Home » Test Drives » TEST DRIVE: 2021 BMW ALPINA XB7 – Smooth, Fast, Agile, Understated but Characterful SUV
ALPINA’s are for drivers who want to go fast, but don’t want an ‘’in-your-face’’ vehicle. Is the XB7, with its massive presence on the road still able to fulfill this requirement? We took the latest member in the ALPINA family for a spin and tried to find out if it is a true ALPINA.
The purists from ALPINA are in their prime. New releases are following up with rapid pace and the production will increase from 1400 cars in 2020 to more than 2000 this year. The interest in the brand from the Bavarian town of Buchloe, Germany is skyrocketing. Not only the sales are going through the roof, but the brand is also getting a constant stream of praise for their model lineup.
Several months ago we got the chance to drive the brand new ALPINA B3 and now we were back behind the wheel of another new ALPINA. This time the brand new XB7, the most powerful series production SUV with a BMW badge to date. Like with other ALPINA models in their lineup, the XB7 doesn’t offer any overlap with BMW’s M-division products. Instead, like the B3, D3 S, XD3, XD4, B5, D5 S and B7, they are usually softer-edged and more luxurious than the M cars and aimed at niches that BMW won’t develop cars for.
The three-row luxury SUV
The base package of the XB7 is the BMW X7 M50i, which is nothing other than a 5,900-pound, three-row luxury SUV meant for traditional V8 markets, where luxury and large SUVs are the king of the town. The XB7 offers a unique flavor to the standard X7 offering. In true ALPINA nature, you will have effortless straight-line acceleration, a sublime ride, a luxury lineup of upgrades and an uncommon rarity that not a single current series production BMW is able to offer. Yes, not a single one!
Like any other ALPINA, the rarity and exclusivity of the model is of course emphasized by its considerable higher price tag, but more importantly the feeling of driving something that is only available for a handful of lucky owners. BMW will only build a few hundred XB7’s per year for ALPINA, which allows owners to get their hands on something that is more limited than many supercars. While the car is built in the US, the engine and suspension bits are shipped directly from ALPINA’s production facility in Germany and are assembled by ALPINA-certified technicians on BMW’s production line in their US-based Spartanburg factory.
Lots of refinements under the skin
The package of the XB7 is nothing other than what we should expect from an ALPINA. There is the obvious combination of a heavily revised engine and gearbox set up, tweaked suspension, newly upgraded brakes, and all the usual interior refinements available with either a six- or seven-seat layout. Parked in front of me was a Sapphire Black XB7 equipped with all these ALPINA options and extras, including a seven-seat layout and running Pirelli winter tires, which had an impact on the performance. More on this later.
Let’s first look at the exterior “upgrades”, which the Bavarians have added to the package. The front apron has large air intakes and the familiar free-floating ALPINA lettering. The front is aerodynamically optimized to reduce uplift for maximum high-speed stability. Large air intakes offer an improved flow of air to the high-performance ALPINA cooling system. At the rear, you will notice the ALPINA sport exhaust system with two twin tailpipes integrated into the ALPINA rear apron. The middle of the rear apron is accentuated by small diffusor fins.
The XB7 rolls on the ALPINA DYNAMIC 21 inch wheels as standard with high-performance summer tires, measuring 285/45R21 front and rear. Available as an option are the 23 inch forged-alloy wheels in the ALPINA CLASSIC 20 spoke design and finished in Anthracite. These 23 inch wheels offer a weight saving of 13 kg (28 lbs) per vehicle. The wheels are shod in Pirelli tires. For the 23 inch wheels, they have been explicitly developed and measure 285/35 ZR23 at front and 325/30 ZR23 rear.
Due to the winter weather situation, the XB7 available for the test drive rode on winter tires, which had an immediate impact on the handling and at higher speed. Nothing out of the ordinary, but we weren’t greeted with its surplus of high-speed performance. We will leave that for another time.
The XB7’s upgraded braking performance comes from four-pistoned, fixed brake calipers from Brembo, with lightweight drilled brake discs of 395 x 36 mm (15.5 x 1.4“) diameter on the front axle and floating brake calipers with brake discs of 398 x 28 mm (15.7 x 1.1“) diameter on the rear axle. The calipers are finished in ALPINA Blue and feature a white ALPINA logo. This setup is the optional high-performance brake system, which offers lighter drilled brake discs and highly heat-resistant brake pads. During my drive, they offered a wonderful consistent deceleration, and a proper upgrade over the stock offering on the X7.
The Interior – What You’d Expect From ALPINA
Inside the interior, you will find a wide range of standard equipment including high-end Merino leather, comfort seats, seat heating, soft-close doors, Alcantara headlining and a leather instrument panel. The three-part panoramic glass sunroof is combined with special ALPINA features such as the “Crafted Clarity” glass application and iDrive controller in ALPINA design, blue illuminated gear selector switch, ALPINA production plaque, illuminated ALPINA door sills and the ALPINA sport steering wheel, hand-finished in LAVALINA leather and featuring trademark blue/green stitching. Upon request, you can get a wide variety of interior options via the ALPINA leather workshop.
In addition to the ALPINA myrtle luxury wood interior trim, two further ALPINA trim variants are optionally available: piano lacquer and the all new natural walnut anthracite. Each of the ALPINA wood trim variants features the ALPINA roundel logo. Like other ALPINAs, the full-color digital instrument display has its signature ALPINA design with the use of blue and green colors.
Anyone who has ever seen or driven an ALPINA is aware and familiar of these changes compared to the standard BMW package, but where the XB7 really shines is the driving experience and the ability to combine its driving dynamics with a type of agility and performance that you don’t often see. Definitely not, when you look at where the car is positioned in connection to its direct competitors. An Audi RSQ8 and Porsche Cayenne Turbo might be faster to 100 km/h (62 mph), but both won’t offer you the refinement of the XB7. Nor are you able to drive in sheer comfort at 290 km/h (180 mph) in either of them.
Heavy, But Nimble On The Road
The XB7’s performance is coming from an X7 M50i engine which is a 4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V8, which has been altered to meet the ALPINA standard. Power goes from the 523 horsepower in the M50i up to a whopping 612 in the XB7, while torque hops from 553 pound-feet to 590. This allows the SUV to catapult you from 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62 mph) in 4.2 seconds (half a second faster than the M50i). The sprint from 0 to 200 km/h (0 to 124 mph) goes in just 14.9 seconds.
The true nature is immediately felt when you touch the throttle pedal. You have the 590 pound-feet or 800 Nm available from 2000 up to 5000 revs. The engine’s power characteristics and enhanced throttle response are the result of two new, twin-scroll turbochargers with 54 mm (2.1“) turbines and an enhanced cooling systems, which receives more air through the bigger front air intakes. The ALPINA sport exhaust system complements the package with a more noticeable, but still with a refined sound track. You can change the sound by switching between Comfort and Sport mode, which controls the active exhaust flaps.
To convert the power to the road, the Bavarians have upgraded the suspension and offer an electronically-variable rear axle limited-slip differential as standard, which connects to BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system. Like with the new B3 and D3, the engineers have altered the suspension set up, offering a wide range of options and a new Comfort Plus mode for ultimate refinement. On the XB7, the two-axle air springs, damper set-up and Active Roll Stabilization have been enhanced to offer a wider choice for you as a driver. Comfort Plus offers the plush ride and on the other hand there is Sport Plus with its race-inspired dynamics, which on the Winter tires didn’t really shine.
The overall package is far more responsive and engaging than any X7 would ever be. It is definitely not the ultimate sporty SUV, but that is not what you expect from an ALPINA, which are often considered as the best series production “sleepers” in the automotive market. With the XB7, you could argue that its size doesn’t allow it to go under the radar, but its capabilities are surely hid away inside a package that often will be marked as “just” a Bimmer. The delivery of its performance is smooth, effortless and with a type of competence that brings a smile to your face. The throttle response is excellent and the acceleration controlled by your right foot is immensely satisfying.
A Future ALPINA Big Seller
The little tweaks in connection to the gearbox, suspension and brakes offer a handling that doesn’t offer ultimate performance, but understated in a way that when you need the power it is there in abundance. Add to this, the enhanced ride height adjustments and it almost becomes a SUV for any terrain. The adaptive air spring suspension offers a 1.6-inch (40 mm) change in ride height depending on speed or setting. Stay below 30 km/h (19 mph), and it lifts 1.6 inches (40 mm). Switch to Sport mode or drive faster than 160 km/h (100 mph) and it drops 0.8 inches (20 mm). In Sport + or over 250 km/h (155 mph) you will sink another 0.8 inches (20 mm).
The XB7 is all you would ever want from an ALPINA SUV with six or seven seats. The refinement is top-notch, the technical upgrades are what you expect from an ALPINA, and the character of the vehicle has stayed true what you want to see inside an ALPINA; luxury, performance and exclusivity. If there is a point to make about the XB7, then it would be its sheer size and inability to feel at home within any decent populated city. But wouldn’t any X7 have the same problem? It will never be at home in dense (European) cities.