Alpina founder Burkard Bovensiepen developed a twin Weber kit to energize the drowsy BMW 1500 sedan in 1962, half a century ago. But the Bavarian tuner with the Weber carb and a crankshaft in its crest has been partnering with BMW in the United States for only about 10 years. The first American Alpina was a version of?the Z8 roadster with an automatic transmission, not what we’d call a great start.
Then came a series of B7s based on BMW’s 7-series, first with the old Bangle-butt E65 in 2007, then the current, sleeker F01 in 2010. Even with base prices of $128,495 for the rear-drive, short-wheelbase B7 and $135,395 for the AWD stretched model, the new B7 is not outlandishly stickered, given what top-end luxury sedans cost today. However, with Alpina’s annual U.S. sales at fewer than 500 units, this particularly elegant and sporty version of the 7-series will remain a rare bird.
Yes, this particular B7 has terrific traction thanks to all-wheel drive. But it is also a long-wheelbase model and weighs an asphalt-rutting 5037 pounds. It hits 100 mph in 9.0 seconds, the quarter-mile in 12.2 seconds at 115 mph, 150 mph in 23.3 seconds, and it doesn’t run out of steam until 188 mph. Any luxury limo almost as quick as a Porsche 911 Carrera S has our attention.
Blue-faced gauges and blue-and-green steering-wheel stitches mark Alpina-ness.
Despite its test numbers, the B7 doesn’t feel particularly quick. Perhaps the larger turbos have added some lag, or the tuning of the electronic throttle is too relaxed. That and transmission ratios that are significantly taller than the old six-speed automatic’s conspire to make the car feel oddly sluggish at times. Ease onto the gas at 50 mph, and the pedal can move one-quarter of its travel before anything noticeable happens. The laziness is also apparent from a stop: Simply floor it, as we do in our 5-to-60-mph test, and the B7 is actually a couple of tenths slower than the old model. Even in cars such as this, it seems, fuel economy trumps performance, and the lovely, even swell of thrust you expect in powerful top-shelf sedans seems to be absent.
Playing with the five-position “Driving Dynamics Control” does not solve this problem, but pulling the shifter sideways into the “sport” position does. It selects a gear one or two steps lower than normal and enables quicker downshifts. Or you can shift manually using the steering-wheel-mounted buttons.
Alpina’s new B7 maintains the performance increment over the factory’s 750 and thus its pedigree as the maker of exquisitely scalded BMWs. But buyers are really paying the Alpina’s roughly $40,000 premium for exclusivity and aero-enhanced looks. In its electric blue paint, on its 20-spoke wheels, it is cool. Now, if only Herr Bovensiepen can figure out how to energize that sleepy throttle.