By on April 2, 2007

gal_b7_img02.jpgI admire AMG. The German über-tuners are the world’s largest purveyor of $100K+ automobiles and deservedly so. Meanwhile, Alpina has been tweaking BMWs in a similarly monstrous fashion since 1961. Unlike AMG, Alpina remains independent from the corporate mothership upon which it depends (although it builds its models at Bimmer’s factories). Merc sells 25 AMG cars for every Alpina and brings AMGs to market in strict cadence with their “normal” siblings. Alpina sells Americans their B7—an M7 in all but name—only when they’re good and ready to do so. So, now they’re ready. Are we?

I approached the hulking black on black B7 with brand appropriate humility and a touch of fear. The front air dam, rear wing, 21″ wheels shod with Michelin Pilot Sports (we don’t need no stinking run flats) and the two huge pipes poking out of the rear valence left no doubt that something wicked this way hooneth. Any remaining doubts were instantly removed by the imposing sticker price: $125 large.

gal_b7_img12.jpgIf the B7’s exterior was the latest word in understated adrenalin (wheels excepted), the car’s interior was the final word in dour and depressing. I half expected to discover a plaque reading “Übershallgewindigkeit Macht Frei.” Instead, I found a nice metal stamping dog-marking the vehicle’s Alpinahood on the kick plate. Besides the plaque, seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, everything else in the B7’s interior is plastic.

And not very appealing polymers at that. In fact, there’s not one pleasurable tactile sensation to be gained from touching the dash or ergonomic surfaces in this car. This is not unique to the Alpina: the 7-Series’ cabin offers the most haptically challenged interior of any $75K luxury automobile. For this reason alone the price is unreasonable; never mind the unhelpful wart known as iDrive or the infinite and non-intuitive controls that [eventually] adjust the seats.

Fortunately, the B7’s austerity is only skin deep.

gal_b7_img11.jpgThe Alpina B7 is based on the BMW 745i: the short wheelbase version of the Bavarian luxobarge with a 4.4-liter V8 underhood. (It isn’t clear why Alpina doesn’t start with the fresher 4.8-liter mill from the 750i, except that perhaps BMW doesn’t want them to.) Press the starter and the B7’s breathed-upon engine rumbles with auditory überholprestige, telegraphing the brutal acceleration to come.

Right from the start, it’s clear the B7 is not an M5 writ large—which is no bad thing. Unlike its equally-horsed schizophrenic sibling, the B7’s supercharged V8 gives you 500 horses AND 506 lb•ft of torque between 4250 and 5250 rpm. And that means the 2.5 ton B7 gives away just .1 of a second in the zero-to-sixty sprint and has oh-so-much more grunt on the down low.

gal_b7_img16.jpgTheoretically. Alpina has remapped the donor 7’s electronic throttle; the B7 behemoth tips in like maple syrup. While the set-up provides a dignified, limo-like start, it only encouraged me to press harder on the loud pedal. Suddenly, I was doing 80. Given the lag, you’d swear the B7 was turbocharged, not supercharged.

Manual shifting is accomplished via a pair of dimples located at three and nine o’ clock on the back of the Alpina steering wheel (no paddles in Buchloe?). Once you engage the dimples, you’re stuck in manual mode—unless you return the transmission to park and start over.

gal_b7_img01.jpgThe B7’s handling is astonishing. Between those massive wheels, the righteousness of the donor Bimmer’s chassis and active roll stabilization, the B7 is totally unflappable in the corners. To achieve this miracle, Alpina deploys Sachs shocks and Eibach springs—creating ride quality that’s as rigid as a fundamentalist preacher. Over anything other than velvet, the suspension beats both road and driver into submission.

The B7’s helm is heavy and a bit stiff at low speeds. As you gather momentum, the steering feel simply disappears, joining the virtual driving simulations made popular by BMW’s active steering. Braking matches the engine for outright savagery.

gal_b7_img03.jpgI drove home to take my wife for a once in a lifetime spin in an Alpina. She asked, “What’s with the angry car?” And then it hit me: this is the perfect car for people who lack patience and panache. It looks and drives like it was built by angry people for angry people who are in a big hurry to get past you so they can sit at the best tables in restaurants and complain about life.

I appreciate the uniqueness of the Alpina B7 since I don’t expect another will cross my path or my driveway again. If the Alpina wine shown on their website is anything like this car, it will need many years before it is drinkable. Still I am sure there are a few hundred buyers for this car in the US. But I won’t be one of them.

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33 Comments on “Alpina B7 Review...”


  • avatar

    It’s possible that the 4.4-liter is used because the cylinder walls of the 4.8 are too thin to handle the added stress of supercharging. Note that Cadillac cuts the Northstar back from 4.6 to 4.4 when supercharging it.

    I’m not sure if we’re supposed to consider this an official BMW model, or not. As you mention, Alpina is an independent, but BMW appears to have endorsed this particular product. BMW even warranties it.

    Perhaps I should enter it into my database at TrueDelta. The regular 7-Series is here:

    http://www.truedelta.com/models/7-Series.php

  • avatar
    tcwarnke

    A colleague of mine worked on the brake modulation for this vehicle and he said it was a beast! Good angry analogy. I never got to ride in it, but it sure sounds angry (I don’t think you mentioned the sound).

  • avatar
    JJ

    It seems like both Mercedes and BMW have made inner peace with losing the interior plastics battle to Audi. Shame though, The previous gen 7 and 5 were at least on par with the Audis of that time.

    Anyway, Alpina is quite well known here in Europe, and obviously, most people will appreciate the fact that it’s not yet another 13 in a dozen AMG with a “handbuilt” engine. Their model range now isn’t what it used to be though. They used to make the fastest sedan in the world (B10 biturbo) and an E36 V8, for instance.

    Still, the B7 probably isn’t their best effort and the 7 series was never meant to be a sportscar. In fact BMW willingly refuses to make quick money on a possible M7 since they don’t want to dilute the “M”-image, unlike Mercedes and Audi, with their S63/65AMG and S8.

    The B5 or B6 are probably better examples. They both have the same engine as the B7, but obviously they are lighter and smaller.

  • avatar
    Ed S.

    It seems like both Mercedes and BMW have made inner peace with losing the interior plastics battle to Audi -JJ

    I don;t think it was much of a fight. How many sales are won or lost on the quality of interior plastic. The market for high-end German hardware is not the same as 30 years ago, where quality of feature one. I don’t really blame the manufacturers. They are simply responding to the conspicuous consumpton and fleeting wants of their clientele. Of which, and with all due respect, Mr. Shoemaker is a perfect example.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    What a great review, thanks. I especially liked the angry people bit. Around here it seems that so many people are angry when they drive – this car should be a hit! Sad but true.

  • avatar
    wludavid

    In fact BMW willingly refuses to make quick money on a possible M7 since they don’t want to dilute the “M”-image, unlike Mercedes and Audi, with their S63/65AMG and S8.
    Let’s not give BMW too much credit. They are putting M-sport packages on their European models which consist of nothing but badging and fancier aero package. M also stands for Marketing.

  • avatar
    Brian E

    It looks and drives like it was built by angry people for angry people

    Which means it’s the perfect car for me. I’ll take mine in black, please.

  • avatar
    MR42HH

    wludavid:
    Sure, and Audi has their S-Line on every model, and every Mercedes can be had with an AMG aerokit. So not a specific BMW thing…

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    The 7 Series doesn’t work with this. First off, it is at the end of its shelf life, so it looks really dated. I could see this clunky beast on the pages of the Dupont Registry next to an equally heavy-handed white 1987 AMG S class. BMW already has the M-Series, so if there isn’t an M7, it’s probably for a good reason.

  • avatar
    yournamehere

    this for $125k or a 300c srt8 for ~$50k?

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    I would think this would be a cool ride, at least for a couple of weeks, if only so you could dress in a black suit with a white shirt and black tie and pretend you were the Transporter.

  • avatar
    Gottleib

    This car is for those that don’t use cell phones while driving and despise those that do.

    What is with all of the critique of the plastics used on automobiles these days. My God I don’t think there is a review written here that doesn’t mention the plastic on the dash board and how Audi is the only one that knows how to make a decent plastic dashboard. If our buying habits and choice of automobiles is based somewhat on the feel and touch of the interior then I do beleive we need more human intimacy in our lives.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    This is a car review that is also a very persuasive psychogram.

    I think this is a car made for the kind of person that is often but not exclusively found in Germany, the Leistungsmensch. Perhaps Alpina’s slogan should be: High Performance Cars for the High Performance Human. Clarkson’s quip about SS staff cars comes to mind.

  • avatar
    JJ

    Clarkson’s quip about SS staff cars comes to mind.

    And I guess the slogan for their wines should be “high performance wines for the high performance human”…

    I’m sorry but I think that analogy is justified for some Mercedes, the VW Bug and to lesser extent, as a result, 911s and of course, the original silberpfeile (AutoUnion, Mercedes) exclusively.

    Alpina, for German standards at least, is almost fun and games.

    And no, I’m not German…

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Interesting note about the lag, Jay. I wonder why Alpina chose a centrifugal blower, with its inherent lack of low end torque, instead of the instant boost positive displacement units found in the AMG Kompressor-cars and R type Jags. I’m sure Alpina didn’t provide its owners with a boost gauge, but I guarantee you won’t see positive manifold pressure below 3000=3500 rpm, which is where the majority of 7 series drivers (even angry ones) spend most of their time.

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    Let’s not give BMW too much credit. They are putting M-sport packages on their European models which consist of nothing but badging and fancier aero package. M also stands for Marketing.

    If you get an M-tech package that is more than just visuals (specially tuned suspension, wheels, steering wheel, etc.) They have been doing that for quite sometime now and it offers a sportier version of the model but no where does it replace an M model.

    It also looks quite sharp, just for the same reason people buy S-line Audi’s…good looking cars.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    Just today by happenstance I saw a silver E46 330i wearing a chromed Alpina badge decklid top left. The driver was a cool-dude with some sweet blue bubls in the turn tail mounted turn signals.

    Last time I saw an Alpina badge stateside was at a county fair on a Daewoo lanos or nubria… it was a black well beaten Daewoo.

    I suppose I’m beating round the bush of saying, I’ve yet to have any in-person positive impressions of Alpina.

    I went through a BMW-Alpina lust when I was about 20… I had a particular fancy for the E39 Alpina turbo diesel. Oh and the E34 by alpina too… god that car just does it for me. The 20 spoke wheels and hexagonal pinstriping, along with the sheek sheild.

  • avatar
    BigChiefMuffin

    I drive an Alpina B10 V8S ( E39 variant ), which I bought after having an M5 ( E39 ). I have done over 40,000 miles in both so have gotten to understand pretty well the differences between what M stands for and an Alpina

    Alpina is far better known in Europe ( by those who know about these things ) than in the US. This is one of the appeals of the car – it is far more subtle than an M car ( though the B7 is probably the least subtle of the Alpina range but this is more Bangles fault than Alpina – there is only so much they can do ).

    M cars are far more hardcore than Alpinas – when you are driving at 9/10th’s or 10/10th’s they come into their own. However, what Alpina recognize ( and what, in my view, the M division don’t really understand ) is that the typical buyer of a $100 K+ 4 door sedan actually spends most of there time driving at 5/10 th’s and here the Alpina’s come into their own. They have more low down torque and the steptronic shift is far easier to live with on a day to day basis then the dreadul SMG boxes ( something not really mentioned in the review )

    I was surprised to read that Jay found the ride so hard, as Alpina’s are generally renowned for their more forgiving ride ( and certainly all the reviews I have read of the B7 in Europe have said that it rides far better than an AMG or S8 ).

    I really like my car and suspect that the B5 is probably a better bet than the B7. Once you getinto the Alpina thing, you do find them pretty addictive

  • avatar
    jurisb

    i must admit that german tuning companies quite often spoil good ( as good as a german car can look anyway)cars trying to make them look more agressive. they put amateur looking spoilers and claddings and make the car look like some iron sliding down your sleeve shirt. they lack the sense of harmony between factory detailing and tuning. tuning must melt into exterior and interior, not stand out as NY cap on a rap performer. in this case alpina elevates the price so much, that it doesn`t make sense. people spend money because they want to show off, or stand out, not to stand out with huge spoilers on rather mainstream looking cars.in a german car you can stand out only for feinsmeckers not regular mob. nobody byus a 100k car to simulate a 25k 3series. and alpina offers a lot of tuning that could be done at your local dealer option list for at least half the price. or parts could be made by private tuners for reasonable price. and people want tangible and visible expensive things, not alpina offered leather option that rips off factory trim and install not better one with their logo.

  • avatar
    BigChiefMuffin

    Not quite sure I follow Jurisb argument here. First you say that you want something which does not look too agressive and then complain that the Alpina exterior mods are too unaggressive ?

    Alpinas appeal to those who like the subtle approach and who don’t want to show off. That might not be everyone, but the success of the brand in Europe shows that there is a ready demand for such discretion.

    As for trying to imitate Alpinas own engine ( admitedly based around a BMW unit but heavily modified ), you will not manage that with off the shelf bits and pieces. I have been to their factory – it is a major operation to design and build these units.

    As for value – that is up to the consumer to decide ( and the B7 is not a 3 series but a 7 series ). Alpinas are normally about the same cost as the equivalent M series ( B3 = M3, B5 = M5 ). As mentioned before, there is no M7, but it is far better value than an AMG S class

  • avatar
    jurisb

    what i meant was, that german tuning makes the tuning kit agressive yet the car itself altogether looks obsolete and mainstream. let`s say new caddy sts stands out because of dramatic proportions, big Lopez style ass and chiseled facets. but bmw 7 series, or 5 series lacks juicyness or solidness of details. german detailing looks not convincing, as if doubting. as if scared of being daring. do you really consider 6 series coupe`s front fender repeat signal lamps with nostril imitation a design tweak?or 7 series amateur finish of trunk lid joint with fenders a design tweak? a z3 kettle lid on the steering wheel a design tweak? there is a mould- impression detailing. and there is a jigsaw detailing impression. jigsaw is 2 dimensional- and amateur. but germans have it a lot in bmw. – around exhaust in bumpers, in dashboards. in side skirts.flaT SIDE SKIRTS GIVE IMPRESSION THAT THERE IS NO CONTINUATION UNDERNEATH CAR, AS IF THE BOTTOM IS JIGSAWED. IT`S details. but there are no unimportant details in a 100k car. i never pick on dacias or marutis.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Juri, just to let you know: I always enjoy your posts, even if your English is unusual.

  • avatar
    Jay Shoemaker

    BigChiefMuffin – thanks for your post. My daily driver is an AMG E63 and the ride is more compliant than the Alpina was, something I attribute to the massive tires on the Alpina. I am more of a candidate for an Alpina car as opposed to an M car because of the factors you cite- steptronic transmission and less abrupt ride. In the end, AMG makes a product better suited to my needs and preferences, but I wish BMW would go ahead and acquire Alpina and apply their philosophy to the M line so that I might actually want to own one someday.

  • avatar
    Wheely

    What is with all of the critique of the plastics used on automobiles these days.

    Sadly, I spend more time in my car sitting in traffic looking at its interior than enjoying its mechanical capabilities, so I do care about the quality of the plastics. And I really hate paying good money for cheap crap. My pet peeve is plastic aluminum, puh-leeze.

  • avatar
    windnsea00

    In the end, AMG makes a product better suited to my needs and preferences, but I wish BMW would go ahead and acquire Alpina and apply their philosophy to the M line so that I might actually want to own one someday

    For the drivers who buy M cars for the way they are…that would be a very sad day! I see Alpina as more of an AMG competitor (more unique however). M cars are all about full driver involvement, screaming engines and a rich history in racing.

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    I saw one of these at a carwash in long island being prepped for delivery by the dealer about a month ago. I had to take a second glance to realize that it wasn’t a normal 7 series. I’m not a fan of the way this car looks…too bulky. For 125k, I’d get the maserati.

  • avatar
    BigChiefMuffin

    From what I have heard, BMW tried to buy Alpina a couple of years ago, but were politely rebuffed. Obviously the firms work very closely together ( most of the cars are now assembled on the BWW production line and do not even go to the Alpina factory ).

    There appears to be an informal agreement “not to step on each others toes”. Alpinas tend to have a slightly lower claimed power than equivalent M cars, though a lot of people seem to think that Alpina deliberately underestimate the power of their cars. Alpina will also discontinue lines, such as the current D3 – a 200 BHP of the popular 320d in Europe – when BMW produce an equivalent ( BMW have just announced a twin turbo version of their 2 litre diesel producing about 200 BHP ).

    Alpina have also sold technology to BMW in the past, including, I believe, doing a lot of the development work on the twin turbo engines.

    I imagine that BMW would use Alpina in house in the same way that Mercedes have something like the S55 AMG ( sporty fast ) and theh S600 Bi Turbo ( luxury fast ). The BMW M brands and Alpina brands could compliment each other in the same way

  • avatar
    hythe

    Like BigChiefMuffin, I must raise my paw and admit to being a serial Alpina owner – I currently drive a B5 Touring.

    Jay, a couple of points, if I may – first of all, on the delay in Alpina bringing the B7 to the US market – my understanding is that they wanted to do this some time ago but (a) BMWNA wasn’t wild about the idea, unless Alpina committed to delivering 1500 cars a year in the US market, (b) Alpina couldn’t build that many cars at its own plant and (c) only now that Alpinas are mostly assembled on the BMW line is anything like this kind of volume possible. BMWNA would also be the reason why you guys won’t see the B3, B5 or B6 in the US market, sadly.

    Second, I find that the supercharged engine’s power delivery is highly effective, once you get used to it – the initial lag from standstill is more to do with the gearbox’s refusal to use first gear – there is PLENTY of torque below 3000rpm, lest anyone worries about that. My B5 will happily break traction at below 3000rpm, on a half-throttle, on anything other than mirror smooth dry tarmac.

    The biggest flaws with these cars, I feel, are (i) the gearbox – the ZF “wunderbox”, as fitted to just about everything these days, isn’t too clever in its initial form – apparently the new “TU” variant on the 335i, for example, is a huge improvement.

    As for the various complaints about the looks of the B7 – I would urge you all to compare a picture of the original E65 with the original (pre-facelift) B7 and tell me which looks better!

  • avatar
    German Stare

    Nice try BMW, but if you want to see it done right… The Mercedes Benz/AMG S65 and SL65 are easily twice the car the Alpina is. There is only one #1.

    • 0 avatar
      sthking

      I realize my input is quite tardy at this point but nonetheless…If I didn’t mind bringing my Mercedes in for unexpected repairs and warrantee work every 4-6 weeks like usual I might opt for another AMG but since I prefer to drive my B7 364 days a year (without emergency visits to the dealership) I’m going to disagree with German Stare. Sadly he is uninformed and obviously inexperienced.

  • avatar
    jwiseman

    I drove a B7 around the neighborhood by the local BMW dealer. Having owned several M5′s I was underwhelmed on the two “local” test drives I took. I told the dealer it didn’t have the balls I was looking for. They told me I was nuts and encouraged me to take the car on a long test drive for a couple days. On the freeway, and getting to know thcar I was blown away by the combo of power on demand (outrageous from 60 to 150mph) and I bought it. It is not a little sports car. Once I got my head around that I love the ride, luxury and power. This is a great car


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