Originally Posted by Insideline Follow-Up Test: Alpina B7
When an M5 Is Simply Too Juvenile
By Scott Oldham, Inside Line Editor in Chief Email | Blog
Date posted: 07-15-2007
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"Alpeina? What's an Alpeina?"
"It's pronounced 'Alpeena.'"
Our friend's mispronunciation of the legendary German tuner brand is rather surprising. He had just climbed from an Isuzu Vehicross, so he's obviously a connoisseur of important automobiles (well, rare ones anyway). But our 2007 BMW Alpina B7 had thrown him a backdoor curveball.
"At first I didn't know what to make of it," he says. "But then I saw that Alpina badge and I knew it was something special."
B7 Not M7
It is something special. Packing a supercharger and 21-inch wheels and tires, the ultrahigh-performance BMW Alpina B7 is unlike any other BMW, including those developed by BMW M, the company's own in-house speed shop.
"It's sort of a limited-edition, factory-approved, tuner version of the 750i," we tell our friend. "BMW builds a 750i in its factory in Dingolfing, Germany, then ships it to Alpina's facility up the road in Buchloe, where it becomes a B7."
"So it's sorta like one of them Sayleen Mustangs," he says with remarkable insight. "Only German and way more expensive."
He's right. Saleen modifies Ford Mustangs for a living, but the United States government considers it a small manufacturer, and Alpina has the same status over in Deutschland.
"Yeah, kind of," we reply, "but you better make that way, way more expensive."
The BMW Alpina B7 carries a base price of $115,695 and includes the interior and all the standard features of a 760Li including power sunshades and soft-close doors. But there are extra-cost options, and our test car has them all, including night vision and a rear-seat entertainment system. Toss in the $1,300 gas-guzzler tax and the B7's MSRP is a knee-buckling $124,480. Or approximately three Saleens.
"Wow," says our admirer. "Have you ever driven an Austin Martin or a Lamborghini Gayyardo?"
Alpina, the Story
You can't really blame our friend for his lack of exposure to Alpina. Although the tuner has been tweaking BMWs since 1961, the B7 is only the second Alpina-modified BMW ever offered in America. The first was the Roadster V8, a car based on the Z8 Roadster, and BMW imported only 450 of them in 2002-'03.
Alpina first made its name when it helped BMW develop the lightweight BMW 3.0 CS of the early 1970s, but the company's recent models have delivered very high levels of performance at moderate engine rpm and with an automatic transmission. In other words, they contrast starkly with the machines developed by BMW M, which always feature high-revving engines backed by either a manual or sequential manual (SMG) transmissions.
With the appearance of an AMG version of the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW has decided it needs a breathed-on 7 Series to keep pace, but an M7 has never been part of the company's portfolio and possibly never will. "For an ultraperformance version of the 7 Series, a platform that is defined by lavish luxury and generous interior space and offered only with an automatic transmission, something other than 'M' performance character was called for," BMW tells us.
Enter the boys from Buchloe and the blower.
Bolt on the Blower
The blower is a centrifugal supercharger bolted to the front of the B7's DOHC 4.4-liter V8. Although BMW fits its 750i with a 360-horsepower 4.8-liter V8, Alpina uses the smaller-displacement V8 used in this car's predecessor, the 745i. Alpina has also fortified the engine with a stronger bottom end, a lower 9.0:1 compression ratio and a new exhaust system.
The supercharger makes 12.0 psi of boost, which cranks up the engine's power peaks to 500 hp at 5,500 rpm and 516 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm. That's up from 325 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, so you should be considerably impressed. It's also 62 hp more than you get in the V12-powered 760Li.
Throttle response is a bit sluggish (probably due to that long intake tract), but all that grunt (along with the shorter final-drive ratio from the 760Li) is enough to make this the quickest 7 Series you can buy. Acceleration to 60 mph is accomplished in a neck-snapping 5.0 seconds flat, and the quarter-mile is covered in only 13.3 seconds at more than 108 mph. Wicked quick in anybody's book, and more than a second quicker to 60 mph than the last 750i we tested.
Sure, an M5 will eat its lunch in the quarter-mile, but the B7 nearly matches the M5's 0-60-mph run of 4.8 seconds. It's a real testament to the B7's serious bottom-end torque, especially when you realize the B7 weighs 4,704 pounds — 700 more than an M5.
So the blower works, but it does its thing incognito. Blower whine is not part of the B7's soundtrack. Instead, its big V8 supplies its endless amounts of torque with a deep V8 bellow — again in stark contrast to the high-pitched exhaust sound of an M engine.
Backing the beast is the same six-speed automatic used in a 750i, but Alpina has fitted it with Switch-Tronic, a manual-shift program controlled by buttons located on the back of the Alpina steering wheel. The buttons work well enough, but the B7's transmission is not this car's finest piece. Aside from the fact that it makes every start from a stop in 2nd gear, we find it annoying that the transmission doesn't hold gears in manual mode nor does it match revs when downshifted. If the B7's engine might be ranked a 9.5, its transmission is just a 5.
Ridin' in Style
Alpina does, however, get the B7's suspension just right. The combination of firmer suspension calibration and 21-inch wheels and tires sounds like a recipe for a teeth-chattering ride. But it isn't. The B7's ride is certainly on the firm side of the luxury sedan envelope, but it's remarkably smooth and compliant.
By the way, the design of these 21-inch radial-spoke rims is an Alpina signature. It features 20 slender spokes and mimics a design Alpina has used on every one of its models since the BMW 3.0 CS of the early '70s. And those 21-inch Michelins, well, they cost $550 apiece to replace. How do we know? Don't worry about it. Just keep the B7's stability control on or be ready to write a large check to your local tire shop.
Although the wheels are what everyone notices first about the B7, the sizable rear spoiler and the other tweaks to the look of this 7 Series don't exactly go unnoticed. Meanwhile, the interior additions are more subtle. Along with the three-spoke steering wheel, Alpina adds only badging and a new instrument cluster with a 200-mph speedometer.
Steering feel is exceptional and the factory-installed Active Roll Stabilization system keeps body roll in check. The B7's balance and overall grip is impressive. This very large, very heavy sedan generated 0.85g on our skid pad and blazed through our slalom at almost 69 mph. In other words, it handles as well as an M5, but with a much more agreeable ride.
The B7 also stops like an M5, hauling down from 60 mph in just 114 feet with absolutely zero fade after three hard stops. Again, this car weighs 4,704 pounds. Unbelievable. Alpina has accomplished this by fitting the brakes from the 760i — a model only sold in European markets — that feature rotors that are 1 inch larger in diameter.
It's a Hit
BMW calling in Alpina on this one is like a scene from The Sopranos. Remember when Tony tells Silvio to call in "some friends of ours from out of state?" You know, to take care of the thing with the guy. Why get the dirt under your own fingernails?
Did Alpina make the hit? Fahgeddaboudit, the 2007 BMW Alpina B7 is one of the finest and fastest sedans ever. It's just what the doctor (make that the Beverly Hills plastic surgeon) ordered to help BMW fight off the S63s and S8s of the world.
If you buy one, just be prepared to educate the Vehicross contingent.