The BMW Alpina B7 is a big, luxurious car, with the extra performance and exclusivity the Alpina name means. It’s quite a comfort if it’s living in your garage.
That’s because its standards are beyond reproach. Naturally, excellence doesn’t come cheaply.
The standard wheelbase model is priced at $128,495, while the all-wheel drive version starts at $131,495. The long wheelbase model I tested — wrapped in Alpina’s signature 21-inch 20-spoke wheels and special Blue Metallic paint — had a base price of $132,395, or $135,395 for the all-wheel drive model, which includes $895 of destination and handling fees. Naturally, there are options and customizations available.
Alpina refers to an aftermarket developer focusing on BMW products, much in the way AMG focused on Mercedes-Benz or Shelby focuses on Ford. They have a factory in Bavaria, and are considered an automobile manufacturer rather than a “tuner.”
Unlike the other tuners, Alpina isn’t about turning BMWs into fire-breathing performance cars; BMW does that well with their M-designated performance models. Instead, Alpina’s versions tend to be more luxury-oriented and powerfully fast.
They accomplish this by using twin turbos to get high torque rather than creating high-revving engines producing gobs of horsepower. The 2013 BMW Alpine uses BMW’s 4.4-litre V8, which is assembled by hand at Alpina’s facility in Buchloe, Germany, before being shipped to BMW for installation, and the assembled vehicle returns to the Alpina factory for finishing touches.
For 2013, the B7 gains 40 hp., increasing to 540 hp. The torque goes up 22 to 538 lb.-ft. of peak torque. Alpina has tweaked an eight-speed automatic transmission to allow the car to have a stated top speed of 194 mph, and all variants of the car get to 60 mph between 4.3 and 4.4 seconds. To give some indication of the difference these tweaks make, the previous model’s top speed was a mere 175 mph.
In addition to the engine tweaking, the suspension gets some additional attention to make it handle better without losing any ride comfort. The run-flat tires that BMW uses on the Seven-Series are replaced with standard tires. Run-flat tires have extremely stiff sidewalls to support the car’s weight when the tire “gets” a flat.
This is a great idea because it gets rid of the spare tire, but it requires softening the suspension to accommodate a level of comfort necessary in a luxury sedan, no matter how fast. By using conventional tires and including an emergency repair kit, Alpina solves the problem a different way and even improves handling over some Seven-Series models.
The 2013 Alpina B7 also gets new BMW kidney grilles and updated Xenon headlights. Both the front LED fog lights and rear taillights are different, too. If you want them, you can opt for full LED headlights. Other options include a superb Bang & Olufsen sound system. When you take a BMW Seven-Series and up the ante, you’re going to get a pretty high-end car in all aspects.
Driving it is surprisingly unexciting. The cabin is extremely quiet; cossetting even. Everything you touch expresses quality and luxury. Everything you hear sounds good. While it’s true that this car costs as much as many people’s homes, I could live in one of these without a problem. This car is that complete in its approach to automotive luxury.
At the same time, being a BMW, it isn’t “over the top.” German luxury means an approach to perfection, and bling isn’t a word in either the German vocabulary or ethos. The value of spending a great deal of money on a car is because it’s better at what it does. The Alpina takes the already excellent BMW Seven-Series and tweaks it towards a slightly higher standard, for those whose standards can afford to be so high.
When it comes to the driving experience, you get something quite different from what you expect when you look at the car’s specifications. It’s as quick as it is quiet and comfortable. The Alpina demonstrates that the two ends of the performance and comfort spectrum don’t have to be really far apart.
Driving along at a pace and manner to make your mother happy, if you put your foot down, the car responds with fierce alacrity. Once your eyeballs resume their normal position, you’re delighted with the increased, uh, safety this power brings. The same is true of the brakes, which haul this rather large sedan down from speed without drama. The steering, always tops on a BMW, is spot-on at whatever you do with the steering wheel. The suspension keeps evil and wickedness at bay for the car’s occupants, but should decisiveness be called for, that’s what you get. The feel of the sedan in cornering is nothing like you expect pushing a car this large.
Naturally, what is most noticeable when you’re driving with spirit is the power. It simply makes everything just a little bit better. While there are no underpowered full-sized luxury cars, the way Alpina pushes the parameters on this power seems so incredibly right.
The difference is the “calmness” of the performance. While going fast and doing things quickly, the BMW Alpina B7 doesn’t feel like it’s breathing heavily, and so neither do you. I like this. In a luxury car, refining the nature of the car rather than changing it seems like such a good idea.
If you decide you want an Alpina, you must know that it’s a capacity limited production vehicle that you must special order from your dealer. Because the car is manufactured in a BMW plant, then shipped off to Alpina’s facility for finishing, it takes an additional two weeks to complete.
But if you’re lucky enough to be able to order one, I suggest you pick it up in Bavaria under BMW’s European Delivery Program and discover on some of Europe’s best roads why pushing perfection is such a worthwhile thing to do. Then they’ll ship the car home for you.