Acid Test: on the test track with ALPINA

Superior in every driving situation: For BMW ALPINA automobiles to meet the high standards placed upon them even in the most extreme conditions, they undergo a real endurance test marathon in the prototype and development phase before being released for the start of production. Extreme climatic testing in the scorching heat of 50 °C in the Death Valley or in the freezing heights of Pikes Peak are on the agenda in addition to multiple high-speed endurance sessions on the legendary Pista di Nardò in Southern Italy, the fastest circuit in the world. Andreas Wippel is in charge of the Testing and Approval Department at ALPINA, and is thus responsible for the organisation and execution of the test program. He spends as much as 20 weeks a year on the road with development vehicles in locations all over the world. He accompanies the vehicle prototypes until the end of development phase, until the so-called “sign-off”, when all tests have been successfully completed and the model is ready for series production.

ALPINA defines in close cooperation with BMW engineers how extensive the testing program will be for a certain model. “Which tests our prototypes have to pass in the development phase depends on the components which we adapt from the regular BMW production vehicle, the performance characteristics we want to achieve and the market for which it has been developed. The tests usually run over a period of about two years. Drivetrain, transmission, brakes, suspension, damping, aerodynamics, wheels, tyres, etc. – all ALPINA components are put through their paces and fine-tuned step by step,” explains Wippel. The declared goal: to make the ALPINA philosophy palpable in every detail.

The test engineers at ALPINA are involved at a very early stage in the development process. “The collaboration between developers and test engineers goes hand in hand. If we encounter a problem on the test track and notice, for example, that a sealing ring cannot withstand our maximum speeds or that a gear shift mapping is not suitable for a certain gradient, we report it directly back to our development centre. Our colleagues in Buchloe then start new calculations, develop different geometries and material combinations or adapt the software. We can make minor adaptations directly on the test track and repeat the test right away,” continues Wippel. However, a problem is not always identified and solved so quickly, in many cases the cause first has to be painstakingly traced. “Our test team specialises in three areas: Drivetrain, chassis and vehicle body. But, of course, these areas cannot simply be considered independent of each other. A vibration, for example, can involve any of these areas. Which is why we need to have a good sense of how things interact and need to know the ins-and-outs of the technology. Only then can the different components be assessed separately without losing sight of the overall picture. Most importantly, however, you need to have internalised the ALPINA philosophy and know exactly what distinguishes a BMW ALPINA. And if you also like to get into technology and details, then this is the absolute dream job. Such a love for detail can also turn into an occupational habit: When you are trained to sense every vibration or discrepancy in the vehicle, it is almost impossible not to evaluate the driving characteristics everyday, all the time. And when you work at ALPINA, the benchmark is set high, of course,” laughs Wippel.

Speaking of ALPINA driving characteristics: How would an ALPINA test engineer describe it? “I’m a former drivetrain engineer, so I start with the performance. It is almost always nearly instantaneously available in spades, and yet a BMW ALPINA never acts nervous. The wide spread between the different driving and suspension modes further adds to this – for me, also a central part of the ALPINA philosophy. When we change the driving mode, it is almost as if we were testing a different vehicle. Long-distance comfort is never neglected, a fact that has earned us some envious looks on the test track. Because while we can sit quite relaxed in the vehicle during the high-speed endurance run, for other testers of sports cars this can be an enormous physical strain. Some time ago we shot a little film for the B5 Bi-Turbo. Watching the video always makes me smile because it actually portrays our daily work during a high-speed endurance run.”

Click here now and have a look for yourself:
Video of BMW ALPINA B5 Bi-Turbo

Fuel consumption and CO2 emissions BMW ALPINA B5 Bi-Turbo Touring AWD:
Fuel consumption NEDC correlated combined 10.9 l/100 km / 25.9 mpg • CO2 emissions NEDC correlated combined 248 g/km •  Efficiency category E (Germany) • According to EU Norm •