M models, with some of their cars, like the E34 Alpina B10 Bi-Turbo earning the title of fastest production sedan in the world in 1989. That legacy of speed lives on to the modern day, with even new Alpina models putting their M counterparts to shame in some cases.

The Alpina Brings the Best of Both Worlds

If you are looking for a daily driver that packs a ton of power, I would suggest to start looking at the Alpina. The new Alpina B7 makes 600 horsepower, and is all wheel drive.  I’ll say it again.  600hp, in a full sized sedan without a V-12. 0-60 only takes 3.5 seconds. Did I mention this is a 7 series? The current M3 competition does the same 0-60 in 4.1 seconds. While the price may be a barrier because they start at $142k, but used examples are becoming more and more affordable.

On the used side, there are the B7, B6 Gran Coupe and the previous generation B7 which are model years 2007-2009. You can find a good used example like this 2007 B7 for $21,995 which packs a supercharged V8 with 500 horsepower. A 7 series like this, even at 12 years old, goes 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, only 3 tenths of a second from the current M3.

How’s this for thrust? The B7 ties the Audi R8, which is 1100 pounds lighter, at 12.8 seconds through the quarter-mile, at which point the gargantuan Alpina starts pulling away. The 551-hp Bentley Flying Spur can’t keep up, and Audi’s 450-hp S8 is so much slower it’s hardly worth mentioning. – Road and Track 2007

The R8 was Audi’s top-of-the-line performance coupe, and yet the full-sized Alpina ties it in the quarter mile. From a form and function standpoint, the Alpina is a no-brainer.  If you want a sportier option, this 2016 B6, is listed for $41,777.  0-60 reached in 3.7 seconds and even this one has a top speed of 193 mph. Compared to the M6 of 2015 which reached 60 at 3.9 seconds.

King of the Road vs. King of the Track

The Alpina is no doubt a great brand that has paired with BMW to produce some amazingly fast cars over the years.  The question I usually hear the most it, why is no one talking about them?

The short of it, they just don’t produce many vehicles.  At the time of this writing, it is around 1,200 to 1,700 units a year for the world.  Out of what they do produce, the States only get the B7 at the moment.  In Europe, you can find the B3 wagon, B4 coupe and convertible, D5 and B5 wagon and sedan, XD3 and XD4, and B7.  If you want to learn more about the models, here is the link.  The B5 in this lineup is a 200 mph wagon.  Yes, a wagon to rival the performance specs of the Porsche, Lamborghini and Ferrari.

To put a comparison on these numbers, the last generation F10 M5 had a production of just over 19,000 units during its production years. BMW has produced nearly 35,000 F80 M3 units. The M5 alone accounts for more than 10 years of current Alpina production.

Known for the ‘pure” experience, the M is a car that enthusiasts are always on the lookout for.  Whereas, the Alpina is a refined performance.  If you are coming to a point looking at M’s and others in that category, take a few moments to see if there are any Alpinas near you.  In my opinion, the Alpina is the king of the road, and the M is the king of the track.  At the end of the day, it seems that BMW has an answer and option for every driver out there.

Let me know if you agree, or what your thoughts are on the Alpina.  Check out our post on M3s here.

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  1. Does the Alpina come with manual transmission on the floor?

    Since the motor of an Alpina is over and beyond any other non-Alpina BMW motor, is there a mechanic that I would have confidence in at any BMW service center let alone a private mechanic that services ordinary BMW motors in the USA?

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