The BMW 7-Series is a fine automobile. So good, in fact, that the Alpina modifications seem to subtract more than they add. The Alpina B7 is identifiable by its soft and grippy leather steering wheel, the signature twenty-one-spoke Alpina wheels, exterior cosmetic enhancements, and a smattering of interior trim bits. But the B7 goes far beyond aesthetics. The chassis benefits from shorter and stiffer springs, larger brakes, wider rear tires, and revised tuning of the active dampers. Under the hood, BMW’s 4.4-liter, twin-turbo V-8 is built with a new block, heads, turbochargers, and intercoolers, bumping output from 400 hp and 450 lb-ft to 500 hp and 516 lb-ft.
With the active dampers set to the comfort or normal mode, the B7 wafts along in pristine isolation, muting road imperfections and blocking out undesirable noise just as competently as the standard 7-series. Tap the rocker switch for sport or sport-plus mode, and the B7 takes on an edgier direct character. When you expect performance, though, the Alpina’s addition of 100 hp seems like a dubious improvement. The new turbochargers, with larger compressor wheels, have noticeably more lag than the standard BMW units. And since the standard 400 hp is hardly slow, the trade-off between power and responsiveness moves in the wrong direction here, in my opinion.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I’ll confess my first impression of the Alpina was somewhat negative: the trademark Alpina blueish-periwinkle paint job and the (incorrect) aftermarket wheels turned me off slightly. It looked a little too cheesily aftermarket-tuned.
I had the Alpina over the weekend, and after a while I got over the paint color, but never stopped wishing this car was flashing the 21-spoke custom wheels its supposed to have instead of these cheaper-looking five-spoke wheels. However, time spent in the tastefully improved cabin certainly helped win me over, and punching the accelerator coming out of an entrance ramp and onto the highway finished the job.
But it wasn’t until I read up on this car after I drove it that I fully appreciated it. It was arguably one of the fastest, most powerful cars I’ve driven, yet was so totally composed and suitable for everyday life on non-Autobahn roads. All of the improvements and upgrades by Alpina — and there are far more than meet the eye — are so perfectly integrated into the 7-series they feel like they’ve been there from the drawing board.
As Phil mentions, this car is aimed at a specific class of driver for whom an AMG is too common. On top of that, they might even be the types who would throw their car around on a track once or twice. And knowing that they’re unlikely to ever cross paths with another B7 only adds to the appeal.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
The B7 Alpina is clearly for a tiny slice of the executive-sedan market that wants exclusivity and an extra measure of performance. The price is largely immaterial, I suspect, for this audience, who just don’t want to drive the same 7-series as their neighbor on the other side of the cul-de-sac. It’s a beautifully engineered car that oozes Germanic authority; the entire time I was driving it, I was fantasizing about how fabulous it would be to have one for the run from, say, Berlin to Frankfurt on the autobahn. I imagine myself barreling along in the left lane, three passengers luxuriating in the huge, comfortable cabin, barely cognizant that I’m running at 150+ mph. Lesser cars quickly scoot out of my way as that broad BMW snout and modified lower front apron loom in their rearview mirrors. If they dare to dawdle, the Alpina’s beefy brakes authoritatively scrub off speed, and once the lane opens up again, a simple press of my right foot brings the full force of the 500-hp, twin-turbo V-8 into play. Ah, Germany!
The truth is, I drove the B7 Alpina to a wedding in the woods, to a dinner party, and to the grocery store; I hardly hit an American interstate, let alone the autobahn. Yet when I took it out onto my favorite stretch of twisty road and pushed it toward triple digits, I was astounded by its ride comfort and composure but disappointed by its steering, which seemed slow to react to quick changes of direction. I suspect, though, that it’s tuned perfectly for that Berlin-to-Frankfurt run that figures so largely in my fantasies.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
We happened to have the B7 in the office at the same time as a Jaguar XJL. Though the cars are not direct competitors, the differences between them are enlightening. The Jag costs some $50,000 less and puts out 115 fewer horsepower, and yet feels much more responsive, especially at low speeds. That tells me weight matters–the BMW carries about 500 extra pounds. Power delivery matters, too. As Eric notes, the B7 suffers considerable turbo lag, which is further exacerbated by the fact that the Bimmer launches in second gear unless you leave the shifter in sport mode. I have to wonder how many buyers of a six-figure, hot-rodded BMW sedan are really interested in trading drivability to save a few drops of fuel with a second-gear start. In any event, many of the 4.4-liter V-8’s 500 horses don’t leave the stable during urban driving. I wouldn’t blame this entirely on the Alpina folks, either, as nonlinear throttle response was one of our few complaints about our Four Seasons 750Li.
Those issues aside, the 7-series remains a great car, and Alpina applied its changes with a careful — almost too careful — touch. Dressed in a deep metallic blue paint, with multi-spoke nineteen-inch wheels and a large lip spoiler, the B7 definitely looks more aggressive than your average 7-series but still projects a sort of understated elegance. Same goes for the interior, where a small certificate sewn into the suede headliner, a badge on the steering wheel, and other small touches let you know you’re in a special-edition vehicle. The best element of the upgrade is the responsiveness of the suspension. The steering, already lively in the regular 7-series, is extremely direct and accurate here, especially at higher speeds. I left the suspension in Sport+ mode for most of my drive, and wasn’t ever disturbed by the ride. It’s firm, sure, but still doesn’t rattle your teeth.
Are all these subtle improvements worth the six-figure window sticker? With the disclaimer that value is rather subjective at these prices, I’d argue no. Even forgetting for a moment that I had more fun in that $85,000 Jaguar, a brief glance at the 7-series range reveals that the $137,725 as tested price for our B7 trips over the 12-cylinder 760Li. That said, its unique styling and beefy suspension tuning do offer a nice variation on the usual BMW experience.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Americans aren’t used to the Alpina brand because this is only the third Alpina that has been imported to the U.S. The first was based on BMW’s Z8 Roadster and the second was based on the 2007-2008 BMW 7-Series. Neither of these cars was cheap and I’ve never seen one that wasn’t a press car. To BMW enthusiasts the Alpina brand will always be special and exotic.
Alpina is subdued as far as these second-stage manufacturers go. Tuning cars like the 7-series mandates a stealth approach because the majority of the people who consider purchasing a 7-series don’t want a terribly flashy car and they certainly don’t want to trade away luxury to get more performance. The most distinctive traits of an Alpina’s exterior are the signature blue paint and 21-spoke wheels. Nobody outside of the BMW cognoscenti will notice the subtle changes from a regular 7-series, but that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Driving the B7 is different from driving an AMG Mercedes or an RS Audi model. The powertrain modifications are as distinct as the exterior changes, but, again, it takes a real BMW-phile to notice how power delivery and the car’s other manners have changed slightly from the stock 750i. There is more power on tap from the reworked engine and the ride is a touch stiffer, but this car is just as adept in daily driving as a more plebian 7-series. The turbo lag and electronic throttle don’t feel much worse in stop-and-go traffic than what I recall from our departed 2009 BMW 750Li.
Perhaps you’re wondering why anyone looking for a faster 7-series would skip the 760Li and opt for an Alpina that doesn’t come with the bragging rights associated with a V-12 engine under the hood. One reason is the B7’s all-wheel-drive system, which isn’t available on the 760Li. The B7 also costs a few thousand dollars less than a 760Li and will undoubtedly hold its value better than the other 7-series models since it is destined to be a rare commodity.
Even in Alpina trim, I can’t warm up to this generation of 7-series. Subtle bespoke changes still don’t give this vehicle the character I want from a BMW. I do understand why this car appeals to the executive set and I completely respect anyone who chooses to buy an Alpina. That’s the great thing about these supersedans, there’s one for everyone with the cash and not a bad choice in the segment.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
If I didn’t know that this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill (if there is such a thing) BMW 7-series, I’d have realized it as soon as I opened the door of the Alpina B7 and saw the hard-to-miss back-lit blue Alpina B7 badging on the lower doorsill. Once inside, the cockpit of the Alpina looks much like other 7-series sedans, save for the steering wheel, which is adorned with a special badge in the center and is stitched with somewhat incongruous bright green thread.
Available in either long- or short-wheelbase forms and with rear- or all-wheel drive, the B7 is a car that, when performing normal, everyday driving tasks, behaves much like a regular 7-series. That’s one of the things that makes it desirable. It’s all the performance you could want with few if any sacrifices. The B7 is at its happiest when its being driven hard, but it’ll never complain when all you want to do is fill up its trunk with groceries.
This is a very expensive car, and it’s hard to believe that with a base price north of $125,000 you can still tack on more than $10,000 in extras. I mean, $150 for “smartphone integration”? Is it really too much to ask BMW to add some of those extras to the standard features list? Then again, I suppose that $150 is just chump change to the sorts of folks who will buy this car anyway. It may be out of reach for a vast portion of the world’s population, but for the lucky few who can afford a B7, the exclusivity alone is probably worth it.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Many European tuners appear to think the secret to creating the perfect high-performance luxury sedan is to pack it full of power, wrap it in garish bodywork (bonus points for surfaces crafted with carbon fiber), and embellish it with an equally unattractive interior. Alpina’s B7, thankfully, is a far different creature.
In typical Alpina fashion, the tweaks made to transform a 750Li into a B7 are subtle, to say the least. A new front air dam and side skirts give the large sedan a lower profile, and also reportedly help reduce lift at high speeds by 15-30 percent. 21-spoke wheels are also part of the visual package.
Overall, the B7’s cabin doesn’t look all that different from a standard 7-series, but you notice little touches like the illuminated door sills, the blue-tinted gauges, the nameplate on the headliner, accents on the front door panel trim, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel with blue and green accent stitching. All combine to convey the impression that this is something special.
That notion is confirmed behind the wheel. As my colleagues note, the B7 behaves like any other 750i model around town. Drop the hammer, however, and the beast comes alive. BMW suggests the B7 can sprint from 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds, meaning you can find yourself reaching illegal speeds in no time. The twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 is tweaked to churn out a solid 500 horsepower and 516 lb-ft of torque, nearly 100 hp and 66 lb-ft more than the stock engine. That certainly sounds hot — which is why B7 models receive a number of tricks (including an extra radiator, larger intercoolers, and an external transmission oil cooler) to help keep things cool.
Alpina says its spring rates are roughly 20 percent stiffer than the standard car’s, but you’ll be hard pressed to feel the difference unless you dial up sport mode. Here, the active dampers help the car dance through corners as if it were half its size.
The B7 already faces a lot of equally expensive and powerful competition, so why buy an Alpina in lieu of an AMG or a custom-built model? Exclusivity is certainly one factor (only 1000 B7s will be built, and half are destined for the U.S.), but flexibility may be another. Alpina will build off either a short- or long-wheelbase 750i, and in either rear- or all-wheel-drive forms. Good luck trying to order 4Matic on a Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG…
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
2011 BMW Alpina B7 xDrive
Base price (with destination and guzzler tax): $127,175
Price as tested: $137,725
4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V-8 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
Dynamic stability control
Dynamic traction control
Alpina sport suspension with dynamic damping control
xDrive all-wheel drive system
Alpina aerodynamic body kit
Xenon adaptive headlights
Heated multi-function seats with ventilation
Comfort access keyless entry
Navigation system with voice command
HD radio and Sirius satellite radio
Options on this vehicle:
Night vision with pedestrian detection — $2600
Active cruise control — $2400
Rear entertainment package — $2200
Driver assistance package — $1350
Automatic high beams
Lane departure warning
Active blind spot detection
Camera package — $1200
Side and top view cameras
Ceramic controls — $650
Smartphone integration — $150
Key options not on vehicle:
14 / 20 / 16 mpg
Size: 4.4L twin-turbocharged V-8
Horsepower: 500 hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 3000-4750 rpm
Wheels/tires: 19-inch alloy wheels
245/45R19 Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires
Competitors: Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG, Jaguar XJ Supersport