BMW Alpina B7 (2009) review

By Ben Whitworth 09 June 2009

By Ben Whitworth

09 June 2009

It sells fewer cars in one year (1304 in 2008) than BMW sells in a week, but despite its diminutive output, Alpina has an exceptionally high degree of recognition. Built on a reputation for peerless engineering, exceptional build quality and some pretty dodgy decals, the Bavarian firm has a knack for taking good cars and making them so much better, and in doing so creating a legion of fiercely loyal fans. Its latest offering is the B7 – a vast high-speed limousine based on the new 7-series. It’s big, bold and exclusive. The last word in automotive willy-waving for CEOs in a hurry.

So the Alpina B7 is simply a quicker BMW 7-series with a fast-looking aero kit?

It’s much more than that, I can assure you. It would be relatively easy for a common-or-garden tuner to slap on a bit of a body kit, bigger wheels, get the magic screwdriver and turn up the turbo boost and call it a four-door supercar. But Alpina is all about serious engineering – every aspect of its cars has an engineering basis. They don’t do frippery and whimsy in Buchloe.

Take the B7’s stunning 21-spoke finned wheels – their air valves are secreted in the central hub rather than on the rim to ensure supreme high-speed stability. Then there's the 4.4-litre bi-turbo V8 powerplant – the all-alloy unit is fitted with bespoke blowers and air-water-water-air intercoolers, high-performance cylinders and a trio of electronic control units. Result? A hefty 507bhp at 5500rpm and 517lb ft of torque at 3000rpm.

It’s brisk, then?

It’s more than that – it’s blindingly quick. The blown V8 delivers shattering acceleration – the B7 is as quick as an Aston Martin Vantage to 60mph – and headbutts its 174mph electronic limiter with a callous disregard for physics. Acceleration in any gear and any speed is so instant and so effortless speed that it immediately calls for a recalibration of your speed-distance-time triangle. Crisp throttle response, a six-speed Switchtronic transmission that flicks smoothly and quickly through the cogs and a lovely creamy soundtrack make ripping through the gears irresistibly addictive. Especially when it satisfyingly reduces tail-sniffing Porsche 911s into lumbering specs in your rear-view mirror.

Click 'Next' below to read more of our BMW Alpina B7 first drive

What happens off the autobahn, then?

Around town the steering is Playstation light and there’s little in the way of feedback, but dial in some pace on an interesting road, and the B7 feels far smaller and agile than its thick-ankled 2040kg kerbweight and five-metre plus length. The steering suddenly comes over all chatty and informative, complemented by a ride quality completely at odds with those vast 21-inch alloys and rubber band Michelin tyres. The combination shrinks the B7 and makes it feels as chuckable and responsive as a very grunty and well sorted 5-series.

A fast German car with a compliant ride quality…surely you jest?

Nope. In default Comfort setting, the B7’s Dynamic Damping Control suspension is wonderfully effective at smoothing and sponging away intrusions – it’s a real wafter. There’s no trade off in ride quality when switching to the firmer Normal setting, while Sport offers even tauter body control without any of the harsh stiff-jointed brittleness many German marques try to pass off as athletic and (that dreaded word) sporty. It’s a setup perfectly in keeping Alpina’s mantra of making their cars the ultimate in fast-lane comfort while still being able to show most sports cars what four rapidly receding Alpina exhausts look like.

And the rest of the package?

Everything at Alpina can be made to order, so if you fancy ocelot scrotum leather for the seats and dash, Alpina will do its best to oblige. As you’d expect many clients from the Middle and Far East really go to town on the tickbox options list, whereas the less flamboyant UK market goes for a far more conservative look and feel. We’d go for one in a dark metallic and bereft of any decals and badging, for the proper Q-car look.

Verdict

Many will blanche at the B7’s eye-watering £95,900 asking price – that’s more than most people will ever spend on their homes – but believe it or not, even at that price the B7 looks like rather good value. Yes, it’s pricier than the top dog Audi S8 and Maserati Quattroporte GT S, but then it’s also cheaper than the Mercedes S 65 AMG and the Bentley Flying Spur. For your money you get exceptional exclusivity, ridiculous performance and sumptuous comfort underpinned by exceptional engineering integrity. It’s a compelling package.

Statistics

How much? £95,900
On sale in the UK: September 2009
Engine: 4395cc, 32v V8, 507bhp @ 5500rpm, 517lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
Performance: 4.7secs 0-60mph, 174mph (limited), 23.7 MPG, 286 CO2
How heavy / made of? 2040kg/steel
How big (length/width/height in mm)? 5087/1902/1484

Ratings

Handling 4 out of 5
Performance 5 out of 5
Usability 4 out of 5
Feelgood factor 5 out of 5
CAR's Rating 4 out of 5

Rivals

Other Models

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  • BMW Alpina B7 (2009) review
  • BMW Alpina B7 (2009) review
  • BMW Alpina B7 (2009) review
  • BMW Alpina B7 (2009) review
  • BMW Alpina B7 (2009) review
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