It’s tough to make a satisfying luxury SUV these days. The segment is one big bouillabaisse of disparate car attributes thrown together, and buyers expect the resulting vehicles to deliver on all of them with little to no compromise. They’re all-in-one solutions designed to prevent customers from thinking too much about what they want, because it gives them everything.
Every automaker’s got their own recipe, of course, but when they’re served up, these SUVs can feel indistinguishable from each other. To the average luxury shopper, the spec-sheet minutiae doesn’t really matter. Split hairs all you want about cubic-feet and horsepower, but at the end of the day, if it’s big, powerful and from the brand they like, it’s a done deal.
That’s not to say that everyone will be satisfied with whatever SUV is put in front of them, even if packed with all the bells and whistles. Those with the need for a little extra something usually have to look off-menu for what they crave. When it comes to BMW, those offerings come from Alpina, the automaker’s performance house that knows how to bring out the best of the brand’s signature flavors. With the 2023 BMW Alpina XB7, the result is exactly that: refinement, potency and just a little extra flourish to make the biggest Bimmer on the block hit the spot.
The XB7 is Alpina’s take on the largest SUV in BMW’s lineup, the X7. Like the other X7s in the middle of their cycles, the XB7 receives a few tweaks this year, most notably a new fascia in line with the rest of the lineup, and a jump in power from its 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 engine. The output has surged from 612 horsepower to 630, keeping the torque to an already substantial 590 lb-ft.
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Apart from the numbers themselves, the Alpina-tuned engine differs from the one found in the X7 M60i by hitting peak torque sooner and holding it longer. Power is distributed through an Alpina-specific 8-speed automatic transmission married to a 48-volt starter generator and sent to all four wheels. All told, BMW states the XB7 can go from 0 to 60 in 3.9 seconds, topping out at 180 mph if equipped with 21-inch wheels and performance tires. It’s more than you’d ever expect to use here in the States, but knowing that it’s faster than the X7, which is electronically limited to 155 mph, is a fun little factoid for XB7 drivers to keep in their pocket.
In charge of handling is an air suspension supported by Alpina dampers that can raise or lower the XB7’s height on the fly, either by a switch on the center console or automatically when the BMW is hauling tail at high speeds and so hunkers down for better stability. It’s rounded out by additional struts for superior rigidity in addition to the rear-wheel steering available on the X7.
Attention to Detail
Many of these tweaks sound like the aforementioned hair-splitting that many high-end buyers can easily overlook, but Alpina’s expertise is refinement, not reinvention. I may run the risk of overusing the work “refined” here, but that’s ultimately how Alpina handles all of the original X7’s characteristics. The smooth drive is smoother, the power more potent and the handling sharper.
When simply driving around town, the XB7 keeps its potential obnoxiousness at bay, an even-keeled personality holding sway thanks to its air suspension and extra buttressing. The 48-volt motor makes for silky transitions during stop-start moments, and power is delivered evenly by the throttle, avoiding the delayed pedal response often implemented by automakers as a cruising mode.
Alternatively, sport settings improve the BMW’s performance aspects in a very palpable way, but does without the jarring shift into a more aggressive stance. The SUV instead becomes more poised and responsive to inputs like throttle and steering. The transition in attitude is augmented by the V8 soundtrack being fed into the cabin to heighten all of the senses, and while moving at a clip, the XB7 almost blurs the line between sport sedan handling and that of just very good SUV control. Speed limits may be easily broken, but the Alpina is still bound by the laws of physics, after all.
The inside is as comfortable and well-appointed as you’d expect, though it doesn’t differ wildly from the standard X7, apart from the Alpina badging. Premium materials are still featured throughout, and the dashboard is anchored by the current BMW standard curved display, housing the driver’s 12.3-inch information gauges along with the 14.9-inch infotainment screen. This in turn contains the (in)famous BMW iDrive 8 operating system with its myriad customization options, for better or worse. We’re far past the point where there are menus owners would never think to visit during their ownership of the car, only to stumble upon them while searching for something that should’ve been easily accessible in the first place.
Though the driver’s seat is the best one in the house, the others are fair runners-up. The XB7’s second row is spacious, with loads of leg and headroom, enhanced by the generously proportioned panoramic sunroof above. Thankfully, the third row from the X7 was designed as more than an afterthought. It’s still a tighter squeeze for the average passenger, but BMW has done its best to mitigate the usual claustrophobia-inducing seats with their own view ports and separate sunroof, along with a set of climate controls.
With all this said, is all the extra Alpina flavor worth the asking price? Starting around $150,000, it’s a hefty jump from the $100,000 or so entry price of the X7 M60i, an SUV that’s still quite proficient in its duties, not to mention the $82,000 X7 xDrive40i.
In a way, it’s like asking what experience you’re looking for when selecting a single-malt Scotch. A younger, more affordable bottle might hit the notes you’re after, but the pricier vintage brings more vibrance for those with an appreciation of such things. Even if drivers have a sample of the Alpina and ascertain the differences for themselves, they still might conclude that, while nice, the already potent and pricey X7 will do just fine, thanks.
Others still would be hard pressed to pass up the XB7 after having a taste for themselves. The Alpina upgrades are easily felt for those who know what they’re looking for, and the knowledge that a higher-yield version of your SUV of choice exists is irresistible enough on its own.
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