Payne: Alpina B7, the Bimmer Hellcat
I’m a Dodge Hellcat fan. Especially the Charger SRT Hellcat, the biggest, baddest, meanest sedan on the planet. With its 204 mph, 6.2-liter Hemi ground-thumper and spacious rear seat, it’s the anti-minivan — the family car that picks up the kiddies at school then lays rubber past the school bus line.
But built on an aging Chrysler chassis from the Flintstone era, it’s also a raw, one-trick pony. A Woodward hand grenade one minute — a twisty-road handful the next.
What if someone mated its Herculean, V-8 drivetrain to a more sophisticated chassis? Swept Eliza Doolittle off the muscle-car streets and into the halls of luxury? What if someone built something like a Thurston Hellcat III?
Well, let me introduce you to a truly twisted gentleman: The 205 mph, 600 horsepower, all-wheel-drive, twin-sunroof, twin-turbo V8-powered 2017 BMW Alpina B7.
Alpina, of course, is the legendary German performance brand closely associated with BMW. Think Roush and Ford. Like, Roush, Alpina gained its reputation on the track, fighting for the prestigious European Touring Car championship in the 1970s with ferocious BMW racers that graced teen motorheads’ walls (mine, for instance) with rear fenders wider than Michael Phelps’ shoulders.
Like Roush Mustangs, BMW Alpinas are sold and serviced at BMW dealerships. Yet Alpina goes one step further to integrate its Frankenstein monsters into BMW production lines. Exhibit A: The B7, which is made in Dingolfing, Germany, alongside the Bavarian maker’s flagship 740i.
With its race history in the rear-view mirror, (Alpina stopped racing in 1983), the carmaker has evolved alongside BMW’s own, in-house M performance brand as BMW’s more refined hot-rod badge. Hard-core performance enthusiasts prefer Ms and their high-revving engines and washboard-stiff rides. Alpina’s trademark is low-end torque and posh interiors.
The B7 is of particular renown because — unlike its 2,3,5 and 6 series models — Bimmer does not bother with an M-badged 7-series. Rumor is it’s coming — complete with a howling V12 that will make grown men weak in the legs. I’m feeling a little jelly-kneed myself, actually.
But for now, the world must live with the more refined Alpina. You won’t be disappointed. This beast is the kraken in a coat and tie. A Bimmer Hellcat.
And pure car porn. An unattainable sexpot outfitted with every essential and nonessential accessory known to autodom. Gold plate it and The Donald would put it in his living room. Out of reach of most mortals, it nevertheless is a rolling representation of what’s possible in luxury sedan performance.
At its heart is the 740i’s twin-turbo V-8 bulked up to 600 horses and 591 pound-feet of torque. That’s more than 100 horses shy of the Hellcat. But mated to a quick-shifting, automatic eight-speed tranny and torque-vectoring AWD system, the Bimmer lays down power better than the tire-smoking, tail-wagging Dodge to achieve similar eyeball-flattening acceleration times. Zero-60 goes by in just 3.5 seconds; the quarter mile tape broken in sub-12.
Bearing Alpina’s signature, multi-spoke wheels and lowered menacingly to the ground (its front spoiler dragging out of my driveway like a Corvette Z06), the B7 has presence. Drop the hammer out of a Woodward stoplight and the B7 launches like a nuclear missile. Inside the yacht-like cabin the 4.4-liter V8 sounds a football field away, but acceleration is immediate.
I took the Alpina to Pontiac on M1 Concourse’s Championship Raceway (official track school car: Hellcat) where it was astonishingly quick. With stamina. A heat-challenged, electric Tesla wouldn’t make it a lap. Even the BMW X5M I flogged at Autobahn Raceway went into limp mode after five hot laps. The Alpina pounded around all day long.
Where the Hellcat’s old chassis and rear-wheel-drive system slides luridly through corners, the B7 is planted, the X-Drive system distributing torque for explosive corner exits. On Championship’s back straight, I hit 118 mph — just 6 mph shy of what a Dodge Viper ACR has recorded there. Happily, the B7 is outfitted with 15.5-inch front brakes — the same size as a Z06 — so I could haul its girth back to earth. Loaded with more upholstery and electronics than a luxury hotel suite, the 4,800-pound Alpina actually weighs 300 pounds more than the porky Charger Hellcat.
But where the B7 really shines is on the open road, where its sophisticated chassis tuning makes for a surreal experience. With a long, 127-inch wheelbase and luxury’s largest backseat, the Bimmer feels huge, yet corners with a scalpel’s precision thanks, in part, to all-wheel steering.
On high-speed four-lanes in Hell, Michigan, I matched a Nissan GT-R — Godzilla vs. Destroyah! — move for move. On I-75, the B7 gulped traffic like a whale swallowing plankton.
When not annihilating asphalt outside, I lounged in the BMW’s palatial, wood-and-leather-trimmed apartment inside.
Alpina distinguishes the interior with its own digital instrument display that changes color depending on which of three drive modes you choose — COMFORT, REGULAR and SPORT (my preference, the seat bolsters tightening around your ribs as you press the button). The rotary dial is the best in the business, as is the monostable shifter. A heads-up display means never having to take your eye off the landscape rushing by. Night-vision infrared radar warns of deer at night.
And voice recognition is as good as my Samsung smart phone — a first in my experience. Just say where — “Navigate to M1 Concourse” — and you’re there (which means you only need spend $100K-plus on a car for nav as good as your $500 phone).
You also get frivolous toys. Like gesture control. Do an air circle with your finger and the radio volume goes up or down. And useless autonomous features. Set lane keep and adaptive cruise, then retire to the reclining rear seats to get some work down, right? Wrong. Take your hands off the wheel — and the car will throw a fit telling you to be hands-on.
Wrapped in Amsterdam blue, my B7 was striking yet stealthy. No Hellcat hood scoops. No demonic badges. Roll up quietly next to a Corvette at a stoplight — then match it stride for stride coming out. The Alpina is the most refined, most powerful, most excessive sports sedan BMW can make for just $153,895. That’s the price of two, $70,000 Dodge Charger Hellcats.
But your knuckles won’t be white when you hit 200 mph.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2017 BMW Alpina B7
Front-engine, all-wheel drive five-passenger luxury sedan
4.4-liter, twin-turbocharged V-8
600 horsepower, 591 pound-feet torque
Zero-60: 3.5 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed: 205 mph
EPA 16 city/24 highway/18 combined
Superb interior controls; drivetrain heaven
If ya gotta ask, you can’t afford it; over-indulgent tech toys like gesture control
Grading scale: Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★