2020 BMW Alpina B7 review: Grand touring, with an emphasis on grand
As capital accumulates and concerns about money slowly disappear into the rearview, purchases become less about what will fit in the budget and more about what will fit into a person's life. If you're looking to spend about $150,000 on a car, nearly every vehicle on the market fits into that bucket, so it all comes down to finding a ride that best jibes with your lifestyle.
The latest iteration of the Alpina B7 is based on the new-for-2020 BMW 7 Series . The Alpina B7 is a not-oft-considered supersedan in this socioeconomic stratum. But, with a number of redeeming qualities and no appreciable downsides, perhaps it should be higher up on people's priority lists.
What sets it apart?
Exclusivity is a major factor for some high-end vehicle buyers, and there's no more exclusive brand than one that isn't exactly common knowledge. For the unfamiliar, I'll say that the Alpina B7 is no average Bimmer. Every 7 Series starts its life at BMW's Dingolfing, Germany-based plant, but Alpina plucks its vehicles from the line and adds a whole bunch of unique equipment that puts the B7 a step above.
Alpina specializes in "white space" vehicles -- that is to say, the automaker (Alpina is a separate automaker from BMW, technically, but is only recognized as such in Europe) uses its modifications to create vehicles that occupy segments where BMW isn't active. Much like my colleague Steven Ewing suggested on his first drive of the Alpina B7, one could basically consider this car to be the M7 that BMW won't build.
Alpina's exterior touches give the B7 a bit more character than the standard car. The restyled bumpers are a smidge more aggressive, and I like the way the company is able to stick a sizable Alpina badge just above the lip. Out back, I'm a fan of the rear bumper, which surrounds the quad tailpipes, as well as the little lip spoiler that protrudes from the trunk. And then there are the wheels -- these 20-inch, 20-spoke wheels are a staple of Alpina's design language, and they rule. Wrapped in Alpina's exclusive shade of green, the B7 makes quite the statement wherever it goes, and that's not even counting BMW's ever-growing kidney grilles.
Inside, Alpina's hand lightly graces what is an already palatial space. There are only a few unique appointments: The center console carries an Alpina placard, there's a unique badge on the dashboard and the steering wheel has button-style shift paddles that are positively annoying to use. My tester feels quite classic with its combination of white leather (Nappa is standard) and bright myrtle wood, but those living on the more ragged edge of style will undoubtedly pick another of BMW's myriad interior trim options. Just about every surface I touch is leather, and it all feels quite lovely.
Even without all the options boxes ticked, the Alpina B7's rear seat is a treasure. You can drop a chunk of change and option two individual seats separated by a honkin' center console, but my tester still relies on a bench-seat layout that remains mighty comfortable and offers both headroom and legroom in spades. Throw an extra $3,900 into the mix, and the rear seats get upgraded with ventilation and massage functions, in addition to tacking on heated armrests for all passengers and a heated steering wheel. The trunk offers up enough space for multiple golf bags, a few full-size suitcases -- whether the trip is long or short, everything will fit back there.
The M7 BMW will never build
While my tester, as it's optioned, looks like it's all about old-school serenity on the road, the Alpina B7 is so much more than that. In fact, it actually trades what could be an even more opulent ride in favor of sprightliness, an adjective you wouldn't usually associate with a car of this size.
Flipping up the hood, I see yet another contribution to what makes Alpina's cars so special. The 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8 from the 750i has been thoroughly reworked to produce 600 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque, improvements of 77 and 37, respectively. It doesn't have the trademark smoothness of the M760i's V12, but this eight-pot is surprisingly flexible, offering both comfort and performance in equal doses.
Stay light on the throttle and the B7 will act like a chauffeur-friendly limousine. Give the gas pedal a good ol' smashing, though, and the turbos spool up to provide an almost unnatural amount of acceleration at any speed, and it'll keep pulling like a madman past the 200-mph barrier. There's no active exhaust on offer, but the default engine note is just loud enough to be engaging without being annoying at lower speeds. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard, and it's a smooth one, especially in Comfort mode when it doesn't care about shift speeds.
That softness extends to the B7's ride, too. Alpina had its way with the adaptive suspension, tweaking it to better match the car's somewhat sporting character. The ride is still mighty plush, with its 20-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport summer tires offering enough sidewall to absorb most on-road jitters. However, it definitely feels sharper than something tuned almost exclusively for comfort, like the M760i, staying flat in sharper turns. Working in conjunction with rear-axle steering and all-wheel drive, the B7 packs an agility that its big footprint belies.
The B7's steering has a nice weight to it, and it's direct enough to make me want to slap the car a little harder than others might. Thankfully, once it's up to speed, bringing the B7 back down to zero is nice and easy. The steel brakes on each corner clamp with authority at higher speeds, but the pedal is still easy enough to modulate at low speeds, making those ultrasmooth "limousine stops" little more than child's play. It's definitely capable in the corners, but in my experience, the B7 is more about blasting down long stretches of flat highway, something it does with excellence.
The EPA claims the B7 will achieve 17 miles per gallon city and 25 mpg highway. Most buyers won't care about the cost of filling up this big Bavarian, but I can confirm that hitting the ballparked highway figure is plenty feasible, although the desire to experience all that torque will make city driving a little less economical.
BMW-based tech shines
Aside from an Alpina-specific skin on the 12.3-inch gauge cluster screen, the B7's tech is no different than what's found in the standard 7 Series, and that's a good thing.
With gauges left and right flanking a small map devoid of labels that's only useful when turn-by-turn directions are enabled, the screen offers just a smidge of variety, letting me adjust what's displayed inside the right gauge, whether it's fuel economy, whatever's playing on the radio or the current power and torque output.
That screen is complemented with a 10.25-inch touchscreen on the dashboard running the latest version of BMW's iDrive infotainment software. The system is plenty fast, whether I'm using the physical dial or my own fingers to dive through its many menus, the sheer density of which can get intimidating before muscle memory adapts. The configurable home screen lets me see just about everything I need with a quick glance, and it's also capable of running Apple CarPlay wirelessly, which is a nice touch that I wish more automakers would adopt. When it comes time to charge, there's a USB-A port between the wireless charger and the cup holders, as well as a USB-C port under the center armrest.
Much of BMW's safety tech comes standard on the Alpina B7. My tester comes equipped from the factory with a surround-view camera system, parking sensors and a suite of passive and active driver aids that combine to keep the vehicle centered in its lane on the highway. It's one of my favorite hands-on systems, making smooth steering inputs and ensuring distances are kept without jarring jabs to either the brake or throttle.
How I'd spec it
Considering how well equipped the B7 comes from the factory, there's not a whole lot of wiggle room, but there's still some variety on offer. For context, my tester starts at $142,800, and a smattering of options ($3,900 to boost rear-seat luxury, $1,000 for laser headlights, $900 for a panoramic LED-lit roof, $200 for a drive recorder and $3,400 for a better stereo) brings that price up to $153,195 including destination.
First, I'll stick with my tester's gorgeous shade of Alpina green metallic, in part because it's a no-cost option and in part because it just rocks. I'll keep the car on its stock 20-inch wheels, too; 21s are available, but I'd rather have a bit more sidewall on my tire. Because I am a fancy boy, I'll drop $4,000 for the full Merino leather interior in brown, accentuated with a no-cost American dark oak trim. Skipping all the other options, that brings my price down to a slightly more palatable $147,795.
Down to brass tacks
As much as it might seem that the Alpina B7 exists in a class of its own, it doesn't. The M7 might not exist, but the Mercedes-AMG S63 sure as heck does, and it offers a bonkers V8 under the hood, but the Merc's window sticker asks for about $7,000 on top of the B7's price. There's also some internal competition from BMW -- the M760i is more for the driven than the driver, and its V12-stuffed body commands a $15,000 premium over the Alpina.
The 2020 Alpina B7 is definitely something special. In addition to carrying driving dynamics, comfort and tech in spades, the B7 has an air of exclusivity that its competitors don't. If you want something a little off the beaten path that feels worth every inch of its six-figure price tag, the Alpina B7 is where it's at.