Review: 2022 BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
Exploring the upper registers of the food chain in an automaker’s lineup can still mean going home with something off the shelf. Look beyond the usual suspects, however, and you can skip the default-choice AMGs and Ms for something more subtle, more special. Even better, in the handsome new Alpina B8 Gran Coupe, unlike the BMW M850i and M8 on which it is based, there’s a charming focus on taste rather than on laying waste.
The ingredients here should be familiar to those who know and love the stately Alpina B7—the boutique German manufacturer’s longstanding high-performance expression of the BMW 7 Series. Bespoke body elements include relatively restrained revisions to both the nose and tail: larger air intakes and a black Alpina-emblazoned apron up front, with a sleek decklid spoiler out back. A particularly nice touch is the rear bumper with its integrated quad-tip exhaust, but it’s the Green Metallic paint that scintillates when the sun catches it just right. And would it be an Alpina without those gorgeous 20-spoke wheels? None of these individual elements will overwhelm on their own, but taken as a whole they set the B8 apart and forthrightly suggest its $148,000 MSRP.
Despite 612 hp and an Alpina-specific cooling system that could handle the fission of a white dwarf star, performance is similarly dignified. The engine is a version of BMW M’s 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8, tuned for effortless authority and smooth power delivery more than neck-snapping drama. Propelled by 590 lb-ft at just 2000 rpm, the B8 practically glides toward the horizon like a maglev train, its ZF eight-speed transmission silently swapping cogs as the speedometer eats into the triple digits. Momentum is the name of the game here. Sudden inputs hardly yield instantaneous response; the transmission takes its sweet time downshifting even using Alpina’s curious shift buttons mounted onto the back of the steering wheel. Full-throttle launches send the front end skyward, providing the sensation that the B8 is about to be pulled into low-Earth orbit by some inevitable gravitational force. BMW claims a 0-60 mph sprint of 3.3 seconds, impressive for a vehicle weighing 4831 pounds, but it’s not exactly a heart-pounding thrill ride. Viscerality is not the point.
The same can be deduced from the chassis tuning. Handy rear-wheel steering and soft suspension tuning—combined with the stiffness of BMW’s aluminum-intensive CLAR platform— make for surprisingly lithe handling and a supple ride. Still, the B8’s sheer mass renders it fairly joyless on a canyon road. Body control is excellent, but there is no sensation of agility or athleticism. No feel comes through the steering wheel. Unsurprisingly, the big barge is more at home in Comfort mode, cruising down the freeway in whatever best approximates autobahn-like conditions here in North America. The adaptive dampers offer a Comfort Plus setting, which is indistinguishable from the ordinary Comfort setting, but who cares? If I were charging through corn country on I-80, Comfort Plus would sound pretty ideal after a date with a 16 oz. ribeye in Omaha.
Of course, high-speed composure should be expected of any German limo costing nearly $150,000. What the B8 does exceptionally well is communicate a sense of ease, and it does so in a few ways. The big one is how effectively it isolates the occupants from the outside world; sound deadening is impeccable, with hardly any discernible wind or tire noise. (A downside of this: the absence of traditional V-8 drama with the windows up.) The seats are mega-comfortable, and the $2000 full Cognac Merino leather package makes the whole cabin feel like a Teutonic cigar-lounge. Everything that looks like metal feels like it, too. The $3400 Bowers & Wilkins Diamond sound system is gorgeous, with rich tunes seeming to emanate from the entire car, regardless of the volume or genre. The most ornate detail in the B8, however, is a laser-etched iDrive controller that impresses only as much as the Orrefors shifter in top-trim Volvos. A Rolls-Royce or Bentley this is not; the base 8-Series is still visible beneath the frosting.
iDrive works just fine here, provided you remember to disable the goofy gesture controls. For those of us native, animated East Coasters that talk with our hands, accidentally raising the volume or skipping to the next song is maddening. Much more useful is the single button on the center stack to directly bring up BMW’s active and passive safety system on the display, rather than having to dig through a labyrinth of menus. If only the all-digital instrument cluster was as easy to manipulate, but for all of those pixels there is hardly any configurability. Worse, the cluster has a way of washing out in bright sun and the C-shaped split speedo/tachometer is simply not intuitive at a glance. The experience does not improve on that offered by the traditional gauge-and-needle design, which could have been rendered digitally if analog gauges were out of the question. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
If all of this sounds lovely, the size or content of the displays couldn’t matter less, and a dose of exclusivity goes a long way with you, then Alpina’s approach to restrained, detail-oriented luxury is your speed. There is a warmth one feels when nestled inside the Alpina B8 that sets it apart from the icy, Tron-like cockpits that plague the AMG GT 4-Door and Audi RS 7.
Of course, plenty of people want to feel like they drive a spaceship. Good for them. After all, Alpina builds fewer than 2000 cars each year for the entire world, so any Alpina owner has cause to feel like a connoisseur. The B8 Gran Coupe is a charming alternative to Alpina’s B7 sedan; the gargantuan XB7 is another option but it makes a quite different (read: gaudy) statement. Critically, this big cut-roof sedan feels like it deserves the famous multi-spoke wheels and the badge that accompanies them. It might lack a bit of spice, but with the B8 Alpina has once again taken a garden-variety BMW and transformed it into satisfyingly rare fare.
2022 BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
Price: $140,895/$148,095 (Base/As-tested)
Highs: Subtle, elegant exterior. Excellent NVH control. Stupendous engine and silky suspension.
Lows: Might strike some as not meaningfully different than the BMW on which it is based. Can’t much hear the V-8 from inside the car.
Summary: To drive an Alpina B8 is to make a statement of taste as a member of the BMW cognoscenti. Its dismissal of sportiness and the associated trappings is a breath of finely scented fresh air.