Making light conversation in the checkout line at Holt Renfrew isn’t really a thing these days, so it’s likely that you wouldn’t overhear any BMW X7 owners utter a dramatic sigh and say “you know, my X7 just isn’t nice enough. Or fast enough. Imagine if there was something out there that would better fill the void…oh, would you mind passing me those champagne preserves, I’m a sucker for an impulse buy?” OK, so maybe the latter part might have been mentioned a time or two, but we’re quite sure that no one has looked at the X7 as anything but a genuinely nice luxury SUV. It’s great with the iconic straight six under the hood, but if you are like us you’re a sucker for a V8, exactly what our X7 tester had nearly a year ago. That was the last vehicle we drove before the world hunkered down for our first collective taste of lockdown life and while we were seriously impressed with the 523 horsepower it packed and how quick it was in the real world, we only wish it had the suds to outrun a global pandemic.
Here we are a year and change later and not much has changed. Still we find ourselves in the throes of a very stubborn global pandemic now in its Third Wave and BMW has once again tossed us the keys to another X7; er, not quite. That’s because this particular SUV comes from Alpina, the boutique manufacturer (yes, they are classified as such and even eschew BMW’s VIN code on each car with their very own) and it is similar to the one dipped in Ametrine Metallic (red: purple) paint we drove back in March 2020- a sumptuously trimmed interior, a stonking twin turbo V8 featuring plus sized rolling stock. But the Alpina plays on a different level than the more pedestrian X7 M50i: the interior is even more decadent, the V8 makes more power to the tune of an astounding 612 horsepower and the 23” trademark 23” Alpina wheels are straight up gorgeous.
The reason XB7 has become a reality is simple: there are very well-heeled people to whom the regular models that these limited number of units are based simply will not cut it. These are the same types that pony up the dough for specialized deviated stitching on the dashboard of a Porsche 911, the ones that order a Rolls Royce and reface the instrument panel with the same marble as their palatial dressing rooms. The game of excessive consumption and one-upmanship shows no signs of going away anytime soon, and automakers are looking to capitalize on that demand by offering the very same type of cars like the XB7 you see here, and like the Mercedes Benz GLS Maybach we’ll be flogging later this summer. This allows customers when asked in casual banter about what they drive they can answer “Alpina” and then secretly relish the opportunity to explain what that actually means (only BMW cognoscenti and gear heads will really understand what you are on about.) Those who are in their midst will all have the “wonder how much he spent on THAT?” look on their faces as they nod and smile politely. At $179,900 the XB7 is by no means what you’d call cheap.
That will not make for a lick of difference to those who shop in this small and likewise very exclusive segment of the marketplace. And when those prospective buyers get behind the wheel of their XB7, they can be satisfied that many of their hard-earned dollars have been well spent. Take the steering wheel, the very first touchpoint you encounter in any can you drive. It is trimmed in a leather so soft and delicate you wonder how much nicer the stuff you get in a Bentley can really be, not to mention the meticulous electric green stitching, an Alpina trademark. This is more impressive when you factor in that our tester had many a journalist’s paws on it before we did, and it still looked and felt great. Same thing with the Ivory White/Night Blue Full Merino Leather that covers the seats as well as a huge swath of everywhere you look although the bum cushions do show signs of dye from jeans rubbing off as people climb aboard. The interior is obviously very heavily based on BMW bits and yet Alpina has managed to sprinkle some meaningful flourishes that serve to up the special quotient. The smattering of Alpina badges and the sublime wood trim particularly stood out to us. Pretty much anywhere you sit in the XB7 is supremely comfortable to the point where even mundane errands feel like a treat for those you have managed to drag along- those in the middle row have captain’s chairs and their own tablet to mess around with. From any perch the serene hush and the way it pours down the road plus the how’d-they-do-that ride quality despite the massive wheels is deliciously savored.
It is somewhat confounding how Alpina managed to make this massive beast so agile, but exceptionally tuned air suspension and rear steering help to defy physics. Conventional wisdom suggests that something this big, this heavy, should not be able to go around corners so easily. Against all odds, when you show the XB7 some twisties it handles much better that you would ever expect, even feeling enthusiastic when you learn to work with all that poundage under your keister and trust that the chassis has enough finesse to keep you shiny side up. We are not recommending that you take your XB7 to the next open lapping day- BMW’s own lovely new M3 is a much more fitting tool for the job- but if you need proof rendered in sheet metal, glass and rubber that chassis tuning and stability control calibration have made quantum leaps of progress over a few short years, look no further.
We would be remiss if we didn’t cast the spotlight on the engine. It does not seem to care if you ask it to idle, work your way gently through the gears or send it spinning to the redline, it remains perfectly smooth. Sounds good, too. With 612 horsepower you know it’s going to be fast. But it’s the 590 pounds feet of torque that will really awe you, punting the XB7 forward as if it weighed maybe 500 less kilograms. The Alpina engineers are particularly proud of that and we understand why. The press materials that were provided to us state that the XB7 will hurl itself from naught to 100 km/h in 4.2 seconds which might be true if the timing gear were on the fritz. We think if you shave probably a second from that figure you have a more accurate idea of just how quickly this thing reels in the horizon, no matter the gear or engine speed.
The XB7 will also reel in many dollars from your bank account once the paperwork is all in order. It’s hard to fault the XB7 for its ‘aspirational’ price tag, but those that have this car on their shopping list are not exactly stretching to afford a car like this. It is not positioned to average folks like you and me, many of whom wouldn’t be able to comprehend how much nicer the Alpina model could possibly be over the more plebian X7s. There’s other minor gripes we should bring to your attention, like how it is surprisingly tricky to nail down a comfortable driving position because the steering wheel doesn't tilt or telescope enough. Also, the buttons on the iDrive controller are flush mounted and don't always respond the first time and you’re required to take your eyes off the road in order to execute the command you asked for.
It was interesting to gauge the reactions of our fellow motorists while piloting the XB7. Some- mostly enthusiasts- snapped a pic with their phones and gave two very enthusiastic thumbs up. Others, not so taken with its ostentatious decadence and unmistakable presence, stuck a different raised digit in our direction. Others still would simply stare at it, trying to figure out what it was they were gaping at. Even if you find yourself stifling the urge to flip the bird at one is it glides by, you must admit, the Alpina XB7 is Really, Really Nice.
2021 Alpina XB7 – Specifications
- Price as tested: $179,900
- Body Type: 5-door, 7 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 4.4-litre twin turbo V8, DOHC, 32 valves
- Horsepower: 612 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 590 @ 1,800 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 2,658 kg (5,860 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 15.6/100km (15 mpg)