Alpina B7 Review
I 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.
If 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.
The 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.
Theoretically. 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.
The 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.
I 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.
Jwiseman on May 22, 2008
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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