2010 BMW B7 Alpina Biturbo

It's a better version of a good BMW - in exclusiveness, comfort and athleticism, as Nick March finds out.

Alpina's ability to match huge amounts of horsepower with great lumps of good manners is a major draw.
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It's not hard to poke fun at Alpina buyers for purchasing what appear to be little more than special-edition BMWs with silly stripes painted on their sides. Brand enthusiasts will argue that Alpina is now considered to be an independent car maker of repute by the fantastically named Technischer Überwachungsverein, a respected pillar of the German industrial establishment who, I'm told, knows all about this sort of stuff. Even so, at first glance, this just seems like a load of nit-picking. How different can an Alpina really be from a standard-spec BMW?

BMW dealers will ignore these jibes, tell you that the beauty and the brilliance of the Alpina range lies in the bespoke feel of each of its products - every car is individually numbered and bears a silver-plated production plaque to certify its heritage - and will challenge you not to be charmed by the sublime set-up and smooth performance of any of the independent car maker's model range. The dealers will also tell you that many of their customers come rocking through their doors intent on buying an M version of their 3, 5 or 6 Series and end up picking up the keys to an Alpina instead, wooed by the car's ability to match huge amounts of horsepower with great lumps of good manners.

And they're right - an Alpina takes an already good BMW and makes it better. For the past few years, however, 7 Series customers have not been faced with this dilemma when they stride purposefully onto the showroom floor. BMW does not produce an M version of its flagship model and doesn't plan to. To be fair, the twin-turbo V12 760Li is an ample substitute for most. Now though, the new Alpina B7 Biturbo has entered the fray to scrap for market share with its close relation and, one presumes, to pick a fight with the Porsche Panamera and the evergreen Mercedes S-Class.

And what a contest it should be, because the B7 is the kind of car that could knock you out with a single blow before giving you a kick in the nether regions for good measure as you lay gasping for breath on the ground. Not that it's tricky to drive. It's not. Keep the revs low and the car is as dependable on the road as a small family hatchback. It's also stuffed with the kind of safety toys that would make a Volvo engineer go weak at the knees.

There's simply not enough space available here to list all these safety features, but the highlights include a complete blind spot and lane departure warning system that makes the steering wheel vibrate when the car senses danger, and an SOS button - roof-mounted in the style of an ejector seat switch - that sends out a distress signal to the boys at the dealership to come and rescue you should you get into a spot of bother. Perfect for when you run out of petrol in the Empty Quarter. Although with an 82L fuel tank and combined economy of 11.9L/100km, that won't be anytime soon. Driven more, erm, aggressively, the 4.4L V8 engine really comes alive and will happily push on to 100kph in a shade under five seconds, will cover a kilometre from a standing start in just over 23 seconds and top out at an electronically limited 280kph. All told, the B7's aluminium, direct injection powerplant delivers a staggering 507hp and 700Nm of torque, which means you're more likely to run out of road and, indeed, nerve before this car reaches its own limits.

Alpina has sprinkled its usual magic over the handling too, adding an electronically-adjustable suspension with active roll stabilisation that makes the B7 flat and predictable (in a good way) when cornering. That handling is assisted by front and rear spoilers, which keep the car grounded at speed. Be careful over speed humps though, the front splitter almost kisses the tarmac. Nevertheless, sat in the front or the back of the car, the ride is always comfortable.

And there is much for the back-seat driver to enjoy. Set up as a strict four-seater, the B7's rear seats can be independently and electronically adjusted to find the perfect position to wile away the kilometres in, and there are dual screens with independent iDrive systems installed to mirror the one at the driver's disposal. The Alpina also throws in a seat massage function to help you avoid your back muscles getting fatigued - perfect for the stressed out executive on his way home from a particularly testing board meeting.

Generally, the cabin is beautifully appointed and the piano black lacquer interior trim is such a perfect modern alternative to the more traditional wood finish you so often encounter on these sort of cars. Naturally the seats are leather, while the roof lining is finished in exquisite suede. But with that V8 burbling away, the B7 is best experienced behind the wheel, where you'll find a stunning military style thermal-imaging screen to warn you of any oncoming obstacles. It converts an ordinary drive at dusk into a thrilling spot of night manoeuvres.

Mind you, not even a night-vision warning system can quite prepare you for the biggest hurdle that stands between you and B7 ownership. With a Dh795,000 price tag, it's no wonder Alpina's incredible B7 will remain an acquired taste for all but the lucky few. For those that can afford one, it's a price worth paying even if the unenlightened might poke fun at you. motoring@thenational.ae