I’ve never been a passenger on one of those fancy private jets that billionaires and mega-CEOs typically circle the globe in but I imagine the experience is similar to what you’ll find in the BMW Alpina XB7. With flight and travel restrictions still in place, business travel by road just got a whole lot more comfortable, and rapid.
For those that might not be familiar with the name, Alpina is a small German firm that has been tuning BMWs since the 70s. They work closely with BMW on the development of new models and even use the same production lines to build their vehicles.
Alpina’s core philosophy is different than that of the M-division, BMW’s own in-house tuning firm. Rather than focus on race track prowess and razor-sharp handling, Alpinas are classier with plush interiors, torque rich powertrains, and an emphasis on ride comfort, not Nurburgring track records.
The XB7 is their latest creation based on BMW’s largest SUV, the X7. With three rows of seating for up to 7, this is by far the largest product in Alpina’s portfolio.
If the massive and optional 23-inch Alpina 20-spoke wheels don’t clue you in to the fact that this isn’t a regular X7, the “Alpina” script on the lower half of the front bumper and four chromed oval exhaust tips out back will. Sadly, North American customers don’t get the option of adding the traditional pin striping found on many Alpina models sold around the world.
Inside it’s mostly standard X7 fare, although the ivory and blue BMW individual leather draped over every surface of the interior is lavish in its own right. Differences include an Alpina steering wheel with blue/green stitching, Alpina natural walnut wood trim, and a smattering of Alpina badges and crests throughout. The digital gauge cluster features its own font and trademark blue and green background, with an Alpina logo in the centre in case you needed a reminder of the rarified wheels you were driving.
It all feels and smells very nice, but the real news is under the hood. Starting with the 4.4-L twin-turbo V8 from the X7 M50i, Alpina replaced the turbos with larger units, added two external water coolers, a larger transmission oil cooler, and Alpina-specific intercoolers. They also added a freer-flowing Alpina stainless steel exhaust system, which also gives the XB7 its signature sound.
The result of all this is 612 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque driving all four wheels. Before you go thinking this is just another rebranded motor from the shelf of M, it isn’t. From throttle response to power delivery, Alpina has put its own stamp on it and done a great job of distancing this from the typical BMW product.
The 8-speed ZF automatic transmission has been modified to cope with the extra torque and the shift maps have been reprogrammed to Alpina’s own specifications.
They’ve also tweaked the drive modes, nixing Eco mode altogether and leaving Comfort, Sport and Adpative. Like the 7 Series, there’s a Comfort Plus setting that makes it feel like the road beneath you disappears.
In Sport or Sport Plus, the sound from the quad pipes is soulful, emitting a bass-heavy rumble that you can feel in your bones.
Driving the XB7 is a sublime experience. All the tweaks to the hardware and software have created something that feels bespoke. The supple steering wheel is wonderful to grip and the XB7 dives into corners with an urgency that the regular X7 can’t match. Power delivery is torque-rich and bottomless but also buttery smooth.
Air springs on the rear axle allow the XB7 to drop its ride height by 40 mm in Sport Plus, and rear wheel steering makes this large vehicle feels smaller than it is. There’s fun to be had on twisty roads and that’s not often said when you’re talking about something so big that it can generate its own gravitational pull.
Unlike BMW M vehicles, you never feel like you’re in a pseudo racecar even in the sportiest settings. Likewise, gear changes are never harsh and occur at normal engine speeds and not near the redline unless you’re really on it.
I can only imagine how much more special an XB7 would feel with the full Lavalina leather-lined cabin available in other markets. For now you’ll have to make do with the options from the BMW catalogue, and somewhere in the distance the world’s tiniest violin is playing.
All this lavishness doesn’t come cheap, and with extras like an epic Bower and Wilkins Diamond sound system ($5000), the $179,900 as-tested price means very few will get to experience an SUV this grand.
If you have the bankroll, though, the Alpina XB7 is a sanctuary from the everyday. It’s a grand tourer for seven people in the finest of traditions and a land-based private jet for when you need to escape from it all.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.