I flung the BMW Alpina B7 xDrive out of the pits and into turn 3 at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, catapulting it forward with a seamless surge of acceleration. After lifting my foot from the throttle so that the car could apex the turn, I relaunched it into a tire-scrubbing tear. I’ve accumulated countless laps at Laguna Seca over the years, so I’m familiar with these turns, but this experience was different from previous ones because I was driving a nearly 2.5-ton luxury sedan. Such a vehicle should feel out of place on a racetrack, but this latest generation of the Alpina B7 proved perfectly suited to the setting.
Alpina, a company in Buchloe, Germany, modifies BMWs by adding power and luxury features. The cars are assembled mostly at the BMW plant in Dingolfing, Germany, and they are sold and serviced at the marque’s dealerships.
The new B7, the third generation of the model, is comparable in price, capabilities, and comfort to the track-tuned variants of other luxury brands’ flagship sedans—the Audi S8 Plus ($115,900), the Maserati Quattroporte GTS ($145,500), the Jaguar XJR ($118,000), and the Mercedes-Benz AMG S63 ($144,700). And it’s more exclusive than those models: BMW will sell only about 400 examples of the B7 in North America. At $137,000, the B7’s starting price is $55,500 more than that of the 750i xDrive on which it is based.
Alpina CEO Andreas Bovensiepen insists the B7 is not a track car. However, the sedan’s performance numbers suggest otherwise. Its BMW 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 is tuned to produce 608 hp, which is 35 percent more than the engine generates for the 7 Series. It also produces 23 percent more torque (590 ft lbs), which, combined with the horsepower boost, enables a 20 percent faster zero-to-60-mph run of 3.6 seconds. Top speed is a heady 193 mph.
Alpina’s connection with BMW began in 1963, when Burkard Bovensiepen developed an enhanced carburetor for the brand’s 1500 sedan. Two years later, Burkard founded the Alpina tuning business. From the late 1960s to the late 1980s, it built racing versions of BMW models that were driven by such motorsports legends as Derek Bell, James Hunt, Jacky Ickx, and Niki Lauda.
In 1973, Alpina introduced its first BMW-based road model, a version of the 3 Series. Alpina’s first 7 Series–based model, the B11, launched in 1987. The first-generation B7, a modified 745i, arrived in 2003.
In addition to enhancing the BMW engine by adding larger manifolds and bigger turbochargers, Alpina took advantage of the 7 Series’s new suspension setup. The two-axis air suspension and active damping system enable a ride-height drop of nearly an inch when the car is in Sport+ mode. This adjustment lowers the car’s center of gravity and increases camber, and it engages automatically when the B7 travels faster than 143 mph—Alpina cars are built for Germany’s autobahn. You can also raise the suspension (at speeds as fast as 22 mph) when encountering a steep driveway.
Alpina has tuned the rear-axle steering system to enhance the car’s low-speed agility and high-speed stability. And it has adjusted the electronic dampers and stabilizer bars to create a greater distinction between the comfort and sport settings, making the suspension even softer or stiffer when appropriate.
The B7 comes with Alpina’s signature 20-spoke forged-aluminum wheels, which are 5.5 pounds (20-inch model) or 8.8 pounds (21-inch model) lighter than similar wheel designs made of cast aluminum. The exterior color options include the blue and green metallic shades that are reserved for Alpina cars. The steering wheel, which bears the red-and-blue Alpina logo, is wrapped in supple Lavalina leather and stitched in blue and green, matching the colors of the lighting in the dashboard’s LED instrument panel.
On the back side of the steering wheel are buttons instead of paddle shifters. Alpina developed this design in 1981 and has used it ever since. It allows drivers with big hands to have a better grip on the wheel where the paddle shifters would usually be. Regardless of the size of your hands, you can press the buttons to override automatic upshifts and rev the engine near or at the rev limiter. Alpina has improved the 7 Series’s 8-speed transmission with reinforced hardware and reprogrammed software for quicker, smoother shifts and has equipped the B7 with a lighter stainless-steel exhaust system.
While the B7 exhibited impressive power and handling on the Laguna Seca track, a jaunt along Monterey’s backroads revealed other traits that drivers will appreciate. The suspension’s standard mode smoothed out the bumps in the sunbaked asphalt, and when I engaged the system’s Sport+ setting, the car gained more in handling than it lost in comfort.
Blasting across the agricultural plains inland of the mountains that line the coast, the B7 demonstrated a capacity for acceleration that seemed endless and imperturbable. I passed through the flatlands near Highway 101 and then tackled the winding section of Carmel Valley Road that leads to the Monterey Peninsula. My hands got busier at the wheel as the turns tightened. Despite the B7’s considerable size and weight, it made it through the corners crisply, entering and negotiating them with tenacious grip.
Aggressive steering inputs produced quick changes of direction, revealing a surprisingly high level of responsiveness. A quick stab of the B7’s enhanced brakes showed how easily and effectively they can reduce the car’s speed. Just as it did on the track, the big sedan defied its mass and performed with the nonchalance of a smaller and sportier car. BMW (bmwusa.com)