Alpina B7 Review

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.

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  • German Stare German Stare on Apr 17, 2007

    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.

    • Sthking Sthking on Mar 03, 2012

      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.

  • Jwiseman 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

  • Dennis Howerton Nice article, Cory. Makes me wish I had bought Festivas when they were being produced. Kia made them until the line was discontinued, but Kia evidently used some of the technology to make the Rio. Pictures of the interior look a lot like my Rio's interior, and the 1.5 liter engine is from Mazda while Ford made the automatic transmission in the used 2002 Rio I've been driving since 2006. I might add the Rio is also an excellent subcompact people mover.
  • Sgeffe Bronco looks with JLR “reliability!”What’s not to like?!
  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.
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