You can imagine my surprise when I walked out onto the track at Monticello Motor Club, for BMW’s recent test fest, to see several ALPINA XB7 models sitting in the pit lane. “We get to drive those on track?” I asked one BMW exec. “That’s what [Andreas] Bovensiepen wanted,” he said. “He gave us a ton of extra tires and everything.”
Several BMW execs actually told us journos that the XB7 was one of the most fun cars they had on track that day, a day in which there were M2 CSs and M5 Competitions available. So, naturally, I was eager to get some seat time behind the wheel of a nearly three-ton SUV on track. It seemed like hilarious fun. Turns out,though, I was more nervous in the XB7 than any other car on track that day.
What is the ALPINA XB7?
The ALPINA XB7 is the ALPINA-tuned version of the BMW X7, so it’s a massive, three-row SUV with enough leather inside to shame a German dominatrix. It’s packed with gorgeous leather, stunningly finished wood trim and bright metal work. If there’s any plastic in the cabin, I didn’t notice. ALPINA took the X7, an already lavish vehicle, and cranked the luxury-level up to eleven.
Under the hood lies a familiar 4.4 liter twin-turbo V8 lump, the same one that powers the ALPINA B7. So it makes 600 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. At least, that’s how much the spec sheet says. After having driven the ALPINA B7 sedan, I wouldn’t be surprised if dyno results added one hundred to each of those figures. It’s monstrous.
Paired to that engine is another familiar bit of kit; the eight-speed ZF-soured gearbox that features ALPINA’s own tuning and calibration. Same goes for the ALPINA-tuned xDrive all-wheel drive system, the suspension and the brakes.
Shockingly, I’m a bit fan of the regular BMW X7, as I think it’s the best luxury car BMW makes — which is odd for me to admit, as I typically hate big SUVs. But the X7 is an undeniably brilliant machine, however superfluous it may be. Combine that love for the X7 with my undying affection for everything ALPINA and it would be an understatement to say I was excited to drive the ALPINA XB7. But did it deliver?
Strapped into the cockpit the ALPINA XB7, I was immediately struck with just how odd the whole experience was. There I was, in the pit lane of a race track, about to push a vehicle as hard as I dare and yet my seat was infinitely adjustable, covered in the most beautiful leather and massaging my back and ass. The wood trim was astounding, the cabin was quiet enough to make a pin drop feel abrasive and my seat, steering wheel and even armrests were heated. The dichotomy of it all felt equal parts bizarre and intriguing.
As we made our way onto the track, behind the lead instructor, we had a chance to open up its mighty engine and see what it could do. To say that the ALPINA XB7 is fast for an SUV would be a gross understatement. Stomping the go-pedal in the XB7 felt less like opening the throttle on the engine and more like detonating a fifty-kiloton bomb, wrapped in leather and Alcantara. Forward thrust was gut-churning, yet the quiet, insulated cabin and cushy ride completely belied the acceleration.
While that’s brilliant on the road, it’s not a welcome quality on the racetrack, where the XB7 felt completely isolated from the actual act of driving quickly. There’s also a fair bit of body roll, even in its stiffest settings, so I could feel the weight shift up high, feeling almost as if it was going to tip over. On the track, I was genuinely uneasy, as it felt more like piloting a building than a car.
Admittedly, there’s a level of fun in that, too. There’s a naughty feeling of doing something you’re not supposed to be doing, while chucking a nearly three-ton lump of leather and luxury around in anger on a wet race track.
Back on the Road
After attempting to flog the XB7 on track, it was time to take it to the road, where it proved to be most comfortable. On the road, the ALPINA XB7 reminded me of how much I like both the BMW X7 and the ALPINA brand. The XB7 proved to be a wonderful luxury car, capable of steamrolling bumps, eliminating road and wind noise and simply isolating its passengers from any exterior annoyances.
Yet, despite being effortlessly luxurious, the XB7 is a wonderful thing to actually drive. Its steering is beautifully weighted, its suspension always feels composed and capable and its engine is a masterpiece. On the very same roads I’d previously flogged the BMW M2 CS and M440i, the XB7 proved to be every bit as willing a dance partner. It’s not a sports car by any means, and it’s not even as fun as the ALPINA B7, but the XB7 has a loveliness to the way it drives that only an ALPINA can have and that other luxury SUVs simply can’t match.
Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I didn’t get the chance to drive it on the road as much as I’d have liked. There were a lot of cars and only a few hours to test them all on both road and track. However, from the short on-road drive I had, the ALPINA XB7 gave me a helluva first impression.
Looks and Interior
Obviously, I wasn’t inspecting the interior quality while on track. Concentration is needed to pilot such a mammoth vehicle on a racetrack in the rain. However, I did get to check out its cabin during my road drive, even if it wasn’t as thorough as I might have liked.
With that said, the cabin is obviously fabulous. The leather quality is top-notch and the wood trim on my road tester was absolutely breathtaking. Aside from that, though, it’s about the same as in a standard BMW X7. Not to say that’s bad but it’s just not much different looking than the admittedly already brilliant X7.
Big, powerful SUVs are not to my personal taste. I honestly don’t see the point of them. However, I do see the point of the ALPINA XB7. Forget its power and shocking straight-performance. The XB7 charms with its effortlessness. Not only is it immensely comfortable but it just glides down the road, cuts through sweeping corners and powers through traffic with such ease that it’s hard to not fall in the love with the thing.
My test wasn’t as long in the XB7 as it was in the other cars that day, so I can’t say for certain until I test it on the road back home, but the ALPINA XB7 seems to be among the best powerful SUVs in the world.