2013 BMW Alpina B7 first drive
The secret 7
Monterey, Calif. — Al-who? There's a good chance that you've never heard of Alpina (say: Al-peen-ah) let alone seen one of its cars despite the fact that its history stretches back some 40 years and its cars have been sold in Canada for five years now.
Part of the reason has a little something to do with the way the company operates. Alpina got its start in motorsports, but it's also considered an automobile manufacturer unto itself in Europe, where its engineers and developers transform BMWs of all sorts into autobahn blitzers. Alpina isn't just another tuning shop — consider it a contemporary AMG prior to its assimilation into Mercedes-Benz. In North America, it's a bit of a different story. For the sake of simplicity, its name represents a high-performance sub-model of the 7 Series, sold, serviced, and warrantied by BMW Group Canada.
It's an especially unusual relationship given BMW has its own in-house performance division, M Motorsports — you know, the folks responsible for the M3, M5, and M6. The thing is, this isn't an M7, it's a B7. That one letter makes all the difference. M cars are all about delivering motorsport-style thrills of the high-revving, hard-riding, fastest-lap-setting variety. Alpina isn't. Its philosophy is one of effortlessness, comfort and ease of power, which is why all its cars leave the factory with automatic transmissions, and favour turbos and superchargers over natural aspiration. The philosophy is a more natural fit to the 7 Series' sybaritic nature which is why Alpina has been tinkering with the 7 Series since 1987.
A gem of an engine
First and foremost, the B7 is the most powerful 7 Series money can buy. Although it has a V8, it churns out more power than the flagship twin-turbo V12 760iL. Making this possible are engine modifications like all-new Garrett turbochargers, a redesigned cylinder head, stronger Mahle pistons, plus a unique Alpina ECU, all of which build on the 2013 750i's just-updated motor. And while fuel efficiency is unlikely to matter to most B7 buyers, idle-stop has been fitted, as has an Eco Pro mode, for maximum savings at the pump.
The end result of all this tuning is an engine that packs 97 more horsepower than the equivalent 750iL for a grand total of 540 hp and 538 lb.-ft. of torque. In conjunction with a new eight-speed SwitchTronic automatic transmission, you have a luxury liner that can hit 100 km/h in as little as 4.3 seconds, and top 312 km/h. For the record, that's a scant 10 km/h from the Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed, the world's fastest four-door.
Of course, it takes a lot more than just a big engine to deliver secure driving at these speeds. The subtle body kit and rear spoiler slash aerodynamic lift by nearly 100 per cent, and though it won't make much of a difference on the Trans-Canada highway, it does at 200 km/h. It's a similar story for those multi-spoke 21-inch wheels; their hidden air stem might seem like an exercise in aesthetic minimalism, but they are a case of form follows function — it does away with the need for wheel weights. Once again, not a problem at 100 km/h, but it improves balance and stability when you're traveling triple that speed.
Absolute power without the corruption
At a slower pace on the surface streets of Monterey, the B7 impresses by feeling remarkably ... normal. It wafts down the road in silence, allowing you to take in the creamy leather, rich Alcantara, and signature orange-hued wood. The eight-speed auto shifts with a seamless precision that makes the little SwitchTronic nubs on the backside of the steering wheel redundant. As the needles rise across the blue-faced gauges, that engine once again comes to mind, this time for the way it rolls out its goods. It's effortless, it's smooth, it's one of the most refined V8s I've ever driven. Something to consider as you distance yourself from Maseratis, Astons and Porsches.
The biggest wonder, though, is the ride. You'd expect a car with a stance as low as this to skip over expansion joints and bumps, but it doesn't. Those massive wheels wrapped in Michelin rubber bands promise to be a nightmare, but Alpina has eked out a supple compliance from the suspension that even the standard 7 Series can't match, despite the fitment of stiffer springs and dampers. Same goes with the steering, which varies from laughably light to meaty depending on which drive mode is selected. Regardless, the tuning has shaded in feel and weighting lacking in the standard 7, plus a notably sharper turn-in. It's really only once in a blue moon that a performance model makes this sort of improvement without compromise.