You won’t be able to buy the upcoming M3 touring if you live in the U.S., according to BMW of North America. Most of us probably already had a sneaking suspicion that the model wouldn’t be sold here when the announcement came a few weeks ago, but the reality of the situation didn’t seem to act as a damper on enthusiasm. The fact that BMW has never manufactured and sold an M3 wagon of any kind—until now, that is—hasn’t stopped drivers from dreaming about what could perhaps be the ultimate single-car solution.
Just shy of a year ago, Alpina unveiled the B3 Touring. The performance wagon immediately caught our attention, and the reason why is quite simple. Although every Alpina model is notable, and the Buchloe-based tuner turned manufacturer also boasts an illustrious touring lineage, there’s something different about the Alpina B3 Touring. Instead of using a conventional BMW engine which is then modified by Alpina for greater performance and character, the B3 is the first Alpina model to use an M engine as its basis.
The power plant is the S58 M inline-six. First on the market in the X3 and X4 M, the engine will soon become more widely available with the next-generation M3 and M4, and their respective Competition models. We already have some idea of the horsepower levels, which will come in at 480 horsepower for the entry-level and cars equipped with manual transmissions, while Competition package cars will make do with 510. Torque of 442 pound-feet is expected to be the same between the two, as it is for the X3 and X4 M and their Competition derivatives.
Things are a little different with the Alpina B3 Touring. The Alpina version of the S58 is enhanced in a number of ways, including a re-engineered biturbo setup which makes use of flow-optimized turbine housings, optimized cross-sections in the air intake system, and a large air intake housing, while there’s also a stronger cooling system. The results are 462 horsepower from 5,000 to 7,000 rpm, and an incredible 516 pound-feet of torque from 3,000 to 4,250. While horsepower is a bit lower for the Alpina, torque is greatly increased, which is just one way Alpina creates a driving experience that is likely going to be quite different from that of the upcoming M3 touring.
Like the Alpina B3, which comes with its own version of xDrive, the upcoming M3 and M4 will also come with all-wheel-drive, but in the form of M xDrive. The models will initially be available exclusively in rear-drive form, but Competition models will eventually be sold with M xDrive. By the time the M3 Touring is slated to arrive in its production form, which isn’t until 2022 at the earliest, it’s highly likely that it will come with M xDrive.
It all comes together for what seems like a perfectly matched comparison. We’re highly unlikely to see either model in the U.S. anytime soon (although, didn’t BMW completely rule out M wagons not too long ago?), and yet, it doesn’t stop many of us from dreaming. If you had the choice at your local BMW dealership, which touring would you bring home?
Alpina has long been considered the yin to the yang that is BMW M. The companies have built some highly competitive models in the past, and although Alpina produces less than half the volume of Rolls-Royce every year, some are simply too evenly matched to ignore. The last time it happened in the U.S. was with the M6 Gran Coupé and the Alpina B6 Gran Coupé, which Motortrend compared in its old Head 2 Head series—sorry, you’ll have to pay to watch the old video, which features Jason Cammisa and Johnny Lieberman.
In the end, it’s likely going to come down to your own tastes and preferences, as either car will yield more performance than any sane driver would reasonably require on a daily basis. But how different can two cars that share nearly identical drivetrains and underpinnings actually be? The Alpina is sure to place significantly more emphasis on luxury and comfort, but the manufacturer isn’t known for leaving anything in the way of performance on the table, either. In the case of the M3 touring, it’s a safe bet that M will err a bit more on the side of all-out performance and capability, while things like ride comfort and overall harshness—whether it’s the seats or the drivetrain itself—remain geared towards providing the ultimate driving experience. The M car may very well out-accelerate the Alpina, and will surely outperform it in a track environment, but the raw capability of either car is incredible, and right on the leading edge of automotive performance.
Okay, that’s enough dreaming for now. One car in which to do it all? BMW will soon be making two of them.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy ALPINA Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH + Co. KG., BMW AG.]