Within the already selective field of luxury cars, the high-performance subcategory feels like an almost excessively indulgent rabbit hole into which only the chosen few may enter. BMW's collaboration with German car company Alpina is perhaps the reason the rabbit hole was invented, and the resulting sedan offers the very best in good looks, power, and intelligence. The features list is so long that you'll likely be halfway down the Autobahn before you've had a chance to notice them all, which just saves more for the ride back. As long as the price tag isn't prohibitive, the sky's the limit for the Alpina, and some of its touches are quite literally a peek into the future of automotive engineering.
I've never heard of Alpina- what do they do?
Alpina Burkhard Bovensiepen GmbH & co KG (Alpina to us plebs) is an automobile manufacturing company founded in 1965 as a typewriter company, and then made a move to textiles before teaming up with BMW to tune and tweak their cars. They went on to make impressive strides in racing by tuning carburetors and crankshafts to produce more power from BMW engines, and their cars can be found at select BMW dealerships, and are covered by BMW warranties. Alpina is known for producing high-powered vehicles that rely solely on automatic transmissions, and they specialize in luxury interiors and exterior details like their signature 'Alpina Blue' paint color and 20-spoke alloy wheels. BMW's decision to collaborate with Alpina on a high-performance 7 Series was based on wanting to bring something to the high-end market that wasn't based on BMW's classic high rev engine and dual clutch automatic transmission which would compete with the Mercedes S63 AMG and the Audi S8. Think of Alpina as the crafty veteran relief pitcher who comes in when the score is tied, and whose smooth delivery and ability to anticipate five moves ahead make him the secret weapon on a championship team. Only real fans will ever give them the recognition they deserve but in the end, aren't those the only ones who really matter?
How much has the engine changed from the last generation?
At this level of engineering and craftsmanship a certain level of authoritarianism takes over, where the carmaker decides which model engine works best and the car buyer takes his or her word for it because, well, they're the best. The engine in the Alpina is a great example of this: the twin turbo 4.4 liter V8 with 600-hp and 590 lb-ft of torque is the only engine choice on offer, and it's a very, very good choice at that. To further refine the engine for the newest model, Alpina modified the turbochargers, air intake, and cooling system to provide better breathing and lower air intake temperatures, which make the engine run even more smoothly than before. The eight-speed automatic transmission has been upgraded as well with a stronger torque converter, reinforced planetary wheels, increased cooling and some updated software to keep the whole thing humming. Alpina claims that as a result, shifts take just 100 milliseconds and allows the engineers to add launch control as if you needed any further convincing about the sheer power under the hood. All of this is carefully cradled in a new BMW 'Carbon Core' structure which combines high strength steel, aluminum, and carbon reinforced plastic to improve the rigidity of the frame while reducing weight.
What makes the interior so special?
How long do you have? There is almost no end to the list of luxury touches in the Alpina, from the 20-way power adjustable front seats with heat, ventilation and massage functions to the rear seats which, if you opt for the Rear Executive Lounge Seating package (and why wouldn't you, really) create an interior cabin that any VIP would be very happy to find waiting for them as they disembark their private jet. The rear seats recline, have footrests, rear seat entertainment and a table that pulls out from the center console. The entire cabin is outfitted in Nappa leather with elegant accents, and the noise canceling works so well that Alpina had to outfit the seven series with artificial noise to make sure that drivers didn't push past the speed limit of almost any country on Earth (besides Germany, of course). If there's a comfort feature, Alpina has thought of it, and the only thing standing in between you, and it is how much you're willing to spend.
Are there any cool tech features I should know?
The seven series Alpina has so much tech packed into its stately body that it's nearly absurd, and in the years to come we'll likely see some of these features trickle down to the larger market. The future is now, and if you've got the means to pay for it, you'll likely be amazed at how much your car can do. BMW's iDrive interface is accessible via a 10.2-inch touch screen and controls such esoteric and thought-provoking features such as adjustable ambiance lighting, four-zone climate control, and a panoramic sunroof. After these base comforts though, come the real show stoppers: base models comes with a 16 speaker Harmon Kardon stereo system, but you can upgrade it to the 20 speaker Bowers & Wilkins diamond stereo system. But why stop there? Car buyers can opt for a personalized fragrance to be piped through the car to complement the LED sunroof and floor lighting carpet. However, the most noteworthy aspect of the interior is the Gesture Control function in the iDrive that uses a 3D sensor where you can use one of five hand gestures to control the sound system, phone, or 360?? views of the car itself. The system may be a bit slow at first, but it's light years ahead of any other cars on the market: look for it as an upgrade in your mid-sized sedan somewhere around 2030.
How much money are we talking?
If you have to ask, it's probably too much. The suggested base price starts at around $112,000-$115,000, but with upgrades, it comes closer to about $150,000. No one says luxury like this comes cheap, and the average Alpina car driver is probably in possession of more than a couple of other luxury cars to fit their lifestyle. There are no prices listed on the upgrades to the sound system or the rear seating packages, which suggests that when deciding on such a purchase there won't be much in the way of negotiations happening. The Alpina is a legacy car that lives up to and even surpasses any expectations, even among other cars in its class. For a niche market like the high-performance vehicle, it takes something extraordinary to stand out among the rest.