Last month, I drove the 2020 Alpina B7–a 600-horsepower evolution of the BMW 7 Series made by one of the company’s most prominent tuners–near its headquarters just outside of Munich. We stretched its legs on the Autobahn and frankly, I’ve never felt like more of a baller.
(Full Disclosure: BMW flew me business class to Munich, and put me up in a fine hotel just to show me cool car things. Among those things was a tour of the headquarters of BMW’s right-hand tuning company, Alpina.)
In late June, BMW wanted to show journalists that it was up to new and exciting things, so it held a car show called “NEXTGen” in Munich. While we were there, BMW took us to Alpina, the former typewriter manufacturer that has had a special relationship with BMW ever since the car company agreed to warranty Alpina’s specially-tuned airbox for the BMW 1500 back in the 1960s.
Alpina got its start in the U.S. back in 2002 with the automatic BMW Z8-based Alpina Roadster V8, and today it sells only the B7, a ridiculously swank-ified version of BMW’s already luxurious 7 Series sedan.
What Is It?
To understand the Alpina B7 requires an understanding of what Alpina is as a company. It’s separate from BMW but the two work together quite closely, with one of Alpina’s main aims being to find and fill niches in BMW’s portfolio.
That, of course, means avoiding stepping on BMW’s sporty M brand. To that effect, Alpina basically defines itself as a lot more lux and a little less sporty than M cars.
When describing itself as a company, Alpina says its aim is to build understated cars that offer a “blend of ride comfort and superior driving dynamics.” That means lots of power and torque, smooth power delivery, automatic transmissions with manual modes, refined but agile suspensions, high top speeds, and elegant exteriors with functional aerodynamics.
Apply those principles to the new BMW 7 Series, and the result—in theory—would be the fourth and latest version of the BMW Alpina B7 available in the United States.
Specs That Matter
The BMW Alpina B7 makes a claimed 600 HP, which is the same amount of power that comes in the BMW M760i xDrive’s 6.6-liter V12. But Alpina didn’t just build a car based on that model, it instead modified the latest version of the N63 4.4-liter V8 offered in 750i xDrive with unique turbos, a heavily updated cooling system including new intercoolers, and a redesigned intake and exhaust. These bumped the standard V8’s output from 523 HP, 553 lb-ft to 600 HP, 590 lb-ft, which goes to all four wheels through an Alpina-tuned ZF eight-speed automatic.
That’s the same power output as the pre-2020 model—the Alpina B7 based on the pre-refreshed 7 Series—though, thanks to hardware and software changes, the new engine promises better low-end torque and revised throttle response, with peak twist coming on at 2,000 RPM now versus 3,000 before.
Oh, the car also has a higher top speed—it’s now at 205 mph, a number that I tried to reach on Germany’s Autobahn (more on that in a moment). Plus, zero to 60 mph is also allegedly slightly improved from the outgoing car, with the 4,855-pound machine sprinting to that velocity in only 3.5 seconds.
The suspension has adaptive damping and air springs, as well as a number of modes like Sport and Comfort+, and the front brakes are giant four-piston calipers on 15.55-inch discs. Aesthetically, there’s a new front bumper, a new exhaust out back, and a bunch of nice interior touches to help the Alpina stand out over the regular 7 Series.
Alpina sent journalists out to hoon on the streets of rural Bavaria with the company’s intern, a young engineering student who somehow landed what must be the greatest summer job ever.
Basically, the journey involved two B7s—each occupied by a pair of writers—following the young man piloting a Not For The U.S. B5 wagon through twisty country roads, driving as quickly as possible before having to hammer on our brakes so that the digital signs in the towns would produce smiley faces instead of the frowns they show when we drove by at over 50 kph.
In the turns, the Alpina B7 was fun despite its heft, which made itself known as the load transferred from side to side in the transitions. Looking at the car ahead of me showed that there was a decent amount of body roll, though from the inside, the car felt planted; it was comfortable and confident through the bends, and the tires refused to let go, allowing the B7 to really hold its own in the handling department. Again, at least, for something of its girth.
I didn’t take the car to its limit, because I recognized early on that the German intern driving ahead of me was clearly more talented than I at high-speed driving. Trying to keep up with him would have been a bad idea, but I still made the big sedan hustle, and I had a decent time doing it.
The transmission shifts quickly and smoothly, and throttle response is excellent in sport mode but quite lackadaisical in comfort, which is why I stayed in Sport the whole time.
On the back of the steering wheel, I found two tiny buttons that allowed for manual gear selection; almost like video game controller buttons, but with more affirmative clicks. If I’m honest, they were a bit odd to use. But that’s fine, since keeping the car in drive resulted in the quickest acceleration runs anyhow.
The steering has a nice heft to it; not too light, not too heavy, and the 600 horsepower V8 is just lovely. Even though this car had a quieter exhaust than what will be available in the U.S., romping the pedal out of turns produced a swell of thrust and a nice soundtrack that made it clear that there was a monster under the hood.
It’s not a raw, loud tone–but a smooth symphony of boosted V8 grunt acoustically enhanced by a stainless steel exhaust system.
The highway is where the B7 excels. I am always very cautious on Germany’s Autobahn, but when I had a clear opening with only single, well-spaced-apart cars in the right lane, I dropped the hammer and let 600 horses loose.
It took remarkably little time for the speedometer to shoot up from about 90 mph to 170 (the top speed I saw during the trip), and in the video you’ll see just how little drama we felt in the cabin. Notice how the driver and I are talking quite quietly as he drives at 150 mph.
“It doesn’t really feel that fast until you touch the brakes, and then you’re like, ‘well, I’ve got a lot of scrubbing off to do,’” I say in the clip above, and that really is how the Autobahn jaunt felt.
Getting up to speed was not a big deal thanks to the mountains of power under the hood, and because the cabin offers such good isolation from the outside, I never truly felt the speed until there was a car in front of me doing 80 mph fewer. Thank goodness the huge brakes were so good at stopping this heavy executive sedan.
The best thing about the B7 is its interior, which is very quiet and comfortable; my particular car had enough fun touches by Alpina to make it at least a bit interesting. Between them and the white seats, I felt like a king on inside the car, just as I did one the outside, where I gazed at the huge grille sitting above a front bumper with “Alpina” written on it and realized that, especially in Bavaria, it doesn’t get much more plush than this.
I only sat in the rear seat briefly, but my god is that a throne. If I could do the drive over, I’d have sat there the entire time I wasn’t behind the wheel. Seriously, just look at the pillows:
On a PowerPoint slide labeled “philosophy,” Alpina laid out a number of attributes that it aims for in its cars. Among them are things like high horsepower, smooth delivery of that power even at low RPM, high top speeds, elegant but understated design, and refined but also nimble suspensions.
With the B7, it’s clear that Alpina hit its mark. The flagship sedan is an understated, elegant car that’s all about refinement, solid power delivery, and a ridiculously high top speed. I wouldn’t call it agile, but it’s not bad for something this enormous.
So it’s not perfect as a canyon carver, and if you’re really into paddle shifters, those buttons on the wheel probably won’t do it for you. But if unadulterated V8-powered swagger is what you want, the Alpina B7 is its rolling embodiment.