2011 BMW Alpina B7 xDrive

Matt Tierney

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

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