Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: February 22, 2021
Alpina has a small presence here in North America. The low-key Bavarian tuner has only graced us with two models so far, the B6 and B7 sedans, whereas European markets are blessed with an army of BMW alternatives, from the B3 Sedan to the B5 Touring. That’s about to change, with Alpina finally sending over one of their SUVs. Get ready for the XB7, as it’s the closest thing you will ever see to a BMW X7 M. No, XB7 doesn’t roll off the tongue easily but neither does RSQ8, MP4-12C, or the name of Elon’s offspring.
Quick history for those unfamiliar with Alpina: think of them like what Brabus is to Mercedes. They are an automotive manufacturing company based out of Bavaria that takes a stock BMW and modifies it with a variety of hand finished tweaks and upgrades. Unlike BMW’s M models, Alpinas have a heavier emphasis on torque, automatic transmissions, and upscale interiors. They are more of a gentleman’s sports car and come with a full BMW warranty too. They have been partnered with BMW Canada for over 21 years, and have even released an Exclusive Edition of their B7 to commemorate that relationship. And while Alpina only exports around 400 vehicles to Canada annually, the XB7 is about to ramp up that number big time.
The 2021 Alpina XB7 starts off at $165,900 before options, a significant $38,500 over the M50i. With that premium, you get the same 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8 as the M50i but it’s been upgraded with larger twin-scroll turbochargers, two additional water coolers, a larger transmission oil cooler, new intercoolers, a stainless steel exhaust system, and a beefed up 8-speed gearbox, for a total output of 612 horsepower and 590 lb-ft. That’s a healthy 89 hp and 37 lb-ft upgrade over the M50i.
The XB7 will scoot you and six other passengers from 0-100 km/h in 4.2 seconds, four-tenths of a second quicker than the M50i. To further put that into perspective, the XB7 will easily keep up with a Maserati Ghibli Trofeo and outrun a Range Rover Sport SVR. Not bad for a family hauler that weighs more than a G-Wagon. Top speed? 290 km/h. Is that figure relevant for an SUV? Of course not, but it’s nice to know what your sled is capable of should you need to outrun a Texan snowstorm. To sharpen its dynamic acuity, Alpina has also loaded the XB7 with rear wheel steering, a two-axle adaptive air suspension, and a unique dome-bulkhead strut and reinforced torsion struts to increase body rigidity.
Aesthetically, the XB7 sets itself apart with massive (and standard) 23-inch wheels, similar to what Mercedes uses on their GLS. They are wrapped around the classic Alpina 20-spoke design, but smaller and lighter 21-inch wheels are optional with performance summer or all-season run-flats, measuring in at 285/45R21 for both the front and rear. You will see the 21s on our test vehicle.
The XB7 adopts a new body kit that includes larger front air intakes, a front splitter with free-floating Alpina lettering, blue brake calipers, and a set of twin tailpipes out back. There’s a unique engine cover as well as the gorgeous palette of Alpina Blue and Alpina Green. Our test vehicle was draped in an unassuming shade of Sapphire Black making it even more inconspicuous, cleverly blending in with other X7s in the concrete jungle. If you’re looking for a sleeper three-row SUV, this is it. The best way to spot one? Look at the wheels.
Inside you will find the typical Alpina garnish with a metal plaque on the center console and Alpina badges on the crystal rotary dial, dashboard, and floor mats. The digital instrument cluster features Alpina’s purple and blue coloured theme, and you can spec the cabin with their exclusive Myrtle Wood panels - some might find the dark orange hue a little old-timey but it brings a refreshing sense of charm to the cabin. Furthermore, Alpina uses their own type of leather for the hand-finished steering wheel called Lavalina, which has a slightly coarser texture than the standard Merino leather but it actually gives more tactile grip, which we greatly appreciated. The wheel is also accented with the brand’s signature blue and green stitching.
And like any BMW X7, the XB7 is a first class cabin on wheels. We’re talking about quilt-patterned leather seats, heated armrests, selectable fragrances piping through the air vents, Alcantara headliner, and a light-up panoramic roof divided into three sections for each row of seats. They should actually be referred to as lounging chairs rather than car seats, as they come with a massage function too, but those that desire a little more pompous excess would be better off with the B7 Sedan. The XB7 still has a VIP-worthy rear cabin filled to the brim with creature comforts but the third-row of seats and the limitations of accessing them prevents BMW from upgrading the second row with fixed contoured seats and a dedicated center console like in the Range Rover Autobiography and Mercedes-Maybach GLS 600.
There are fewer visual and technological theatrics in the XB7 than its rivals but it’s equally as purposeful and well-built. The digital instrument cluster is a nice touch but too overcrowded and messy for my taste. Those that feel the same can dive into the settings menu and choose Reduced Mode - think of it like Night Mode on Saabs, which pares the display down to just the speedometer and tachometer readings. On a side note, did you know that you can remotely start the engine without the phone app or display key? Just press the lock button on the key fob three times consecutively and the V8 will fire right up. Handy in the winter.
Aesthetics and materials aside, it’s the powertrain and suspension that sets the Alpina apart from the standard X7 models. The tuned V8 offers more power than any driver really needs. Maximum torque comes way down low at 2,000 rpm, so you can simply slam the throttle, let the electronics take care of the traction, and hold on tight as the 612-hp rollercoaster reinvigorates what you ever thought was enough. This abrupt urgency on full afterburner lends the XB7 a sense of lightness on its feet that was slightly lacking in the M50i, and the 8-speed ZF automatic transmission consistently demonstrates why it’s one of the best gearboxes on the market, matching the prodigious torque with clean, polished, and seamless shifts. Pick up speed, and it shifts with the speed and ferocity of even the best dual-clutches.
Though they use similar plumbing, the Alpina has a surprisingly more distinctive voice than the M50i. It’s lower, richer, and with more depth and clarity to the V8 notes. You even get a few synthesized burbles on overrun. Don’t worry - the XB7 remains quiet when in Comfort Mode. It’s only when you flick on Sport Mode does the orchestra begin to play. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video below to hear the Alpina XB7 sing.
Taut and tightly strung, the XB7 melts pockmarked roads yet exudes a sense of athleticism when picking up the pace. Like the B6 and B7, the suspension tuning is clearly catered towards road comfort but the XB7 loses little sharpness under hard driving situations. The Alpina exhibits better road composure than the M50i and while not as stiffly sprung, it is more absorbent. You can feel the car squat and pitch as you add throttle, but there is never any yaw in the tail as the wheels hook up for traction. With such substantially-sized wheels, even with just the smaller 21-inch dynamic wheels, they’re glued down, and the ride quality is better than most in the segment including the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator, though its setup is not quite as gadgety as Mercedes’ E-Active Body Control.
Doused in snow, slush, and dirt, we enjoyed the Alpina’s confidence and surefootedness, and when combined with the light steering, strong brakes, tight turning circle, and active roll stabilization compensating for body roll, the XB7 feels unnaturally stable and grounded no matter the weather.
Whereas Alpina would traditionally take a BMW vehicle straight off the factory floor and ship it to Buchloe for tuning, the XB7 will instead be built alongside the X7 in the Spartanburg factory in South Carolina. We asked BMW if they plan to invest more money and revamp part of the plant to configure Alpina-only vehicles, and they mentioned that a dedicated team of Alpina engineers will be on site for the XB7. One can only dream of a B5 Touring on this side of the pond, but judging by the XB7’s impeccable road manners and keen sense of athleticism, Alpina is on a straight path trajectory to becoming a household name.
Model: 2021 BMW Alpina XB7
Paint Type: Black Sapphire Metallic
Base Price: $165,900
Price as Tested: $179,900
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,164 / 2,000 / 1,797
Curb weight (kg): 2,658
Engine: 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 612 hp @ 5,500 - 6,600 rpm
Torque: 590 lb-ft @ 2,000 - 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 18.5