2015 BMW Alpina B6 xDrive Gran Coupe First Test
America’s Fastest BMW, for the Un-M Folks
Need to go 198 mph with a Roundel emblem on your nose? Here’s your rig. Yes, the second product offering from BMW’s luxury-performance satellite operation, Alpina, ranks as the fastest car BMW currently sends to the States, presuming you don’t opt for the buzz-killing all-season tires, and the 130-mph limiter that comes with them. Alpina, to refresh your memory, is a privately owned manufacturer that develops highly tuned variants of BMW 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 Series models (plus X3, and X5) assembled in BMW factories using Alpina parts, then assigned new Alpina VIN numbers for sale around the globe.
Here in the U.S., however, we have the choice only of the 6 Series Gran Coupe (B6, wxDrive AWD only) and 7 Series (B7, with either wheelbase or driveline). American-spec Alpinas retain their BMW VINs and are technically available from any dealer.
The boutique manufacturer produces and prepares many of the parts that go in its cars, and performs final assembly work on all 1500 (or fewer) cars it sells per year in the Bavarian hamlet of Buchloe (say BOO and the girl’s name Chloe). Many of those parts are pretty similar to the ones going into the B7, including the heavily reworked 4.4-liter twin-turbo engine, which gets larger (46.5mm) Garrett turbos blowing 17.4 psi boost and an Alpina-designed air-to-water-to intercooler system. Slightly different exhaust packaging frees up 2 more lb-ft of torque for total output of 540 hp at 5500 rpm and 540 lb-ft at 3000 rpm. The eight-speed transmission gets Alpina Switch-Tronic tuning and steering-wheel buttons like the ones Alpina pioneered in 1993. (All Alpinas are automatics these days.) The standard xDrive all-wheel drive is programmed for slightly more rear torque bias.
The suspension geometry is altered slightly, with almost a degree more negative camber in front to ensure neutral handling with the big, staggered-fitment 20-inch wheels and tires. The variable damping control is also programmed to provide greater contrast between Comfort and Sport modes. Brakes are borrowed from the 760i (14.7-inch rotors front, 13.6-inch rear), and feature giant single-piston units at all four corners. Company CEO Andreas Bovensiepen explains that, while less suited to withstanding the rigors of racing, these binders are quieter and actuate more smoothly, and hence better suit Alpina’s GT luxury mission. NACA ducts under the nose keeps the fronts nice and cool.
From the outside the Alpina B6 is distinguished by several aerodynamic flourishes, all of which are functional and serve to maintain zero lift at the front and back, all the way up to 198 mph. Bovensiepen points out that downforce could have been created, but at too much cost in drag (the B6’s 0.34 Cd is up from the 650i GC’s 0.29). Helping to achieve this (and ensure proper cooling) are a unique splitter that helps send 10 percent more air over the top of the body, and a rear spoiler and diffuser. Other exterior cues include Alpina-only blue and green colors and the signature Alpina 20-spoke wheels, complete with their tricky valve stems concealed under the locking center cap. (A hollow spoke connects to the tire.) Inside there are blue-faced gauges, Alpina floor mats, a plaque, a choice of Alpina-inlaid myrtle (red) or piano black woodgrain, Alpina sill plates, and the Switch-Tronic steering wheel stitched with blue and green threads. Nearly all BMW Individual and regular production options are also available.
The price for all of this: $118,225. That’s exactly $700 more than a (RWD) M6 Gran Coupe, $10,800 more than a Mercedes CLS63 AMG S, and $12,498 pricier than the Audi RS 7. But all of those are comparative commodity cars relative to the 200-300 (at most) Alpina B6s that will arrive here, so you’re not nearly as likely to see yourself coming and going. Unless you live in SoCal, where cars of this ilk invariably end up.
During our drive of the new B6, we managed to find a billiard-table flat, smooth, straight B-road and stretched the Alpina’s legs, measuring a 4.0-second dash to 60 mph en route to a quarter-mile run of 12.2 seconds at 115.6 mph. That’s a half-second quicker and 4.2 mph faster in the quarter than our last 650i Gran Coupe xDrive and a tenth ahead of an M6 cabrio. (We’ve yet to sample an M6 GC.) The AWD Mercedes and Audi are quite a bit quicker (11.6 seconds at 121.8 mph and 11.6 at 120.4, respectively). Stopping and cornering are also quite respectable for a car that’s not intended to spend much time on racetracks: 108 feet from 60 mph and 0.92g (identical figures to the 650i GC); the more overt hot rods manage 101-105 feet and 0.93-0.98g.
From the helm, the Alpina is pretty special, and it feels very much of a piece -- a holistically improved car, not at all “tuned.” The engine makes a very low, remote rumble that seems distinct from those of related 650i and M6 cars, and manual downshifts often provoke delightfully remote-sounding backfires. Those little steering wheel buttons feel funky compared with the traditional paddles and they’re completely out of reach when grasping the steering-wheel ears at 10 and 2, but they function just fine. It was tough to discern the heightened difference between ride quality in Sport and Comfort modes on the smooth Bavarian and Tyrolean byways we sampled, but the big wheels tiptoed more gently than expected over the few imperfections we spotted and aimed for.
Does anybody need to go 198 mph? Probably not. But plenty of folks need a car so gorgeous it makes their knees all wobbly, and a tiny subset of those folks will want to be assured they have the only one on their block. They’d better act quickly, as 140 of the yearly allotment of maybe 300 has already been committed.
|2015 BMW Alpina B6 xDrive Gran Coupe|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$125,525|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||4.4L/540-hp/540-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4780 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||197.1 x 74.6 x 54.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.0 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.2 sec @ 115.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||108 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.92 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||16/24/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||211/140 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.03 lb/mile|