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