Home » TEST DRIVE: 2021 ALPINA XB7 — When Excess Isn’t Enough
One of my favorite comedies is “The Other Guys”, starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. Another actor in the movie is the legendary Steve Coogan, who plays an extremely rich, corporate crook that delivers a speech about how excess is really the American dream, which is why he has fifteen Lamborghinis… and a Subaru station wagon. I couldn’t help but think of Coogan’s character during my time with the ALPINA XB7 because it’s so unnecessarily excessive that it’s hilariously fantastic.
That excess isn’t obvious at first, however. If you’re familiar with the BMW X7, you’re mostly familiar with the ALPINA XB7 as well. From the outside, there are a few differences between the XB7 and the standard X7 but they’re not immediately noticeable. The front apron is new, bearing the “ALPINA” name, as is the rear bumper, with quad exhausts stabbing through it. Of course, the XB7 gets ALPINA’s signature (see: stunning) wheel design. Apart from those things, though, you’ll be hard-pressed to spot any significant differences between the XB7 and the X7.
Styling, Inside and Out
Most BMWs are usually quite handsome things, even if they aren’t particularly beautiful, so when ALPINAs aren’t overly unique from their Bavarian counterparts, it’s not really a big deal. However, considering that the X7 is, let’s say visually challenged, the lack of real defining ALPINA looks is a bit disappointing. Especially in my test car’s thrilling (sarcasm font) shade of… white.
That disappointment sort of makes its way into the cabin, too. Don’t get me wrong — the inside of the ALPINA XB7 is fabulous. Its seats are sumptuous, the leather feels rich, the wood work is lovely, and the sound insulation is top notch. It’s an absolutely wonderful place to kill hours at a time. However, the very same can be said about the BMW X7. Sit inside an X7 xDrive50i or X7 M50i and you’ll be met with the same build quality and luxury. So the XB7 is great but it’s barely perceivably better than the X7 on which it’s based.
I will say that my test car’s Coffee brown interior was gorgeous and the wood trim looked special. There’s no denying that I was enveloped in unspeakable luxury for the week I had the XB7 and am in no way complaining. But X7 owners aren’t going to be jealous of the way it looks or feels inside.
It’s What Lies Beneath That Matters
BMW X7 owners won’t be jealous of the way the X7 looks or feels inside but they will be jealous of the way it drives. I’ll level with you. I like the BMW X7. There, I said it. It’s off my chest. That feels better. I feel seen, ya know? The BMW X7 is a good car and one that drives so much better than anything its size has the right to. That said, the ALPINA XB7 drives noticeably better and, when set up properly, is the most athletic elephant I’ve ever seen.
I’ve actually driven an ALPINA XB7 on track back in November of last year, at Monticello, which is a bit like saying I took a cruise ship down a water slide. During my track time with it, I was actually a bit disappointed, even for my relatively low expectations. The XB7 is the size of a bus and weighs twice as much, so I didn’t really think it would handle well on track. And still, I felt it wallowed too much and did not seem to like me pushing it hard. But there’s a caveat. We were told over the walkie talkies kept in the door bins of the car to not play with any settings — just get in and drive. And I don’t think my car was setup properly.
When I had the car on the road, I had time to fiddle with settings. I created my own Sport Individual setting, with most aspects of the car set in their sportiest settings, and the air suspension set to the lowest it would go. Set up like that and the ALPINA XB7 became a hilarious, playful rhinoceros. It still never felt like a sports car, it’s just too big and heavy for that, but it was miles more fun than I remembered it being and far more fun than an SUV of its size should be.
Does the ALPINA XB7 handle with the brand’s signature athleticism? Not really, to be honest. ALPINA did a great job with the chassis and suspension tuning of the XB7, making it tighter and more controlled than the X7, while still retaining a lot of its comfort. But there’s only so much you can do to combat physics. Sir Isaac Newton won’t be denied and, as good as the XB7 is, it’s still a massively tall, incredibly heavy SUV and such vehicles just aren’t super engaging to drive.
Admittedly, its steering is more accurate than almost any other SUV, its front end is sharp for an SUV, and it will cling on to corners harder than you think it can. Still, its main party trick is how quickly it covers terrain.
Most of its fun comes from its engine. ALPINA always works magic with BMW engines and the XB7’s is no different. The 4.4 liter twin-turbo V8 supplied by BMW was given a complete tear down and overhaul. That meant new pistons, intake manifold, turbochargers, intercoolers, and an engine to, and that’s not even all of it. The results are 612 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. It’s an absolute masterpiece of an engine; smooth, infinitely powerful, and even quite sonorous. It was also capable of turning my eyeballs into paste against the back of my skull, despite carrying around enough weight to sink an aircraft carrier. What a thing.
Coupled with a ZF eight-speed gearbox, which was also given the ALPINA treatment, the engine works perfectly in every scenario. Want to cruise around in effortless luxury and silence? You got it, where’s the opera? Want to make the C7 Corvette next to you regret his purchase? It will do it with ease. It’s quite possibly the greatest powertrain I’ve ever experienced in a luxury car.
Should You Buy One?
That’s the $150,000 question, isn’t it? There’s no getting around the fact that the ALPINA XB7 is incredibly expensive. My test car was just over $150,000 grand, which is only $20,000 less than I paid for my first condo. Is it actually worth that much money? Worth is all relative and in all fairness, the ALPINA customer doesn’t necessarily look at a comparable BMW product.
Admittedly, the XB7 is more interesting just by nature of being an ALPINA and not a standard BMW. Also, its engine is better than the M50i’s and its performance is more impressive. But the gap between the ALPINA XB7 and the BMW X7 M50i is smaller than any other ALPINA and its BMW counterpart. It’s better but it’s not vastly better, yet it costs $40,000 more, at least.
The BMW X7 M50i is already a vehicle with little to no compromises. It’s big, it’s fast, it’s incredibly luxurious, and comes with all of the comfort and tech anyone will ever need. However, if even that level of excess isn’t enough, the ALPINA XB7 provides that extra little bit. It’s not a huge amount more but when excess simply isn’t enough, and you need the biggest, baddest, three-row performance SUV on the planet, the XB7 is pretty much unbeatable.
2021 ALPINA XB7
Exterior Appeal - 7
Interior Quality - 9
Steering Feedback - 8
Performance - 10
Handling - 8
BMWness/Ultimate Driving Machine - 7
Price Point - 7
The BMW X7 M50i is already a vehicle with little to no compromises. It's big, it's fast, it's incredibly luxurious, and comes with all of the comfort and tech anyone will ever need. However, if even that level of excess isn't enough, the ALPINA XB7 provides that extra little bit. It's not a huge amount more but when excess simply isn't enough, and you need the biggest, baddest, three-row performance SUV on the planet, the XB7 is pretty much unbeatable.