Posted Nov 19th 2012 11:57AM
For the time being, BMW has left it up to close collaborator Alpina to create a turbocharged V8-powered rival for the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG and Audi S8. We've been lucky enough to take a few spirited drives in Alpinafied BMWs on the no-limit Autobahns around the company's headquarters in Buchloe, Germany, over the years, and each experience has been solidly hair-raising.
Other than creating what may be the country's ultimate everyday Autobahn missiles, Alpina does wonders for the ride and handling of the BMW models they touch, along with providing impressively reworked transmission interfaces and improved overall responsiveness. In the case of this B7, Alpina turns the 7 Series into the best big Bimmer going.
In the niche of thundering bi-turbo V8 luxury sedans, only this 532-horsepower Alpina B7, 512-hp Audi S8 and the 536-hp Mercedes S63 AMG (563 horses, that is, with the AMG Performance Package) really reach this particular level. The $158,500 Porsche Panamera Turbo and the $200,300 Turbo S are both fine rides, but they aren't traditional sedans, and their unusual aesthetics don't always appeal to the buttoned-down execs that buy traditional premium saloons.
It's not surprising that buying either the B7 Bimmer or the S63 Benz will likely set you back some $165,000 spec'd exactly the way you'd want 'em (the SWB-only Audi is a bit cheaper, at about $130k happily optioned). We don't have Canadian pricing just yet, but we know the base price for the Alpina B7 short wheelbase is US$127,600 or US$131,500 for the long wheelbase model, with optional xDrive. Following these, as a curveball, there's the 510-hp Jaguar XJ/XJL Supersport at around $135,000 and even the 465-hp Chrysler 300 SRT8 bargain-priced at $48,595 in your driveway. It's like two separate worlds.
Related Gallery2013 BMW Alpina B7: First Drive
We were expecting greatness in our 750Li-based rear-wheel-drive Alpina B7, but it went a bit beyond our expectations. Its overall composure, grace and sophistication, even while in the sportiest of setups, are impressive. The N63B44 4.4-litre twin turbo engine with Valvetronic now pumps forth 540 hp between 5,200 and 6,250 rpm and 538 pound-feet of torque from 2,800 to 5,000 rpm. The pre-facelift B7, you may recall, offered but 493 hp and a "paltry" 516 lb-ft. For shame. Official 0-60 mph (96 km/h) time is now listed at 4.3 seconds, while top speed has jumped from 175 mph (282 km/h) in last year's car to 194 mph (312 km/h), a number that we tested ourselves on the latest episode of The List. Take your new B7 to a track with a really long straight; you'll be astounded at the pulling power the V8 pours out right up until the braking point – and the Alpina compound brake set is forever up to the task.
Official 0-60 mph (96 km/h) time is now listed at 4.3 seconds,
while top speed has jumped to 194 mph (312 km/h).
Alpina has done extensive aero work to the standard 7 Series bodyshell for big increases in cooling air flow to the engine and brakes. The whole front chin has been redesigned with larger intakes and each passage ducted to cool one specific portion of this finely tuned high-performance mix.
There is, of course, the reworked engine control electronics. Aside from this mandatory software upgrade, Alpina fits the engine's two turbochargers with larger flow-through turbines that are two millimeters greater in diameter. That seems like little, but, lord, is it much. Our first track session in the B7 happened with expert Andreas Bovensiepen at the wheel. He is now effectively the boss at Alpina, following in his papa's footsteps. Bovensiepen also just happens to be one hell of a track star, having won various GT championship titles. Out on the circuit at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, just as a front passenger, we could feel a dramatic improvement versus the stock 750Li. In fact, the B7 already struck us as a finer track car than either the M5 or M6, something we'd bet that BMW doesn't really want to hear. That's particularly impressive considering how much the B7 weighs – models vary between 4,655 pounds (2,111 kg) up to 5,055 pounds (2,293 kg), depending on wheelbase length and whether xDrive is fitted.
The B7 struck us as a finer track car than either the M5 or M6.
Couple this sensation with the fact that the revamped Alpina suspension lowers the car by six-tenths of an inch while also providing a stiffer spring set all around, and some of the improvement starts to makes sense. Even in the B7's firmest Sport+ damper setting, the springs are still surprisingly compliant, while the anti-roll control does its part to keep this big boy on the straight and level in hot corners. Another fine helper? The Michelin Pilot Sport tires – 245/35 ZR21 front, 285/30 ZR21 rear. Again, one would rightly assume that 21-inchers at the corners would make the B7's ride and cabin noise a little too Euro, but that's not the case thanks to Alpina's fine tuning expertise and the fact that they aren't stiff-sidewalled run-flats.
As far as we're aware, Alpina can take the credit for introducing steering-wheel-mounted shifters on a road car, having added the technology way back in 1993. Never content with the clutter caused by having large-enough shift paddles, Alpina uses slick little pushbuttons for swapping cogs in the eight-speed ZF. The hidden switchgear is on the backside of the steering wheel spokes, right for upshift and left for downshift, clean and simple. The custom steering wheel itself is a wonderful piece under all circumstances – steering action is calibrated to be easier than on the standard Bimmer 7 Series while in Comfort/Efficiency mode and heavier than on the series car when in Sport+ mode.
Alpina uses slick little pushbuttons for swapping cogs in the eight-speed ZF.
Alpina is also somewhat known for doing swell interiors. We tried both the Alpina B7 and the latest iteration of BMW 7 Series, and the work by Alpina is superior. Other than the terrific new and functional sport steering wheel with Switch-Tronic shifting, the Alpina-specific gauge cluster should be robbed by BMW and used on all of its cars; the current ages-old BMW dial graphics are boring and not as legible.
We're still waiting for BMW's M6 Gran Coupé, which will frankly hold almost no surprises for us. We know we'll generally appreciate it, but it's a derivative of the M5/M6 mix, pure and simple. If you want something utterly distinctive and to stay in a BMW, get the Alpina B7 and enjoy yourself in hot luxury.
Who needs an M7?
Image Credit: Copyright 2012 Matt Davis / AOL