The 2020 Alpina XB7 Will Shred A Track But Looks Hopelessly Ridiculous Trying It

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2020 Alpina XB7
Photo: BMW
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The super-tuned 612 horsepower version of the 2020 BMW X7 SUV, the 2020 Alpina XB7, blew me away at over 150 mph at Monticello Motor Club last week. But I still can’t get over how silly it looks watching a 5,860 lb SUV grip through a corner while looking like it’s on the verge of landing on its roof.

As BMW has shifted its design and powertrains through some controversial choices the last couple of decades, one element has remained steadfast: Alpina is going to take those BMWs and throw power and performance at them until even the BMW engineers get jealous. The Alpina XB7 is the first Alpina SUV on sale in America. Can a seven-seater SUV live up to such a niche legacy, or is it Alpina’s first risk of controversy among its fans?

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik

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2 / 9

Tuned To Tip A Bit

Tuned To Tip A Bit

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2020 Alpina XB7
Photo: BMW

While Alpina has modified BMW SUVs in the past and sold the X3 model as the modified quad-turbo diesel XD3 in Europe for a while, the XB7 behemoth is the brand’s first proper SUV in the U.S. The most powerful regular X7 M50i from BMW comes with a 4.4-liter TwinPower turbo V8 capable of only 523 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque, with a 0 to 60 mph time of 4.5 seconds. Alpina tunes that same engine to 612 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque and hits 0 to 60 mph in a claimed 4.0 seconds flat. That margin may seem small on paper, but the changes go further and the results are both heroic and hilarious.

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3 / 9

How Is This Possible?

How Is This Possible?

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2020 Alpina XB7
Photo: BMW

Like the 4.4-liter V8 engine, the XB7 also shares the paired ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox with the regular BMW X7, but it’s undergone its own tuning work by the engineers at Alpina. The truck also gets the Alpina B7 sedan’s adjustable stainless-steel sport exhaust system designed to reduce back-pressure, and there’s an electronically-variable active limited slip differential on the rear axle.

But the function that impressed me the most, on track at least, was the air suspension system. To make up for the XB7 being so big and fast, it comes standard with air suspension that automatically begins to lower itself over 100 mph, down to a maximum drop of 1.6 inches lower over 155 mph. Meanwhile, my butt floated over the hard curbing (on my second time out later in the day, when it wasn’t so wet), and the body roll is gradual. I didn’t realize how far the SUV leans in corners until I drove behind one the second time around.

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4 / 9

Is It Any Good?

Is It Any Good?

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2020 Alpina XB7
Photo: BMW

Damn is it a hoot, and pretty good at nailing the line you want to hit. It was the first car I drove on track in the morning during a light drizzle. There were a few sitting puddles on the track and a general wetness, so early-on we were instructed to avoid the outside curbs and follow the leader’s line as accurately as possible. The vehicle’s settings were set by BMW to “sporty with all the nannies on,” because these cars are expensive and no member of the media at this event was an expensive-enough driver to be trusted without them.

I have to say, BMW and Alpina are a hair away from having developed a concert of driving aids that make it feel like you are just a decent driver at speed, when in reality, 90-percent of the time and totally outside of your awareness, the car is making up for the idiocy of throwing a 5,800-pound object on wheels around a wet surface as fast as possible. The clearest enemy to the XB7 is still momentum because of that weight, but the torque-vectoring system is technology cresting on magic. I can remember a couple of distinct moments entering a corner where I felt power shift to my front left wheel — some credit to the steering feedback, which was generally neutral but communicative enough — and I could feel the conflicting forces meeting on that corner of the vehicle to pull me into the line I was aiming for. And then I punched it up to around 150 mph on the straight with a giggle.

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5 / 9

What’s Bad?

What’s Bad?

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2020 Alpina XB7
Photo: BMW

There is a moment while one is piloting such a large object to such high speeds where one begins to think about stopping, and that’s the moment where your thoughts as the driver shift from maintaining control to maintaining faith. But that is a moment of weakness we must all privately overcome while hurtling through the air. What does not help inspire confidence in stopping on the track is an interior covered in distracting shapes, screens and convoluted textures — a complaint I generally have about all of BMW’s current interior design language.

When it comes the XB7's real job of offering a padded, soft and rich experience to up to seven individuals, BMW’s approach is more is more. Alpina traditionally has toned down its interiors, and it has again here, but the tacky traces of BMW linger. I hate the crystal shifter, the shapes of the instrument panels on the dashboard lack any hint of elegance, and it looks like none of the main features were ever meant to be partnered with one another. That being said, those are BMW’s problems. Alpina’s choices of leather and wood trim are exquisite, just a shame about the rest of it.

I feel it’s important to note that the seats are excellent for track use, considering their intended purpose of heating, cooling and adjusting to be comfortable. The next day, I had my typical right-knee pain from where it naturally braces against the center column in corners, but otherwise I don’t remember moving at all in my seat on our go-arounds. It was easy to quickly get adjusted into a position and then completely forget about the seat, which is always ideal.

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6 / 9

Does It Work As An Alpina?

Does It Work As An Alpina?

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2020 Alpina XB7
Photo: BMW

My final knock is still about the design. One of the appeals of Alpina sedans and coupes of the past is their massive wheel options. The XB7 is available with these 23-inch anthracite grey wheels that look great on their own, and on the vehicle. But somehow they are still dwarfed by the shape of the SUV, and I think it costs the car a bit of that shoe-heavy appeal. This is one of the only Alpinas I ever felt was desperate for more wheel and tire, at least visually.

The only other negative experiences were a thermal management warning for the transmission during my second round of laps in another XB7, and that I think it kicked me out of the sport shifting mode while I was out driving. Of course, this was a car that’d been doing non-stop laps of a raceway for multiple days over multiple weeks, so it’s not likely that an owner would be able to replicate the warning I saw, which was only a warning.

Otherwise you are still buying and receiving the Alpina driving experience, it’s just a little weighed down. You can shed all the weight and go for the B7 and you’ll look a lot less silly, both on track and in daily life (unless you actually need the 6th and 7th seat).

But then there’s price...

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7 / 9

How Much Is It Going To Cost Me?

How Much Is It Going To Cost Me?

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2020 Alpina XB7
Photo: BMW

The Alpina XB7 I drove started at $141,300, but included $1,950 paint work, $1,500 leather work, $2,600 23-inch wheels, $800 five-zone climate control, $2,200 rear entertainment package and a $3,400 sound system (that is very good in the BMW X6 M, at least, though I wasn’t jamming in the Alpina on track this time). Oh, and there’s a $995 destination charge on top. That adds up to $156,345. It’s even more if you want to pay to drive at Monticello a lot.

While the XB7 does have strong potential as a car that can do it all, I’m not sure it felt emotionally or cosmically appropriate for track time. It’s much better as your own private family wealth palace, where you all know how much money you spent for your nice things and you’re too busy on your stocks app to care if anyone else is paying attention.

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2020 Alpina XB7
Photo: BMW
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8 / 9

Where Can I Read More?

Where Can I Read More?

2020 Alpina XB7
2020 Alpina XB7
Photo: BMW

More X7 if you want it:

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9 / 9

Reviews Editor, Jalopnik

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