The BMW Alpina B7 is exactly as you'd expect -- it's very fast, very luxurious, and very expensive. The Alpina-fettled V-8 is more than enough to hustle the 5050-pound car down on-ramps at something approaching "ludicrous speed," and the interior is lavishly appointed with slate gray Alcantara and oyster leather. The steering wheel gets not one but two colors of contrast stitching, and the exterior aerodynamic kit adds flair to an already gorgeous car.
But the Alpina smacks of compromise. You'll want to leave the chassis and suspension as soft as possible to offset the gigantic Alpina wheels and stiff Michelin Pilot Sport tires bouncing off of road imperfections, but putting the drive selector in Comfort+ mode achieves the same effect as giving a tiger NyQuil. In Comfort mode, the engine's grunt is stymied by intolerably slow throttle responses; the mode also eliminates throttle blipping on downshifts, which makes pulling the B7 to a stop (which requires a hard downshift into second gear) a bit harsh.
Better, then, to put the drive selector in Sport, then use the iDrive menu to make the suspension soft again. Then click the shifter into S for sport (the transmission is controlled independently of the engine and chassis) and leave it there. Voila: a quick, but not harsh, luxury sedan that actually responds to throttle inputs and makes stopping for stop signs or red lights a smooth affair. But there are more caveats: putting the shifter in S deactivates the BMW's automatic stop/start feature, and to make the pudgy sedan handle well, you'll need to reach for the BMW's Sport+ mode, although such a feature is hugely out of place in a $149k, extended wheelbase limousine.
All of this is intensely complicated, and it points to one thing: the BMW 7-series (or any huge luxury sedan, for that matter) is not a good starting point for an ultra-high-performance executive express. Buy the Alpina because it's beautiful, because it's stupendously quick in a straight line, or because it's very rare. But don't delude yourself into thinking that you're getting a sports car with reclining rear seats.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
The BMW Alpina B7 looks amazingly cool, and there's an aura of exclusivity about it that makes it stand out from the crowd of high-powered, big luxury sedans from Europe. Even with 21-inch wheels, I found the ride quality to be amazing; the Alpina just seems to pound poor pavement into submission. The twin-turbo V-8 is not the most tractable powertrain for stop-and-go, around-town driving, but this car absolutely owns the freeway; wide, empty, off-camber sweepers that link one highway to another will make you want to turn around, repeat, and repeat again. With just the mildest movement of my foot on the accelerator pedal, I was effortlessly gliding through the traffic mix this morning on my way to work, dispensing with semis, crossovers with distracted moms behind the wheel, and all the other lesser vehicles on the road with ease. Problem is, every time I looked at the heads-up display in the windshield, my indicated speed was always about 20 mph higher than the speed limit, which is shown in a replicated black-over-white speed limit sign. Ooops.
As fast and as smooth as the B7 is, though, it's also burdened by its weight, and the car feels stiff and rigid rather than light and lithe. On a stretch of open road or, better yet, autobahn, it's exactly the right feeling. On a winding two-lane road, not so much.
About those reclining rear seats: I was just chauffeured to lunch in the back seat of the B7, and they are splendid thrones. However, you really sit up high in them, almost too high. It does afford you a commanding view of the road ahead, but I would prefer to sink down into the rear compartment rather than ride so high.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The Alpina B7 is just the ticket for someone who wants to drive a vehicle with all the luxury accoutrements of a BMW 7-series yet would like a car with even more power and panache. With 540 hp and 538 lb-ft of torque, the B7 rockets down on-ramps and up to extralegal speeds in seconds. Around town all that extra power can sometimes get in the way, however, as it's hard to ease smoothly from a stop.
I drove this vehicle to lunch with a couple of coworkers, and for once the discussion was who would get to sit in the back seat; I offered to serve as chauffeur so they could both sit back there. When I tested the rear accommodations later, I found more than ample legroom in this long-wheelbase model. On top of that, the seats are heated and can recline. You really feel like you're in the lap of luxury.
Still, the best seat in the B7 is behind the hand-stitched leather steering wheel, where you command the road from a comfortable leather seat (heated and ventilated, of course) while listening to an optional Bang & Olufsen stereo that makes it feel as though you're in a concert hall that can reach a top speed of 194 mph. Not bad.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
European bureau chief Georg Kacher reports that BMW may soon begin offering an M-badged version of the 7-series. For those who don't want to wait for an M7, though, the Alpina B7 remains a fine substitute. A body kit and gigantic wheels don't sound like what a six-figure 7-series needs, but somehow, the styling tweaks work -- I've never caught so many stares in a BMW sedan before. As Joe DeMatio notes, the ride quality is also excellent, if also quintessentially German. Rather than completely isolate the driver with a waterbed suspension, the B7 lets you feel the road but filters out any harshness. The steering oozes the same character -- some will find it a bit heavy. The understated interior is standard fare for a 7-series. Unlike some ultra-luxury sedans, it doesn't whack you over the head with its over-the-top gadgets and materials, even though it has plenty of both.
Alpina gooses an extra 95 hp out of the 4.4-liter V-8 that appears in the standard 750Li. Unfortunately, it has not entirely eliminated the turbo lag that makes the big four door feel just a bit sluggish around town. Stay on the throttle, though, and the forward thrust is duly awesome. This is a car that feels like it would be happy traveling 150 mph all day.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor