BMW’s “Other” Performance Brand

Alpina aims to balance performance and comfort.

by on May.12, 2010

A heavily modified 7-Series sedan, the 2010 BMW Alpina B7 makes 500 hp and launches from 0 to 60 in just 5.4 seconds.

With models like the M3 and X6M, BMW has turned “M” into one of the favorite letters in the alphabet for those who crave the European interpretation of performance.  But for those who prefer a more sophisticated blend of muscles and manners, the Bavarian maker is offering an alternative.

Think of the BMW Alpina B7 as the perfect car for James Bond, suggests Andreas Bovensiepen, whose father created the brand nearly 50 years ago.

“Most of the time, you just enjoy the B7 for its luxury and comfort,” says Bovensiepen, a former race car driver who now runs Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH.  “But when you need it, there’s plenty of power.”

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To be more precise, 500 horsepower and 516 pound feet of torque can launch the 4652-pound B7 from 0 to 60 in just 5.4 seconds and propel it to an electronically limited top speed of 174 mph.

The B7 is only the second Alpina model to land in the United States, where the company is counting on the sedan to help build up an admittedly low level of brand recognition—and sales — in the months to come.  If all goes according to plan, the BMW partner hopes to sell about 500 of the modified 7-Series sedans, which would make the States the largest of the more than 30 markets it operates in around the world.

Even then, though, Alpina would be little more than a blip on the sales charts, with projected global sales of somewhere between 1,000 and 1,5000 vehicles.  And that, insists Bovensiepen, is precisely what both companies want – as do buyers.  “They want something exclusive that they’re not likely to see on every corner.

Alpina dates back to 1961, when Burkard Bovensiepen started producing high-performance parts for BMW.  Three years later, the Munich-based Bayerische Motoren Werke took the unusual step of offering warranties on the models Alpina modified, giving it a distinctive advantage over other “tuners.”  In return, all future products would be named BMW Alpina, even though the big maker has no ownership stake in its small partner.

In 2002, Alpina brought its first car to the U.S., a modified version of the short-lived BMW Z8 roadster.  The B7 is here to stay, company officials insist, noting that they are offeri ng it in both long and short-wheelbase versions, with all-wheel-drive to follow.

The 2010 BMW Alpina Z8 is more than just a modified engine, though there’ve been plenty of changes made under the hood.  There are a variety of visual changes, the most significant designed to enhance aerodynamics and cooling.  Alpina also uses a signature 20-spoke wheel.

The already lavish 7-Series cabin has been taken even further up-market, lavished in Alpine’s lavoline leather and wood and a variety of other more subtle modifications, such as the steering wheel-mounted buttons that replace the stock BMW paddle shifters.

The electronically-controlled suspension gets stiffer springs, and the ride height is lowered nearly a half inch.  The system is designed to emphasize comfort under most driving occasions.  But tip into the throttle and the B7 becomes a vehicle transformed.

Credit a heavily modified 4.4-liter V8 that features two large turbochargers that can deliver up to 2 bars of boost, a revised alloy cylinder head, Mahle pistons, extensive modifications to reduce heat, and a unique 6-speed gearbox.

Based in a western suburb of Munich, Alpina works closely with BMW on the design and engineering of each of its products – it also does engineering work for some of BMW’s own models.  Alpina produces the engine itself, though much of the B7’s assembly work is done at the Bayerische Motoren Werke plant in Sindelfingen, another Munich suburb.

That caps production at four, and occasionally five of the sedans a day, explains Kris Odwarke, Alpina’s sales director.

The 2010 BMW Alpina B7 sedan carries a $122,000 sticker price, which doesn’t include a $1,000 U.S. gas guzzler tax and $875 in destination fees.  The long-wheelbase version adds another $3,900, and AWD will tag on $3,000.

Along with the B7, Alpina produces a number of other models sharing the BMW badge, including the diesel-powered D3 and gas B3 versions of the 3-Series, as well as B5 and B6 models.  There are no plans to add the Alpina treatment to BMW’s various X-Series SUVs, says Odwarke.

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