BMW usually has a pretty consistent game plan when it comes to making performance models. It’s willing to sprinkle the vaunted M badge on all kinds of models, but it leaves the largest models (X7 and 7-Series) alone. Those models get a special trip to BMW tuner Alpina where they are transformed into exceptional performance luxury specials. Alpina is making history in 2021 by unleashing the Alpina XB7 onto American shores for the first time. But can Alpina’s first U.S. bound SUV entry to shake up the ultra-luxury performance SUV segment?
Alpina Exterior Touches Transform XB7
The BMW X7 is already a large and pretty luxurious SUV, so the exterior changes are light but help define the Alpina experience. New front and rear bumpers stand out in a crowd, with the front one featuring white-colored Alpina lettering on the lowest part. The rear houses four fat exhaust tips, and as a whole, they do a good job of reducing some of the X7’s visual heft, especially in the front where the massive twin-kidney grilles reside. The side profile is accented by two different wheel choices, with base models (and we use the term loosely) equipped with 21-inch wheels. However, as they say, bigger is better, and our tester arrived with larger 23-inch wheels wrapped in sticky Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer tires with a staggered arrangement for the front and rear.
In our opinion, the larger wheels are the way to go since they do a much better job of filling the XB7’s wheel arches and give the XB7 a much more aggressive look. That’s in stark contrast to the Mercedes-Maybach GLS600, which prefers to cash all its chips on elegance and sacrifices some of the sporty stance that the Alpina possesses. We’ll also award some bonus points for the vibrant exterior paint that adorned our tester. It did a good job gathering attention, and it really popped in bright sunlight.
Restrained XB7 Interior Has Alpina Luxury In All The Right Places
The interior of the XB7 is a tasteful mixture of the familiar and some of the luxury touches that define the Alpina brand. It’s not too garish, and while it lacks some of the bespoke atmosphere that defines the Maybach GLS, it makes up for it by completing things in a very distinct yet classy way. An Alpina badge replaces the BMW roundel on the steering wheel, and a small plaque highlights its unique heritage. Alpina models also come with unique trim pieces with the myrtle burled wood accents splashed throughout the cabin. You also get Alpina exclusive leather on the seats, and it really helped make the XB7 a comfortable place to spend time in when your out on long road trips.
Blue and green contrast stitching is rightfully applied in certain spots, and the steering wheel paddles themselves are replaced with Alpina-specific shift buttons. The buttons themselves do take a bit to get used to, but they do come easily to your finger once your muscle memory adapts to them. The digital gauge cluster also receives new graphics and colors that are reserved just for Alpina models. The bulk of the technology still retains its BMW roots, including the latest version of BMW’s i-Drive system. The system comes with gesture control, and like before, you have to make sure your finger is properly aligned with the system to make the novel gimmick work to its full potential.
Rear passengers are treated to copious amounts of head and legroom though the second row is arguably the piece of real estate for passengers to spend time in, with the third-row seats being too cramped for adults. That space is best left for children or cargo when the seats are folded down. A highlight for us is some of the finer details that exist throughout the XB7’s cabin, with nighttime driving revealing a colorful world of backlighting. The speakers, the doors, and other usual areas are lit with soothing colored backlights. Alpina even went a step further and incorporated backlighting into the sunroof glass itself, giving it a nice halo effect.
It Goes So Fast You Won’t Believe It’s Not An M Model
.Look at the performance stats for the XB7, and at first glance, it may feel like you joined Bugs Bunny in making a wrong turn on the way to Albuquerque with the 4.4. liter twin-turbocharged V8 producing 612 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque. All XB7s are all-wheel drive, but the system is a rear-biased unit that can channel the bulk of the power to the rear wheels when needed. That bias allowed our tester to rocket its way to 60 mph in 4.0 seconds flat, and when you look at the bulk of its other performance numbers, they are a noticeable improvement over the ones you see in the slightly weaker X7 M50i, which makes a still-impressive 523 hp.
Handling in our tester proved to be its most impressive trait. Keep in mind that this is a three-plus-ton luxury SUV, but when you push it into corners, our tester behaved like a much smaller offering. The setup is classic Alpina, though, and it’s not as race-ready as an M product. Instead, the XB7 is all about long-distance cruising and having the ability to prove itself out on the track if needed. The steering is responsive, but it also comes with a subtle hint of muteness that appears in some of the excess boost you experience when driving the Alpina around town. But the V8 is eager to remind you of its ferocity when you mash the gas with the desirable noises rising to a crescendo and the scenery around you getting blurry.
While the XB7 may not be as sharp of a performance instrument as a proper M model would be, this luxury-laden cannonball is still a unique offering that manages to blend raw performance with some of the elegant luxuries that have defined the Alpina story for years. We recommend keeping the suspension in comfort and the transmission in Sport mode to help achieve true balance, especially if you live in an area where pock-marked roads define your commute.
Pricing for the 2021 BMW Alpina XB7 reflects its unique place in this bespoke segment, with the base model starting at $141,300. Our tester arrived with over $10,000 in options which caused the price to surge upward to a final figure of $156,345. That includes the $995 destination fee but take away the optional extras, and the Alpina stands out with the sheer volume of standard equipment on hand. This pricing puts our tester in the crosshairs of rivals like the Porsche Cayenne, Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen, and the Lamborghini Urus. However, the XB7 is a significant bargain when compared to the Mercedes Maybach GLS, with the one we reviewed recently having a significantly higher sticker of $190,700.
While this lower price tag means that the Alpina does miss out on a few things that make the others stand out among buyers, we think that the XB7 is a compelling alternative for buyers who want to go against the grain and have something that reflects their unique personality. The XB7 is also a glimpse into Alpina’s future with rapidly changing tastes in the U.S., opening up a potential opportunity for the tuner to expand from their formerly car-exclusive lineup. The XB7’s success might give BMW and Alpina the incentive to make other Alpina SUV models, including perhaps something based on the X5, which has been BMW’s bread and butter SUV entry for the past several decades. In the meantime, the 2021 BMW Alpina XB7 is a very potent spearhead into the ultra-luxury SUV market and helps the tuner expand its arsenal of models in the U.S.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.