What's New for 2008
The 2008 BMW Alpina B7 is unchanged.
The folks at BMW's M division have standards -- they won't turn any old thing with a roundel on the hood into a hair-raising, more-than-ultimate driving machine. The X5 and X3 are excluded from M transformation due to their high centers of gravity and general SUV-ness, while the 7 Series didn't seem sporty enough. According to BMW, M vehicles must have manual or sequential-manual (SMG) transmissions, which wouldn't work too well with the 7's odd steering-column-mounted gear selector. However, BMW couldn't ignore the fact that there's a market for high-performance executive sedans like the Audi S8 and Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG, so the company turned to an old friend to fill the vacancy in its lineup. The result was last year's introduction of the BMW Alpina B7.
Alpina has been creating tuner versions of BMW vehicles since 1961 when it created a special dual carburetor for the BMW 1500 sedan. Located about 50 miles west of BMW's Munich headquarters, Alpina has maintained a close relationship with its Bavarian comrades ever since, creating official high-performance versions of BMW vehicles. Until now, however, the only Alpina to show up on this side of the Atlantic was the Roadster V8, which was based on the Z8. That was a low-production vehicle, and the Alpina B7 will likewise be something you won't see at every Starbucks.
The 2008 BMW Alpina B7 differs the most from the standard 7 Series under the hood, where a supercharged version of the old 745i's 4.4-liter V8 churns out a guttural 500 horsepower and can accelerate the B7 from zero to 60 mph in 5 seconds, 1.4 seconds faster than the last 750i we tested and 0.4 second faster than even the V12-powered 760Li. And unlike those regular 7 Series models, the B7 is not hobbled with a speed governor. As such, it's allowed to hit a top speed of 186 mph.
A tasteful body kit further differentiates the Alpina B7, and it improves the big Bimmer's often derided styling. This is particularly true at the rear, where a spoiler neatly integrates into the controversial trunk lid. Twenty-spoke 21-inch wheels resemble the fan blades of a jet engine and further impart a more athletic impression than the stock 7 Series does. Plus, the two round holes in the front airdam that house the active cruise control radar and night vision sensor make the B7 look like it has been outfitted with Stinger missile launchers from a James Bond movie.
The 2008 BMW Alpina B7 looks the part of a high-performance executive sedan and has the power to match. True, it's not a real BMW M product, and those hoping for it to mimic the M5's high-revving thrills shouldn't get their hopes up. The Alpina B7 is the next best thing, though. As a propeller-badged alternative to more established vehicles like the Audi S8, Jaguar XJR, Maserati Quattroporte or Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG, the Alpina B7 works out quite nicely.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 BMW Alpina B7 is a high-performance version of BMW's 7 Series luxury sedan. It is available with the 7's standard wheelbase only. Special Alpina features include 21-inch wheels, a body kit with integrated rear spoiler, an Alpina-badged three-spoke steering wheel with Switch-Tronic automanual buttons, unique blue-background gauges and an Alcantara headliner. Other standard equipment is consistent with the 760Li, including xenon adaptive headlamps, enhanced windshield sealing to eliminate wind noise at high speeds, parking assist, a sunroof, 20-way heated and ventilated power front seats with memory, heated rear seats, automatic front and rear climate control, a navigation system with iDrive, Bluetooth connectivity and a Logic 7 13-speaker stereo with six-CD changer and satellite radio.
Options include the Rear Entertainment Package that adds a six-DVD changer with color monitor and two headphone jacks, as well as BMW Night Vision, adaptive cruise control, high-definition radio and rear side airbags.
Powertrains and Performance
The BMW Alpina B7 is powered by a supercharged 4.4-liter V8 pumping out 500 hp and 516 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic with wheel-mounted automanual buttons is the only transmission available. The B7 is capable of going from zero to 60 mph in 5 seconds, and is claimed to be able to hit an ungoverned top speed of 186 mph.
Antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver's knee airbag, front and rear parking sensors and BMW Assist telematics are all standard on the 2008 BMW Alpina B7. Rear-seat side airbags are optional, as is the Night Vision system, which uses an infrared camera to monitor obstacles nearly 1,000 feet ahead of the B7.
Interior Design and Special Features
Notable differences between a standard 7 Series and the B7 are subtle and include blue-background instruments, a special three-spoke steering wheel with Alpina badge and Switch-Tronic buttons. Otherwise, accommodations are consistent with the 760Li. The dashboard has a clean layout, with relatively few buttons courtesy of the much-maligned iDrive. The mouselike controller and its accompanying LCD screen have been improved over the years, but it's still confusing and draws attention away from driving. In a car capable of 186 mph, that's not exactly a good thing.
Materials are generally very high in quality, as you'd expect in this class, but there are a few plastics here and there that seem out of place in a luxury sedan. Backseat passengers will be just as comfortable as those in front, as the rear seatback provides exceptional back support, while headroom and legroom are abundant.
While the regular 7 Series is arguably the most entertaining full-size luxury sedan, Alpina's delicate touch has turned it into an even more adept canyon-carving weapon. Steering feel and response are practically telepathic for such a large car. Just eye a line and the B7 responds perfectly to your inputs. The ride, while firm with its huge 21-inch wheels and aggressive Michelin rubber, won't punish passengers on pockmarked city roads. The Alpina B7 is not quite up to M5 standards, but it accelerates with impressive gusto for a 4,700-pound sedan. Its jumpy throttle response can make daily driving a bit of a chore, though, as the supercharger can kick in with massive authority when you're not quite expecting it to. The 2008 BMW Alpina B7 has brakes to match, as it is capable of stopping from 60 mph in just 114 feet (on par with a Porsche Cayman) with a solid and consistent pedal feel.