Although it can make some truly luxurious vehicles, BMW hasn’t always lived up to its reputation. Even the high-performance BMW M cars have sometimes given up something to the competition. And, although that M badge adds speed, that sometimes comes at the cost of daily comfort. Fortunately, just like there are storied Porsche tuners, there are also BMW tuners. And if high-speed luxury is the goal, few do it better than Alpina.
In the early 60s, Burkhard Bovensiepen, son of a typewriter maker, liked tinkering with his BMW 1500. He modified its carbs to give it roughly 15% more power, Road & Track reports and decided to give fellow BMW owners a similar boost. So, in 1963, he spread flyers around Munich.
One of these caught the eye of BMW’s sales chief, who was impressed by Bovensiepen’s drive and work quality. So impressed, he had Bovenspien’s mods certified under BMW’s full factory warranty. 2 years later, in 1965, Alpina, named after the typewriter company, officially opened for business.
The company was very successful in racing, even attracting F1 talent like James Hunt and Nikki Lauda. However, by the late 70s, Bovensiepen wanted his company to focus more on road-going cars. This would begin Alpina’s next chapter, which saw the firm receive bare chassis from BMW to be built according to Alpina’s specs. This was similar to RUF’s and Porsche’s relationship at the time.
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The company’s first road cars were released in 1978, Hagerty reports. The very first was the 3-Series-based B6 2.8, which had a 200-hp version of the 5-Series’ 2.8-liter six-cylinder. It also had a 5-speed manual, Recaro seats, upgraded brakes and suspension, and Alpina’s signature multi-spoke wheels. The second two were the 5-Series-based B7 Turbo and 6-Series-based B7 Turbo Coupe. They had roughly 300 hp, a figure BMW’s M cars wouldn’t match until the 1988 M5.
By 1983, Alpina was an official manufacturer, their cars registered as ‘Alpina,’ not ‘BMW.’ In 1991, Alpina released the B10 Bi-Turbo, which R&T at the time called “the best 4-door in the world.” It went 180 mph in R&T’s testing, making it Germany’s equivalent of the Charger Hellcat.
Today, BMW’s M cars are plenty fast. But Alpina’s cars offer a different approach to speed.
Alpina’s current models
Not all of Alpina’s models, either past or new, were sold in the US. However, as of this writing, 2 are sold here.
For sedan buyers, there’s the updated-for-2020 Alpina B7, based on the current 7-Series. It uses the same 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8, Car and Driver reports. However, it has new software and hardware, which boosts it to 600 hp and 590 lb-ft. The engine’s torque peak also arrives at lower revs, which enhances the sense of acceleration. And, with a 205-mph top speed, it’s officially faster than the current Charger Hellcat, making it the fastest production sedan in the world. It’s also, Car and Driver notes, faster than the BMW M760i, which has a 600-hp 6.6-liter twin-turbocharged V12.
The Alpina B7 also has the 7-Series’ 8-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive system, though both are re-tuned. It also has larger brake discs, stainless-steel active exhaust, and Alpina’s adjustable air suspension. And on the luxury side, the B7 also has unique quilted leather upholstery and wood trim.
On the SUV side, there’s the Alpina XB7, based on BMW’s range-topping X7. It’s Alpina’s first SUV. And, like the B7, it’s more powerful than it’s BMW M Performance version, Car and Driver reports. Alpina added almost 90 hp to the SUV’s 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8, giving it 612 hp and 590 lb-ft. The added power comes from larger turbos, added water and transmission oil coolers, custom intercoolers, and a stainless-steel exhaust.
Like the B7, the XB7 has a retuned 8-speed automatic, AWD, and air suspension. And the interior is just as plush. It has an illuminated crystal shift knob, hand-stitched Lavalina leather steering wheel, and Alpina-unique wood trim. Oh, and if you want, Motor Trend reports, you can equip the headliner with LED lights that mimic a starry sky, like in the Rolls-Royce Cullinan.
Are they worth their price tags?
Both the Alpina B7 and XB7 are noticeably cheaper than the Cullinan. However, that doesn’t exactly make them cheap.
The Alpina B7 starts at $143,200. That’s $40,200 more than a 750i xDrive. However, it’s actually $14,600 cheaper than the M760i xDrive. Which, Car and Driver reports, is slower to 60.
The XB7, meanwhile, won’t be available in dealers until September 2020. Pricing starts at $142,295; the BMW X7 M50i starts at $99,600. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there are no driving reviews of the XB7.
However, the B7’s reviews are glowing. MT reports the M760i is sharper than the B7. But that’s not a bad thing, considering Alpina owners don’t buy their cars for handling, Automobile reports. Instead, they get seats that rival Rolls-Royce’s, and a ride that’s noticeably better day-to-day than the standard 7-Series. Car and Driver calls it “the best BMW 7-Series.”
And while the M760i has the V12, the B7 has exclusivity. Alpina only builds about 2000 vehicles per year and doesn’t plan on increasing production. But if you prefer relaxing on the road than carving it up, Alpina’s cars may be for you.
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