Legendary wine critic Robert Parker was so enthused when he first tasted the 1985 Sassicaia, that he awarded the vintage a maximum 100-points on his internationally acclaimed ratings system, such was the "surreal" quality of this fabled wine.
If you want to acquire this wine today, then expect to pay over $1,500 per bottle. But just before you all dash off to your wallet and remove your credit card, let me first suggest a suitable wine merchant -– ALPINA.
Yes, the very ALPINA that began working with BMW back in 1962, eventually supplying vehicles for automotive gourmets worldwide. ALPINA begin their owner's manual with a quote from Oscar Wilde. It reads, "I have a very simple taste. I am always satisfied with the very best."
And their very best is the new-for-2013 BMW ALPINA B7.
(Full Disclosure: BMW wanted me to drive the new ALPINA B7 so bad they flew me all the way to Monterey, California and fed me a delightful meal. Of course, in true ALPINA fashion, there was plenty of wine present. I remember it to be delicious, but I don't recall what it was called. In fact, I can't recollect much of anything. Must have been good.)
The BMW ALPINA B7 is effectively a 7-Series that's handed over to Andy Bovensiepen — son of ALPINA founder Burkard Bovensiepen — and his crew for a little caressing. Think of the 7-Series as a rich, full-bodied red. ALPINA injects subtle flavors, tastes and scents, ostensibly to turn the already good wine (or 7-Series in our example) into a masterpiece capable of astounding even Robert Parker. What ALPINA does to the 7-Series is gently massage it into the B7.
The aim in this whole process is to deliver a car with sporty qualities — stemming back to ALPINA's racing heritage with BMW –- that remains comfortable, unobtrusive and easy to drive. When watching the ALPINA presentation videos, you are taken to a world of class and opulence. Opera fills the air, as an affluent, middle-aged gentleman proudly takes ownership of his new B7 and drives off — presumably heading to the country club to partake in numerous cigar-smoking and brandy-imbibing activities.
The triumph of a classic wine is, in part, due to enjoying ideal conditions throughout the season. Oscar Wilde said that "success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result."
And with the new ALPINA B7, conditions were decent, but the result is perhaps not worthy of Sassicaia status.
Following on from my use of the word "decent" is a "decent" looking exterior. It is effectively a slightly better looking 7-Series with a sportier front bumper, special rear spoiler, four butch exhaust pipes and 21" ALPINA CLASSIC wheels.
It portrays a sophisticated appearance with a little aggression poured in for good measure. It also looks massive. And it feels massive behind the wheel, too.
Would it be a journalistic faux pas to use the word "decent" again? I mean, I have said "decent" five times in the last 96 words. Decent (6) is what I would call the interior, though. It's comfortable and functional. The ALPINA wheel reminds you that you are in a "special" BMW, and not your average 7-Series. Plastic is almost nonexistent as soft, supple leather wraps every conceivable setting.
It even has a buttock massager. I don't know how I turned it on but midway through my drive, amidst the lush central-coast vineyards, I felt a disconcerting, awkward amount of pressure on my right buttock. That feeling then relocated to my left cheek. It never once went up my lower back, just focused purely on the derriere. Now I am not in tune with gentlemen who smoke cigars and wear mustaches like it's 1980, so I am not sure if this is what the well-to-do chaps of today request.
Regardless, I felt very uncomfortable and couldn't figure out how to turn it off, either.
There is no doubt the B7 is fast. It hauls its close to 5,000 pounds in curb weight (varies depending on wheelbase and xDrive options) from zero to 60 mph in between 4.3 and 4.5 seconds, depending on spec. The 540-horsepower, twin-turbo V8 musters 538 lb-ft of torque and has a top speed of 194 mph. That's crazy fast right?
It is and it isn't. From a numbers perspective, when you take in the weight of the car, it's mind-blowing. But from behind the wheel it doesn't feel as quick as you might think. For a comfortable cruiser, however, it is about as speedy as they come.
I just wish you felt that speed a little more prominently.
Guess what? Braking was decent (7). Not much was made about the brakes during our day in NorCal. In fact, even when examining the press documents, almost no information can be found whatsoever.
So here is the long and the short of it. They are good. Made better when you add in the high curb weight of the B7.
You've gotta give the B7 a high score when it comes to ride. It drives like a true executive machine and is exceptionally comfortable. Five settings are available for the suspension and each one makes a noticeable difference. I found myself in the second setting (comfort) for cruising and number five (sport+) when wanting a little more vroom.
The only negative is that I sought something a little stiffer when cornering at speed. But it's a tough ask when you desire Lazy Boy-like comfort that can still carve an exquisite curve.
The car doesn't handle badly by any means, but it also isn't a track-munching machine – nor is it necessarily designed to be. It feels better as a rolling office than as a moving sports bar, and those expecting ALPINA's racing heritage to shine through may be a little disappointed. It appears the emphasis has been on perfecting its plush, suave cruising ability, rather than its smothered fiery temperament.
That doesn't mean to say that the B7 has not been taken care of in the chassis department. This latest edition has updated suspension for a lower ride height and adjusted air springs on the rear.
I guess it is a matter of being excellent at one thing, or mediocre at both. The B7 is just a decent (8) handler, but a beautiful cruiser.
The B7 comes adorned with the ALPINA 8-speed transmission. Drive mode is pretty slow and unresponsive, which is perfectly acceptable when in cruise mode. But when you turn all the systems to sport+ you expect the transmission to behave a bit sportier. And yet it remains too conservative.
In manual mode you use a pair of buttons behind the steering wheel. What is wrong with paddles, I don't know. The buttons annoyed me but shifting was solid. It wasn't particularly fast but at the same time it got by.
One can only listen to opera in the most pristine auditory manner. So option out your B7 with the Bang & Olufson sound system. ‘Nuff said.
While that system is surely worthy of at least an 8/10, I have removed a point due to an excessive amount of wind noise at 60 mph and over. Initially I thought my door was open. Then the sunroof. After I checked every possible culprit, it was clear that nothing was out of whack. The day's events had about a bazillion different BMW's to drive and my time in the B7 came at the end, meaning I had no chance to try another vehicle to see if the same problem existed.
Was this simply a problem with this particular car? I'm not sure. I guess further testing will reveal the truth, but for my drive, it was extremely noticeable.
The B7 comes equipped with everything a wealthy gentleman could need – including the buttock masseuse (which John Travolta would love). BMW's easy to use and visually attractive iDrive 4.2 is at your disposal, along with every type of warning device needed to assist in preventing a crash. BMW's bird's eye rear view camera is particularly pleasing, as is the basic Bluetooth, USB yada yada yada, that we have now become accustomed to seeing in almost every car.
There is no easy way of saying this, so I'll just come straight out with it. Pricing will be $127,600 (B7 Standard Wheelbase), $130,600 (B7 SWB with xDrive), $131,500 (B7 Long Wheelbase), and $134,500 (B7 LWB with xDrive).
I'm sorry, but $130,000! Just how many bottles of wine have you had, good sir?
It's a good car; I'm certainly not denying that. It's fast, comfortable and handles well for a vehicle that weighs more than Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it's one thing paying a vast premium on an extraordinary bottle of wine when it is, by all accounts, truly exceptional. But an '85 Sassacaia this is not. It is, but of course, merely decent (9).