2013 BMW Alpina B7

2013 BMW Alpina B7 2013 BMW Alpina B7
First Drive Review

Vitamin B7 is also known as biotin, which sounds like some sort of bioengineered armor and therefore is awesome. The Alpina B7 is also known as a bad-ass 7-series, an adjective-and-noun combo that sounds pretty awesome, too. And the car is just that, thanks to its muscled-up version of BMW’s corporate twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V-8 and the Aqua Velva–smooth manner by which it does its work.

Like the rest of the 2013 7-series lineup, the B7 has been refreshed this year. (It went on sale in the U.S. in this essential form as a 2011 model, and the previous-gen car was offered here, as well.) There are aesthetic tweaks to the front and rear ends, but the most notable update involves the fitment of BMW’s Valvetronic variable valve timing and lift to the force-fed V-8, a tweak that brings 40 additional hp and 22 more lb-ft of torque.

Horsepower now stands at a stout 540—97 more than in the 750i, which uses this same basic engine, albeit with smaller turbos, different heads, and different pistons—and torque is 538 lb-ft. For further perspective, the B7 even has a few more ponies in the stable than does the twin-turbocharged V-12–powered 760Li. The Alpina’s top speed has increased from 175 to as high as 194 mph. An automatic engine stop-start system is now standard because one comes on all 2013 7-series models, not because it will matter to B7 buyers.

Explore the nether regions of the Alpina B7’s prodigious output, and 0 to 60 ought to be accomplished in 4.2 seconds, weight and traction limiting improvement to about 0.1 second versus the 4.3 we recorded with both rear- and all-wheel-drive 2011 models. (All-wheel drive is again available for 2013, as are short and long wheelbases.) Four-point-two seconds is, of course, plenty quick, although the car doesn’t so much rocket toward the horizon as it rapidly and steadily piles on speed.

Despite the burly stats, keep in mind that the B7 is not intended to be an M7. Alpina’s approach to performance is less hard-core than is the M division’s; rather, Alpina focuses on producing vehicles that are “smooth, unobtrusive, and easy to drive.” To put a point on its goals, the vast majority of the firm’s offerings in Europe come only with automatic transmissions. Gearchanges are accomplished by a specially tuned version of the eight-speed automatic now installed throughout the 7-series lineup. We left the B7 in automatic mode much of the time—we preferred that to using the two small shift nubs Alpina sticks on the back of the steering-wheel spokes—and found the shifts to be plenty crisp.

Despite a suspension stiffer than a standard 7-series’ and gigantic, 21-inch wheels—the gorgeous 20-spoke design is an Alpina trademark—ride quality is superb in all the car’s adjustable chassis settings, which stretch from Comfort Plus to Sport Plus. Turn-in is shockingly athletic for something this size, the chassis stays fairly neutral through corners (although it is possible to get the rear out), and body control is excellent. And it’s a long-striding cruiser, excellent at devouring long highway stretches at high speeds and in supreme comfort.

Alpina has been tuning BMW products for more than 50 years and was a critical part of BMW’s motorsports success in the 1970s. But whereas it massages most of the BMW Wurstfabrik for its European customers, including versions of the 3- and 5-series, this is the only car from Alpina we get here. We pay dearly for the privilege. Base prices straddle the $130,000 mark, although all models include a raft of standard equipment and undercut the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG by at least five grand, and are more holistic and comfortable besides. As another similarly positioned, 500-plus-hp executive rocket, the new Audi S8 bears mention, especially given that its base price is some 18 grand lower than the Alpina’s.

An even closer rival to the B7 might arrive soon, however, and from BMW itself. An honest M7 might actually happen in four or five years, but we’re talking about an M Performance 7-series; M Performance is a new sub-sub-brand of BMW intended to bridge the gap between regular cars and M—much in the way that Alpina does. Any philosophical differences between Alpina and M Performance might be lost on all but the most zealous Bimmerphiles, who we think might be more likely to choose the factory offering simply out of familiarity. We find it hard to believe that BMW could improve much on what’s here, but if such a model means two (or maybe even three) bad-ass 7-series sleds? Now that would be awesome.