Like a primitive mating ritual, a car displays status. Nowhere is that more true than in the world of executive limos. After all, what would arriving to a meeting in the back of a Rolls-Royce Phantom do for your confidence? Now replace the Phantom with a Hyundai Equus. How would you feel then?
So yes, cars equal status. But what factors in to a car’s status? Of course, rarity. A Bentley Flying Spur equals a higher status than a Lexus LS. Performance and looks play a roll as well. And naturally there’s luxury. It’s this mystic blend of factors that make a Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG more desirable than a bog-standard S550.
BMW is uniquely situated with its 7-Series range. It’s got the low end covered with the excellent, six-cylinder 7-Series. The mid-range is handled by the V-8 7, while the top end is managed by the 12-cylinder 760Li. In between, there are decisions to be made about rear- or all-wheel drive, and long or short wheelbase. Options are available, with everything from massaging rear seats to air-conditioned front seats to DVD players in the headrests.
Dare we say the only problem with the 7-Series is that it isn’t rare enough? Enter, the Alpina B7.
We first drove the Alpina B7 on the legendary Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Former Editor-In-Chief Seyth Miersma gave it a solid test and video guru Chris Amos was there to get a video as the Alpina circled the track. That model, a rear-drive, short-wheelbase car, was a surprising track star. What wasn’t mentioned, though, was that the Alpina treatment is available on any V-8-powered 7-Series.
The B7 is available with all the same accouterments, drivetrain choices, and wheelbase lengths as the 750i/Li, but offers up an extra helping of power. We’ll talk about that in a second, but more importantly, the Alpina is exceedingly rare. BMW only brings in about 500 to North America each year, and it’s the only vehicle on the continent sold under the Alpina name. If all your buddies are driving 750s, the Alpina is the vehicle for one-upmanship.
The exterior has been heavily revised, with sportier front and rear fascias. A set of four meaty exhaust pipes sticks out of the rear bodywork, making it clear that the Alpina means business. The wheels, 19-inchers, were rather polarizing. People either loved them or hated them. Inside, a new Alpina steering wheel features fine leather and beautiful stitching. It’s really the one part of the cabin that feels decidedly bespoke.
If you’re a chauffer and your boss wants an Alpina, be happy. It is stupendously fast, this. With 540 horsepower and 538 pound-feet of torque, the Alpina is every bit the sports sedan it purports to be. Power is up from 445 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque over the standard 750i/Li.
Torque is abundant in the lower part of the rev range, and we were pleased to see that the extra power didn’t result in any increase in turbo lag from the 4.4-liter, biturbocharged V-8. The B7 was especially impressive on the freeway. It’s very capable of getting its driver pulled over. Burying the throttle, you can watch the HUD-mounted speedometer quickly jump into the triple digits, and soar past 120 miles per hour by the time you jump on the brakes. There’s no question that this is a vehicle that would be happiest on the unlimited sections of the autobahn.
The transmission on this big sedan is an eight-speed automatic, built by German manufacturer ZF. While it’s the same trans found on the standard 7-Series, it features Alpina’s Switch-Tronic manual mode, which uses a pair of buttons on the back of the steering wheel for upshifts and downshifts. Sure, upshifts feel slightly faster in Sport and Sport +, but it’s not a transformative difference over standard 750s we’ve driven.
Unlike other sports sedans the ride is anything but punishing. It’s planted, very nearly glued, to the road. Even with the drive mode set in Comfort +, there’s very little vertical motion. Impacts are smoothed out and are rarely felt from the driver’s seat. Road noise is a bit more noticeable than we’d predicted, but this could be down to the snow tires more than anything else.
Despite being so comfortable, a simple hit of a button can turn the Alpina into a sharp handling sports sedan. Sport and Sport + tighten up the ride considerably, generating more road feel. Steering feel is pretty nonexistent across the board, though. There’s still a very strong bias towards the front, and this isn’t helped by the addition of BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system. In fact, we’d argue the 7-Series loses a level of agility by optioning for the all-wheel-drive model. It’s not meant to be an agile car in the first place, so any loss in maneuverability is more noticeable than normal.
Still, there are more than enough practical benefits to convince us to order xDrive. In the inclement weather we were testing in, the Alpina’s power felt far more manageable. The extra security afforded by xDrive meant we weren’t struggling to lay power down in snowy subdivisions and roads. It may take away from the overall driving experience, but it adds some serious peace of mind. Of course, the fact that adding xDrive cuts a tenth-of-a-second off the Alpina’s time to 62 miles per hour certainly helps (4.5 seconds for xDrive and 4.6 for rear-drive).
In back, it’s every bit as lavish as we’d expect. Our tester was fitted with the Luxury Rear Seating Package for an extra $3700, which added on vented rear seats (in addition to the standard heated jobs), as well as a massaging function. The leather seats feel of a high quality, but we aren’t sure they match the softness of the Designo line from Mercedes-Benz. With the extra length afforded by the longer wheelbase, spending time in the back of the Alpina is certainly no bad thing.
There are problems, though. This car starts at $134,500, which puts it right in the crosshairs of a sportier competitor, the Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG.
The S63 starts at $140,000, or about $5500 more than our tester, yet its 5.5-liter, biturbocharged V-8 delivers 52 extra pound-feet of torque at the cost of just four horsepower. Moreover, if you spend an extra $7300 on the Mercedes (resulting in a price that just barely eclipses our as-tested price of $146,845), you can add the AMG Development package, which brings the power up to 563 ponies and 664 pound-feet of torque. Of course, you’re still missing a fair few options (great options like the Bang & Olufsen stereo and heated steering wheel), but if having the fastest limo on the block is what’s important then the S63 AMG can accommodate you for just a little bit more money.
We’d also have a hard time purchasing the Alpina over the excellent BMW 760Li. The V-12-powered 7er starts at $140,700, and can be optioned similarly for just a bit more money. We’d only really consider this as an option if you wanted the B7’s performance but weren’t crazy about the Alpina styling treatment.
Still, the thing the Alpina has going for it is exclusivity. You’re extremely unlikely to come across another one in your travels. The S63 AMG might eclipse its performance, but purchasing an Alpina B7 puts you behind the wheel of an autobahn rocket that is as rare as new vehicles come. And in the world of executive limos, standing out is sometimes all that’s necessary.