2017 BMW Alpina B7
Upset BMW hasn’t built you an M7? Here’s your conciliation prize
Words by: Adam Allen
So this is not an M7?
No. BMW has been historically reluctant to build such a car because of how much it would be at odds with itself. A full-blown M car features a high-strung engine, a transmission that behaves similarly and braking and suspension hardware that feels at home on the track. That’s not what a 7 series is about, says BMW. They maintain that their flagship car is more executive limousine than apex carver and will gladly sell you an M5 should you need to scare yourself regularly when you put your foot down. But crosstown rivals Audi and Mercedes Benz have no such reservations and do shower their super saloons with horsepower and heightened performance. BMW is never one to refuse a heaping serving of market share pie so perhaps that’s what provided the impetus to hand over the 7 series to their trusted friends at Alpina for upgrading, a relationship that goes back to 1962. There was one proviso- don’t make an M7.
I want to hear more about this Alpina outfit.
When company founder Burkard Bovensiepen put down the tooling used to manufacture typewriters and started tinkering with the carburetor of a BMW 1500, he was merely looking for more speed, not starting a meaningful partnership with one of the world’s premier automotive brands. Yet that’s exactly what happened- Alpina became BMW’s de facto skunkworks program long before M cars were even thought of. Although Alpina no longer has a motorsports program so they can focus on building road cars, 1970 saw them capture the European Touring Car Championship in convincing fashion- not bad for a small company with a handful of employees. Actually, Alpina modifies BMW products so extensively that the German government recognizes them as a stand alone automobile manufacturer. Despite this deep partnership spanning many decades, Alpinas are extremely rare. You’ll know you have happened upon one by the distinctively unique features specific to these cars- intricate 20 spoke alloy wheels, “Alpina Blue” paint, and higher end flourishes used to fashion an even more sumptuous interior. Each example has a sort of metallic certificate of authenticity bearing the brand’s logo as well as the series production number.
What happens when you turn the Alpina B7 loose on the road?
The Alpina is permanently locked in the most delicious of struggles- on one hand, it wants nothing more than to coddle and spoil you as the kilometers effortlessly roll by. On the other, it wants to rearrange your internal organs with the savage thrust it is capable off. Alpina thoroughly massages BMW’s 4.4 litre V8 twin turbo- an engine hardly known for being a slouch- and with new pistons from Mahle, specialized NGK spark plugs and upgraded turbos blowing 20 pounds of boost pressure, allowing it to churn out a massive 600 horsepower. Take a moment to let that soak in, folks- this kind of output would have been enough to get you pole position for big league racing series back in the late 1970’s. And where those race cars made that kind of power with absolutely no nods to driveability whilst threatening to grenade themselves at any moment, the Alpina achieves this figure while adhering to durability targets set out by the engineers while adhering to government mandated emissions legislation. The turbo V8 makes this power in conditions ranging from the dead of the coldest winter to the hottest of summer days without fail, delivered in a smooth-as-a-dram of the finest single malt scotch. No matter the speed or situation, mind boggling thrust is just a twitch of your right foot away. When you summon the courage to fully open the taps, you’ll unleash a string of profanities as the B7 lunges forward as if it has a booster rocket strapped to it. Getting the prodigious power to the ground is the familiar 8-speed automatic that shifts imperceptively but will shuffle through ratios so fast it rivals dual-clutch units for its speed. But of course, with these kinds of numbers you expect it to be fast. What you don’t expect is how resolutely stable it is at speed. It pulls this off thanks to enhanced four wheel steering, performance tuned all-wheel drive and a lengthy wheelbase which locks the car to the tarmac. On roads we know intimately, where we’ve been exhilarated by athletic sports cars in the past the Alpina felt closer to those lithe track specials instead of the barge that it is and ought to feel like. Well done Alpina. Part of that credit goes to the magic the suspension engineers endowed the B7 with. Even with the 20mm drop in ride height when in maximum-attack mode it’s a marvelous achievement the way they have been able to combine incredible suppleness with a dogged defiance to roll, squat or dive. They’ve also worked their magic when they re-programmed the driving modes as well. Usually selecting Sport mode makes a 7 series makes it feel a little too on edge, but not in the B7’s case. Sport is a heightened sense of awareness compared to the more lackadaisical Comfort mode but it’s never unbecoming or frenetic. Even in Sport Plus, the B7 is never harsh. It is serene and composed yet will goad you into exploring its limits.
The interior is exquisite.
It certainly is, and there isn’t much that you won’t find here- there is every single kind of creature comfort and driver aid feature imaginable, plus some that aren’t, like Gesture Control. Every single surface- and we do mean every- is covered in supple leather, suede, ceramic or genuine metal and is a feast for the eyes as well as the fingers. Even the storage cubbies integrated into the doors are covered in leather. The seats will warm, cool or massage you and are up to the task of cushioning your body when it’s thrown into them under heavy throttle. In the back, the seats are even more sumptuous and each occupant has their own screen to help pass the time on long hauls; everything is controlled by a Samsung tablet that looks like it’s built into the armrest but will allow itself to be removed. They say that true luxury is knowing what people want before they want it, and it’s clear that the B7 was built with that philosophy in mind.
What might go wrong?
No car is perfect. Sometimes flaws rise quickly to the surface, sometimes not so much. During our week with the B7, we strained to find things that were even mildly offensive and the task proved to be tougher than we thought. The B7 is so well sorted and such a joy to drive that when you really think about, your mind keeps drifting back to all the good times you’ve had behind the wheel. When you pull up to the gas pumps, your unwavering grin will falter somewhat at the amount of premium gas this thing can drink (utilizing all 600 horsepower at your disposal will do that.) The only other complaint we’d volley at the B7 is that it’s brilliant engine suffers from the slightest whiff if turbo lag at the bottom of the rev range. That’s pretty much it.
Should I buy an Alpina B7?
If you’ve been holding out on an M7 and your local dealer is fresh out of the twin-turbo V12 powered M760i, then you absolutely must buy an Alpina B7. But you better act fast- with an estimated 80 units making it to the Canadian market, you will be vying for one with those who covet the exclusivity the ownership of a B7 affords. Please, BMW: send more Alpina’s to our shores.
2017 Alpina B7 – Specifications
- Price as tested: $183,300
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger sedan
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 4.4-litre twin turbo V8, DOHC, 32 valves
- Horsepower: 600 @ 6,250 rpm
- Torque (lbs.-ft.): 590 @ 3,000 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic with Switch-Tronic
- Curb weight: 2,222 kg (4,899 lbs.)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 14.3L/100 km (17 mpg)