BMW 7 Series Alpina B7 2019 2020 review
BMW 7 Series Alpina B7 2019 2020 review
Shall we start with performance? We might as well, because from a manufacturer so lovingly devoted to the finer details – those of leather grain, suspension kinematics and of course wine pairings – the spec-sheet brutality of this updated Alpina B7 super-limousine takes a few moments to sink in.
Admittedly, at 600bhp and 590lb ft, outright power and torque are no greater than before, but those numbers are what you get when you cross a supercar with a locomotive, and in any case, they are now ‘better’. In fact new twin-scroll turbochargers, intercoolers and engine-management software for the 4.4-litre V8 broaden the powerband to breathtaking proportions.
Peak torque now arrives at only 2000rpm and continues to 5000rpm, which not only guarantees blistering real-world performance but also drops the four-wheel drive B7’s 0-62mph time to a scant 3.6sec (0.1sec slower than the similarly powerful Mercedes-AMG S63, but let's not quibble – both cars are ludicrously quick). Meanwhile peak power is now on offer until 6500rpm, should you ever feel the need to stretch this car's very long legs. Leave nothing on the table and top speed is 206mph, making the B7 comfortably the fastest saloon in the world, at least until the new Bentley Continental Flying Spur arrives to offer some competition.
Back those finer details. Open the table-sized clamshell bonnet, gaze upon the engine bay and you'll see there are some very clever touches. The B7’s new intake ducts now take a shortcut directly from bumper to block, and to achieve this Alpina has threaded them through – that's right, through – the strut-braces. This is art where you’d least expect to find it. You'll also notice a pipe linking the intercoolers. It's not specific to Alpina, but does reduce the severity of the air pulses between each bank of cylinders, in turn reducing turbo-lag and sharpening throttle response.
To help the hardware cope with the flood of torque low in the rev-range, Alpina also reinforces the planetary gearsets of ZF's eight-speed torque converter (with lock-up clutch), and the cooling system is upgraded, not least with additional radiators. The knock-on benefit of strengthening the ’box is that Alpina then doesn't need to reduce torque during upshifts, and so the car is more stable during while accelerating out of corner. While we're at it, in Sport mode, shifts have also been quickened.
The looks? Highly subjective. Aesthetically the car certainly isn’t as incognito as we’ve become accustomed to from Alpina, and to some extent that's deliberate; to some extent it's enforced. Owners suggested the previous model was a touch too demure for something so special – and expensive – but then BMW upped the donor car’s Instagram game substantially.
There isn’t much Alpina can do about the new 7 Series’ awkward maw, but even without, it the new car – available only in long-wheelbase form – commands attention like little else on the road. At the rear it gets a modest spoiler with an equally subtle diffuser, but there’s no mistaking the quad-tailpipes, or the drooping chin spoiler, or the deko stripes, or the hue of our test car – ‘Alpina Blue’. Park up next to that S63 AMG and you’d wonder to where the Benz had disappeared, which seems a ridiculous thing to say but, in the metal, the B7 really does have monumental presence.
Of course, kerbside appeal and performance only part of the deal here. Really, this optimised take on the recently facelifted BMW 7 Series is more about the chassis. The B7 uses the same height-adjustable air springs as the G11 7 Series, and the tuning is largely carried over from the previous B7. It is, however, now programmed to drop a stance-enhancing 15mm lower than the BMW 750i donor car when set to Sport Plus mode or driven faster than 140mph.
Alpina says the dampers have been recalibrated, not only for ‘the very highest level of driving comfort’ but also a level of control alien to most cars of this ilk, and the active anti-roll bars have been retuned to reduce body roll to the realistic absolute minimum without impinging on that ride quality. The front axle is said to possess unshakeable stability – a hallmark of all Alpina's cars – and the B7 is able to execute warp-speed lane-changes on the Autobahn without breaking a sweat.
Grounding this 2175kg car is a set of forged 20in wheels made of high-strength aluminium and wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, though 21in items are an option, if not entirely suitable British roads by Alpina's own admission. Either way, their design stands the B7 out as something unsual even from one-hundred paces.
What's it like?
Ignore the pictures, which were taken on the country roads around Alpina's base at Buchloe. Because of the WTLP testing backlog afflicting the whole industry, the B7 isn’t yet homologated for road use, so our first experience behind the wheel is confined to the track – the very fast and very bumpy Salzburgring.
But absurd as it is to imagine any owners driving their car in this kind of environment, more startling is just how well the B7 copes in such alien surroundings. The light steering action is several steps further removed from what’s happening at track-level than it is for Alpina’s take on the 5-Series, but this is still a supremely accurate setup and very well geared.
The lightweight wheels, increased front camber (and toe, for even greater high-speed stability) and further alterations to the suspension geometry also contribute to a level of response you’re unlikely to find in any competitor, and the B7 has an enjoyable enthusiasm for getting tucked into corners. Admittedly, the four-wheel steering takes some credit for such surprising agility – at least through slower turns, when the rear wheels turn in contrary motion to the fronts – but to feel a 5.2-metre car pivot so deftly about your hip-point is so unexpected that it’s almost amusing. And perhaps even a little unnvering.
Really start to drive the thing and there is body roll, at times generous, but the movements are cleanly articulated, and overall the B7 is much more composed, and chuckable, than you’d ever imagine. Inevitably, in such a long, heavy car, the front axle is the first to wilt and bleeds into understeer, though Alpina's more rear-biased tuning of the four-wheel drive setup at least helps delay this inevitability. Out on the road, where cars tend to be driven well within their dynamic potential, it's difficult to see how rivals could live with the grip and agility the B7 conjures up.
As for the ride quality, I can't say with any certainty, but it'd be astonishing if the B7 wasn't near the top of the class, battling the S-Class and the upcoming Rolls-Royce Ghost. Here on the Salzburgring it flows along with frankly aristocratic panache, and creeps down the pit-lane like apparition. Cabin isolation seems first-rate, though tougher tests on mottled British roads await.
Should I buy one?
To buy an Alpina B7 you need to temporarily suspend rational thought. It is a magnificent device – explosively quick, but on this evidence, superbly refined and with a synergy between chassis and powertrain that's rare among such cars. Unique, perhaps.
The interior trim, for which Alpina uses the same leather supplier as Rolls-Royce, is also of the very highest material quality, as you would expect from Alpina. There are no limits on the scope of customisation, either.
And yet though there will be a handful of German owners who might one day rely on their car to safely execute a dramatic lane-change at more than 180mph, for the rest of us the B7 is almost absurdly over-engineered. And, in truth, a ‘drivers’ limousine’ remains a contradiction in terms, no matter how good the dynamics are. Those who would use the B7 to anything like its potential are are thin on the ground.
In the end, a B5 BiTurbo is almost half the price, rides beautifully, gives you far more to think about and is usefully narrow. Some machine, though, the mighty B7 – those with the means and the desire could hardly want for more.
Alpina B7 specification
Where Salzburgring Price 154,800 euros On sale Now Engine V8, 4395cc, turbo, petrol Power 600bhp at 5500-6500rpm Torque 590lb ft at 2000-5000rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 2175kg Top speed 206mph 0-62mph 3.6sec Fuel economy 23.7mpg CO2 269g/km Rivals Mercedes-AMG S63, BMW M760Li
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