Just like surviving the winter season in a northern climate, when it comes to the upper echelons of a luxury automaker’s lineup it seems that layering is everything. Finding yet another coat of glitter and gloss to dust over top of an already sumptuous set of vehicles has been a constant challenge for high-end car companies as they continually push towards the next profit pinnacle.
For two German giants, the solution has been to turn to the past. In the case of Mercedes-Benz the double-resurrection of the long-defunct Maybach brand provided a second-try template for introducing an uber-umbrella for the badge’s top-shelf sedans and SUVs, vehicles aimed squarely at those who prefer to be driven rather than take the wheel themselves.
Over in Bavaria, however, slipping “super” in front of its apex autos has taken a turn much more relatable to the BMW identity. Rather than follow the well-chauffeured path set by Mercedes-Maybach, the company instead turned to long-time partners Alpina, an independent concern that had been modifying various BMW models since the mid-1960s.
While early Alpina iterations focused primarily on boosting performance, over the past decade its collaborations with Bayerische Motoren Werke have adopted a why not both? approach that mixed in copious comfort on top of shattering speed. In effect, the Alpina models sold through BMW dealerships all over the world provide a worthy alternative to the track-ready rowdiness of the M division, a fresh branch of the family that’s compellingly quick when required and still deceptively soft in normal driving.
The 2022 BMW Alpina B8 is the most recent, and perhaps best, exemplification of this particular strategy. Sacrificing none of the automaker’s allowances for autobahn-level acceleration, the four-door “Gran Coupe” B8 wafts down the road like a big-boned ballroom dancer, introducing a polished poise not found in M-badged models. In the process it makes a strong argument for the attention of deep-pocketed buyers seeking to match Maybach’s cosmopolitan sparkle in a more athletic package.
200 Miles Per Hour … in Comfort
A quick glance at the spec sheet reveals how close the Alpina B8 hews to its similarly mighty M-division siblings. Featuring a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 — borrowed directly from the BMW M850i — Alpina introduces a robust tune that’s good for 612 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque, output that is fed to all four wheels via a standard eight-speed automatic transmission.
Despite its more modest origins, the Alpina’s engine is nearly a match for the M8 model’s more high-strung, 617 horsepower V8. More importantly, with nearly 40 additional lb-ft of torque, the B8 spreads its massive twist across a much flatter curve, shunning the peaky character of the motorsports model for a more accessible experience that shines in daily driving. Make no mistake: this is a car that can surge past 200 mph on a long enough stretch of road, and one that will keep up with nearly any sports car on the market with a 3.3 second holeshot to 60 mph. The flipside is that the B8 doesn’t require rev-peaking histrionics to feel like a runaway locomotive when casually executing a highway passing maneuver.
Long-distance driving is truly the environment where the Alpina B8 shines. Whereas M models feature a slew of drive modes that skew towards BMW’s Sport+ and Race vocabulary of ever-stiffer suspension and steering settings, Alpina introduces additional depth on the softer side with its Comfort+ mode. Slathering extra Vaseline on the lens, Comfort+ imbues any extended interstate sojourn with telenovela-level detachment from reality, dispatching the hustle and bustle of the outside world and creating a full-on coddle cocoon for all occupants.
However, if you want to let off steam, the Alpina B8 is always game to show off its gargantuan grip, leveraging its all-wheel drive and rear-wheel steering to make short work of the nearest stretch of connected corners. With a size and heft that make true engagement with the road beneath difficult, the B8 is nevertheless hyper-competent at hustling its near-5,000 lbs. of curb weight.
Think Limo With Afterburners
All that said, that’s hardly the point of this Alpina’s existence. Truly, the B8 is here to fill in the gap on the shelf above the M8 Competition with a softer, sweeter interpretation of the imposing model’s bullet-train persona. Think limo with afterburners rather than four-door race car, and you’re close to the design brief that was no doubt batted around the Alpina boardroom.
My test vehicle was outfitted with a number of options that further reinforced this impression. Specifically, ticking the box for “full Merino leather” installed gorgeous two-toned thrones front and rear (with the B8 featuring a full-length center console to make it a four-seater), and combined with an Alcantara headliner and dark ash trim presented a resolutely upscale cabin that was a cut above anything wearing the letter M. Also improved is the Alpina B8’s tomb-like quiet when traveling at speed, shunning wind and road noise to the degree that I could have picked up the gentle sounds of someone reading Braille in the back seat.
I also appreciate the B8’s under-the-radar updates to the 8 Series Gran Coupe’s exterior styling. Dipped in Alpina Green Metallic, the vehicle I drove only hinted at its chutzpah with flared aero intakes, a matching diffuser, duckbill spoiler and 20-spoke rims. If you know what to look for, you can’t miss it, but for the general public the B-badge at the rear won’t attract the same level of attention as a multi-colored M.
A Worthwhile Capstone
Alpina’s pivot from M-analogue to purveyors of a truly unique BMW-based experience is commendable. In a world where spending more to go faster is now old hat, the new B8 provides the glitterati with an alternative to the oligarch over-beef that regularly stirs up the stew at the hottest restaurant in town’s valet station.
The reality is, most who are shopping at the B8’s $139,900 starting price already have one or more track toys sitting in their garage at home, obviating the need for a four-door daily driver to pull double duty when it’s time to play. Rather than simply build one more entry in the turbocharged automotive arms race, Alpina has chosen to create a truly unique alternative to both the hyper-muscled M8 Competition and the passenger-focused Maybach brand. The car is a callback to when luxury was a welcome deviation from the norm, not simply the amplification of existing expectations, a refreshing perspective that’s perfectly executed by the B8’s willingness to walk its own path.
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