BMW B6 Alpina

Neil Vorano drives a very different cruiser and wonders if all the improvements actually make the car better

Alpina a German manufacturer makes fewer than 2,000 luxury cars a year, all of which are based on the BMW model range.
Powered by automated translation

In the world of high-end cars, there comes a point where performance and luxury are simply not enough. Horsepower is easy to come by these days: Porsches, Corvettes, Ferraris, Lamborghinis - everyone's trying to outdo each other. And it seems as if most of the world's car makers are buying cows bathed in oil and butter, softening their hides for the most luxurious interiors imaginable. So when you're looking to show up your neighbour with your next new car, what choice do you have?

The selling point, then, is not how many cylinders your car has, but how few people own your car. In a word, exclusivity. That's the raison d'etre of Alpina. The German company is officially listed as an automobile manufacturer, though it builds all of its cars based on BMW's line-up. It slots in above the base BMWs for luxury and just below the M Series for performance. What the company does is simple: it offers unique exterior paint, wheels, interiors and performance upgrades, but fewer than 2,000 cars are built annually. Thereby, if you own an Alpina, there's a pretty good chance you'd be the only one on the block with one. Of course, this being the UAE, that may not apply.

And these things are different, I found as I first climbed into this bright blue, B6 two-door coupé. Wow, the interior was, uh, different. Soft, cream-coloured leather lined just about every centimetre of space inside the car. Contrasting stitching highlighted the seams, with blue piping lining the seats. Highly polished maple adorned the centre stack. I had come to expect a certain clean and reserved taste in BMWs, and this was a little beyond the norm. I would even go so far as to say it was garish. Not what I would expect from a German luxury car.

Right, then. Let's try to focus on the ride, I thought. And, it being built on a BMW 6 Series, the ride was, of course, pretty well perfect. The soft and luxurious demeanour easily held its composure with fits of higher-speed, tight-corner driving. I'm not sure this is the kind of car I'd want to thrash around a race- track on the weekends, but it could probably handle it. It's certainly more than capable of spirited driving around town.

And spirited is somewhat of an understatement. Five hundred and thirty horsepower under the hood gives this coupé a mighty kick, sending it from nought to 60 kilometres per hour in 4.4 seconds. The 4.4-litre V8 is coupled to a very capable six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting capabilities. Sounds like a great combination, doesn't it? And yet, it could be so much better. Instead of manually shifting with paddle shifters, Alpina put two small nubs on the back of the steering wheel, with up and down shifts marked by large + and ? signs stitched in leather on the each side of the front of the wheel. Why? BMW's M6 has a perfectly good - actually, much better - transmission in its double-clutch, sequential manual box. This can be driven like a tame automatic, but when you want to play, it's a proper, Formula 1-inspired box with paddle shifters. Why offer anything less?

In fact, questioning the gearbox brought the whole comparison of the M6 and B6 into perspective. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the ride of the M6 - it can be soft and supple or tight and sporty, and it can also be adjusted to suit the situation, unlike the B6. It's got about the same power, a much better gearbox, and pretty well the same exterior look. Oh, it's also got that whole "M button" thing, which can change the car from a smooth, boulevard-cruising coupé to a snarling beast for the track. The kicker for me is the fact its interior is much more tastefully appointed, yet no less luxurious than the B6. The M6 is a car I would take to the Autodrome; the B6 seems like something you take to the golf course to show off to your mates before you head out for a foursome. Exclusivity or not, I just don't get the whole idea of it.

Here's a thought: bring home the M6, buy a set of low-rider dubs and get the car painted in your own choice of colour, then get a pinstripe put on down the side. You'll find you'll do a lot less golfing and a lot more driving.