Sometimes being a car journalists is the best job in the world. Outside of fighter pilot or astronaut, I’m not sure there’s a more jealousy-inducing job on the planet. While I understand that, sometimes I get a bit jaded and forget just how great it is to do what I do. That snap back to reality happened when I had the chance to attend a friend’s wedding in the Pennsylvania countryside and asked BMW to borrow a vehicle to review for the 500 mile road trip.
The request was pretty standard: me pestering the BMW PR people to see what sorts of new, fun goodies they had for me to test out. I received a prompt response, listing off some of the new Bavarian metal available for my then-upcoming road trip. There were four or five cars on the list but I honestly don’t remember what they were because they all went blank the moment I saw the one name — ALPINA B7.
I couldn’t slam my keyboard keys in response any quicker, staking my claim to the ALPINA Green B7 before anyone else could. Thankfully, my twitchy keyboard fingers got the email in before anyone else could claim it as their own and I had it, a 2020 ALPINA B7 LCI scheduled for my road trip and I couldn’t have chosen a better vehicle had BMW’s entire portfolio been available. Hell, I’m not sure I could have chosen a better vehicle had the entirety of the automotive industry been available to me.
What’s the Deal with the B7 Facelift?
For 2020, the ALPINA B7 received a facelift, to go along with the LCI facelifted 7 Series, which brought a new grille, slightly new front fascia, new headlights, updated taillights, BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional gauges and some iDrive tweaks. While the B7 isn’t exactly a pretty car, as it’s based on the 7 Series LCI which is most definitely not pretty, everywhere it went it stood out like an ’80s rock star in Amish country.
Its ALPINA Green Metallic paint, in contrast with its Ivory White interior, dropped the jaw of nearly every passerby. Everyone seemed to be in agreement; it might not be beautiful but it’s awesome. The B7’s outlandish grille and slab-sided design borrowed from the 7 Series prevent it from truly being a beautiful car but it’s hard to not love. There’s something so characterful about it, something that makes it almost unanimously loved wherever it goes.
The cabin is lovely, too. To be brutally honest, it’s barely different than that of the 7 Series. The folks at ALPINA won’t like hearing that, and I know a ton of work goes into crafting each ALPINA cabin, but the B7’s interior is almost imperceptibly different from the standard 7er on which it’s based. That’s not a bad thing, as it’s a gorgeous cabin, but it’s a touch disappointing. The seats are essentially the same, all of the tech is identical and the leather, while lovely, isn’t noticeably better than the hide seen in a 750i, for instance.
Admittedly, the wood trim is absolute gorgeous and the ALPINA plaques do remind you that you’re in something special, but it’s the cabin doesn’t separate the ALPINA B7 from any other 7 Series.
What separates the B7 from the standard 7 Series is how it feels on the road. The B7 is head and shoulders above the 7 Series in every aspect that matters.
Under the hood lies an engine that begins life as a standard BMW N63 4.4 liter twin-turbocharged V8. Then ALPINA opens it up, throws a bunch of stuff away and replaces it all with better stuff. So it gets new pistons, a new intake manifold, new exhaust manifold, two new twin-scroll turbochargers, a new intercooler and an engine tune, to name just a few. The result is 600 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque but, in reality, it feels like there should be another hundred added to both of those figures.
ALPINA also puts its stamp on the chassis and suspension. So ALPINA tunes its transmission, suspension, steering, brakes, all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering, all to make it ride more comfortably and handle more nimbly. Anyone that’s driven an ALPINA knows that there’s a balance between ride and handling that seems almost impossible.
My wife was the Maid of Honor in the wedding, so we had make the 250 mile road trip, from our house in south New Jersey, a day early to make it to the rehearsal. So we loaded up the car that morning, worrying we might not be able to fit all of our luggage. After all, the B7 is just a sedan, not a practical family wagon or SUV. However, its capacious trunk swallowed up our luggage, my son’s toys and all of my wife’s Maid of Honor gubbins with ease. In fact, there was room in the trunk for more and we had almost nothing in the back seat except for my suits hanging from the driver’s side rear hook.
With everything loaded, we set off with a destination of around 250 miles away. That’s not a massive journey by any means but anyone who’s traveled with a three-year old in the back seat knows that 250 miles might as well be a million miles. Boredom, discomfort, cabin noise and bumpy roads can tire out a small child quickly during a road trip, thus rapidly degrading the patience of the parents.
However, the ALPINA B7 proved to be the perfect machine for such a journey. Not only was its ride silky smooth — shockingly better than the slightly stiff 7 Series’ — but its cabin was hushed and quiet. That serene cabin allowed for my son to easily relax, play with his little toys in his car seat and let my wife and I enjoy a quiet and comfortable ride.
The incredible Bowers & Wikins surround sound also not only let us enjoy our Spotify road trip playlist but, due to the ease of wireless Apple CarPlay, allowed us to quickly switch to my son’s favorite superhero theme songs when he got antsy, to buy us some more cabin serenity.
Over Pennsylvania’s hilariously poorly paved highways, the B7 was magic. Even in Sport Plus mode, the suspension remained remarkably supple, yet incredibly planted. I honestly can’t figure out how ALPINA manages to make the B7 both ride more comfortably than the standard 7 Series while also reducing body roll, increasing agility and sharpening turn-in. Somehow, the B7 is both a better luxury car and a better sports car and it just doesn’t seem possible until you drive it. The only explanation is magic, as if it were pure mechanical engineering, BMW would be able to reverse-engineer it and replicate it on the standard 7 Series. However, to date, it hasn’t. So it must be magic. Pure wizardry. Suspension by Doctor Strange.
In fact, the ALPINA B7 is so good as a long-distance, mile-munching missile that you can hit frighteningly high speeds without ever noticing. On several occasions, I’d look down at the speedometer with complete shock at the number on the screen. Let’s just say, if you were to drive on the Autobahn, you could theoretically hit 120 mph without noticing, as it’d feel like you were doing half that. Of course, as soon as I saw the high speeds, I’d slow right down, as I won’t even knowingly drive quickly with my family in the car. But the B7 can shrug off triple digit speed with a yawn.
It’s also quite adept at navigating traffic. Sure, it’s the size of a small aircraft carrier but it changes direction with the immediacy of a much smaller machine and it’s so explosive in its power delivery that it allowed us to slice through traffic like an F1 car fighting for a podium finish. If the need to pass someone arises, a flick of the wheel and a flex of the right foot and the B7 explodes forward as if propelled by solid rocket boosters.
While the engine is brilliant; delivering weapons-grade power with a buttery smooth delivery unmatched by any standard BMW product; its passing ability is also a testament to its transmission tuning. ALPINA puts its own stamp on the eight-speed ZF automatic and it shows. Even just a quarter-throttle stab immediately tells the transmission to quickly drop a couple of cogs, allowing the B7 to get from 50-80 mph in what feels like two seconds. It had me cackling like an idiot each and every time I overtook some unexpected motorist, who had no idea that a massive green BMW could outmaneuver them so easily. Sports car owners beware: don’t pick a speed-fight with a B7. You won’t win.
Once in the countryside of Pennsylvania and off the highways, we were met with some surprisingly twisty roads, flanked by stunning scenery. Cows and horses dotted the immaculate farmland, as we found ourselves further and further from the trappings of superfluous suburban life. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never want to live 40 miles from the nearest grocery store but it was refreshing to get away from vapid culture of typical American suburbia.
On such back roads, the B7 once again proved to be an incredibly companion. It’s not just the capability that impresses. ALPINA also gets the nuanced stuff right. So its steering feels better, with a subtle but effective build of up weight off-center that allows you to far more accurately judge what the front end is doing than in a standard 7er. That allows the B7 to feel far more chuckable, far more accurate than any car of its size has the right to.
Its grip is also immense. So despite having 600 horsepower and weighing as much as most moons, the B7 feels unflappable through corners. It will corner with speed and agility that will leave its driver in awe, jaw agape, at sheer sheer physics-bending ability.
Wedding Day Relaxation Chamber
On the day of the wedding, I mostly played chauffeur. My son was the ring-bearer in the wedding, so I had to get him ready and at the venue on time, while my wife was off doing Maid of Honor things with the bride. That meant I was the driver and my son was the client. He needed to be at the venue early, so they could get ready and my wife could prep him for his small but important job. During that preparation time, I had nothing to do except sit in the car in the parking lot of a gorgeous, country-chic farm venue.
Without any cell service, being out in the middle of nowhere, there was really nothing for me to do except sit in the driver’s seat of the B7, by myself, listening to podcasts I had luckily downloaded a few days prior. Sitting in the warm autumn sun; sunroof open and windows down; in the sumptuous leather seats reclined all the way with the massage function on, I took a great nap. This might not be the most exciting of automotive information but, realistically, how many cars can massage your back as you sit in reclined leather thrones while listening to your favorite podcasts? Not many and it was brilliant.
Relaxing Drive Home
We were beat the following day. The wedding was a long and really fun but also really exhausting night, especially for me, as I was on baby-duty for most of the night. So on the drive home, we just needed to relax and there are few cars as capable of providing a relaxing long-distance cruise as the ALPINA B7. With all of its settings set to Comfort Plus, the B7 slackened off into a sumptuous, pillowy cruiser that melted our tension away. It also turned the several hour drive, something that’s typically equal-parts boring and frustrating, into a serene and enjoyable experience. That alone is worth the high sticker price of the B7, as it can eliminate some stress in your life and stress elimination is worth its weight in gold.
Best Luxury Car with a Roundel
The ALPINA B7 is one of those cars I knew I was going to love, yet continued to surprise and baffle me in all the best ways. I had high expectations going in and it exceeded all of them. Last I drove a BMW 7 Series, I was slightly disappointed with its ride, lack of agility — even for something of its size — and overall sense of weight. The B7 bests the 7 Series — any 7 Series — in every single way. It rides better, handles better, its engine is better and sounds better, its performance is off the mind-melting and it exudes a specialness that the standard 7er simply can’t.
I love the ALPINA B7; I love the way it looks, I love the way it drives and I love that it bears the ALPINA name. That name alone holds so much weight for BMW fans, and is so rare in the real world, that it makes BMW fans happy even while standing still. It’s one of those rare cars when it can bring you joy, simply by existing. Then, when you actually get in the car, it brings even more joy. What a machine.