I have to admit it. Before I was invited to drive the BMW Alpina B7 in Northern California last week, I hadn’t heard of it either. It’s rare to see an Alpina on the road. By that corollary, it’s even rarer to drive one.
The high-performance, 600-horsepower variant of BMW’s 7-Series flagship sedan is the handiwork of a German typewriter-turned-BMW-tuning business. Bavaria-based family-owned Alpina has been souping up BMWs since 1965, enjoying a close enough relationship with the automaker to integrate its processes into BMW’s production lines. That means, first and foremost, adjusting suspension for a sportier ride and slapping on a set of 20-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires.
Now the Alpina B7, sold in the U.S. since 2006, is getting its first makeover in five years. The 750i twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 gets 60 more horsepower over the second-generation model. It vaults from 0 to 60 in 3.6 seconds, shaving seven-tenths of a second from the outgoing model, and maxes out at 193 mph.
The Alpina B7 is sometimes described as “the M7 BMW won’t build.” But the brand is not for the traditional BMW buyer. Rather, those considering the B7 will also be looking at Ferraris, Bentleys, and Maseratis – or are likely to have several in the garage, according to Alpina scion and Chief Executive Andreas Bovensiepen. The difference is that the Alpina B7 is the $137,000 daily driver that won’t make you feel conspicuous parking at the office. The Alpina B6, based on BMW’s 6-Series luxury grand tourer, is the only other Alpina nameplate sold in the U.S.
I didn’t have to take the car for a spin (which I did, along the twisting back roads of Salinas, Calif. and twice around the track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca) to see that it was special. Sitting in it was enough. Nearly as smooth as a Rolls-Royce Phantom and as lavishly styled as a Bentley Mulsanne, it was the most luxurious car I’ve ever driven that doesn’t require a chauffeur.
As I cruised the winding roads and then pushed the car to its limits (all right, my limits) on the speedway, the word “butter” kept coming to mind. The other persistent thought was that this car was much too civilized for the track.
It’s clear why BMW’s M badge, which represents its motorsport division and is known for its dual-clutch automated manual transmission and high-rev engine,wouldn’t cut it for the executive sedan. After all, if you were strictly interested in a 7-Series for performance, you’d probably opt for the V12 long-wheelbase 760Li trim.
Instead, Alpina bends toward luxury, a philosophy evident just by looking at the leather steering wheel accented with parallel stitching instead of the cheaper cross stitch. “There’s a lot of small details,” Bovensiepen said.
The all-new BMW Alpina B7 reaches BMW dealerships in September. Alpina expects to sell about 400 units in the U.S. in its first year with about 180 of those sales coming from California.