BMW's other M3 is comfortable, well-kitted, good value and searingly quick; nicely done, Alpina

What is it?

You’re looking at the latest tuned-up BMW 3-series to be produced by renowned BM-fettlers Alpina; this is the new B3.

On paper it’s a tweaked version of the already rather rapid BMW 335i, with a 360bhp twin turbo straight six engine and six-speed automatic gearbox. In reality, though, it’s probably the forthcoming BMW M3’s most serious rival.

The B3 is likely cost £44,000 when it goes on sale at the end of the year (at least two grand less than the new V8 M3) and come – as standard – with what Alpina GB describes as “the sort of spec our owners expect.” That translates as an automatic transmission, a full leather interior, satellite navigation, Bluetooth pre-connect, you name it.

The B3 Biturbo may lack two cylinders and 54bhp compared with the new M3 but it has much more torque (368lb ft versus 295lb ft) and isn’t restricted by a speed limiter. So the zero to 60mph claims are all but identical at 4.8sec for the M3 and 4.9sec for the B3, while the top speeds are 155mph (M3) and 180mph (B3).

Chassis-wise the B3 is way softer than the M3 is likely to be, and that’s an entirely deliberate decision on Alpina’s behalf. Apart from its 19in wheel and bespoke Michelin Pilot Sport tyres (235/35 at the front, 265/30 at the rear), the B3 is virtually identical to a 335i Sport in set up, and is none the worse for that.

The only obvious omission is the absence of any form of limited slip diff from the B3’s spec sheet. The B3’s open item makes for poorer traction on less than perfect surfaces, and rules out the two hundred yard power slides you will be able to pull off in the new M3, with it’s awesome M-diff. Which is a pity, but also perhaps a good indicator of the greater maturity of the B3’s typical driver.

What’s it like?

By rewriting the software for the engine and gearbox management, and fitting stronger Mahle pistons, Alpina has turned the already very rapid 335i into an absolute monster, but a very well behaved one at that. That’s because, on the road, there’s nothing remotely unruly about the B3’s performance.

If you want to go slowly in it, you can, and the engine/auto ‘box combo works beautifully in laid back mode. But the moment you want to summon end-of-the-universe acceleration, all you do is flatten the throttle and go, cheeks all-of-aflap like a proper time traveller. Alpina doesn’t quote a 0-100mph time but I’d be amazed if it took more than 10sec flat.

On the road the B3 feels monumentally quick, even down the shortest straights. And the auto gearbox works perfectly in conjunction with the engine, blipping downshifts smoothly and with just the right number of revs when you shift manually, and picking off gears with similar speed and dexterity on the way up.

And that’s to say nothing of what is arguably the B3’s biggest attribute; its amazingly calm and civilized ride. Key to this are its tyres, and they allow the B3 to glide over even quite rough roads with the sort of refinement you normally only associate with luxury saloons.

The trade off, as intimated, is that at nine tenths and above the B3 can feel a tiny bit soft. Vertical surface undulations can cause it to float a little. But the number of occasions on which you are likely to drive your B3 hard enough on a UK road to uncover this minor flaw… well, you’d probably lose your licence long before losing your patience with the car’s suspension.

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Should I buy one?

The Alpina B3 could be one the best reasons not to go for a BMW M3 when it arrives later this summer. And the fact that it’ll undercut the factory car by such a big margin and be precious little slower in the real world has to mean it’ll succeed where other, more expensive Alpinas, have not.

You’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out precisely how good the B3 is beside the real thing; that because this Sunday is when we deliver our first verdict on the new M3. On this evidence, though, the M-Division’s new V8-powered performance hero already has competition - and how – and from a source Munich might not have expected.

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