The 7 Series is the flagship model in the BMW lineup. A far cry from a zippy little M3, the 7 Series has always had its focus on being a luxury cruiser. It competes in the top of the line limousine class against the likes of Mercedes’ legendary S Class, a car which has set the standard of automotive luxury for sometime now. In order to take on such formidable opposition, BMW has had to use some clever ingenuity to make the 7 Series appealing, and it doesn’t get more appealing than the top two models we have here.
In one corner we have the Alpina B7, an upgraded vehicle that has been factory sanctioned. Alpina has had a long relationship with BMW as a third party tuner, similar to AMG and Mercedes before they were officially brought together in 1990. Alpina models are usually marketed as alternatives to cars from BMW’s M Division, but in this case, there is no BMW “M7”, so the Alpina B7 is as close as you can get.
Of course, you might instead fancy having the ultimate 7 Series that BMW makes themselves. That would be our other contender, the BMW 760Li. It is a more traditional take on a top-end luxury limousine with a proper V12 under its hood.
These are the two head honchos of the 7 Series range. Incidentally, a mere $10,000 separates them in price. That may sound like a lot, but when you’re talking about spending six figures on a car, it is but a pittance. So the Alpina B7 and 760Li not only must compete against world class opposition from other automakers, but also against one another. For someone looking to make a purchase in this range, that means there are some serious decisions to be made.
I remember the first time I ever knowingly saw an Alpina B7. It was parked outside of a semi-classy looking strip club in Pittsburgh, and I remember thinking “how fitting…”
Despite them both being the exact same car, the Alpina has definitely been dressed up more than the 760Li in terms of visual distinction. The Alpina bodykit adds a tasteful bit of sport to the 7 Series’ appearance with slightly lower bumpers, chrome exhaust tips, a lip spoiler on the back, and some striking multi-spoke wheels. The look of the Alpina is quite noticeable to a trained eye, and it will likely manage to turn a few heads in town. Those looking to let people know that they’ve got “the fast one” will like the Alpina for sure.
The 760Li is much more incognito. It takes an expert to be able to pick one out of a crowd. As far as I can tell, the only way to distinguish a 760 from any other 7 Series is by the tiny V12 badges on the fenders or by the square dual exhausts. The M-Sport package on the one I drove added some larger air intakes to the front, but it still doesn’t do much to turn any heads. The 760Li is fantastic for those who like to “speak softly and carry a big stick” because the stick this thing quietly packs is truly massive.
So even before we get in each car we have a split between tastes. The Alpina is more distinctive, while the 760 is more subdued. Each has their own merits, so this will not be a battle won off looks alone.
This is the one area of this comparison where things are entirely redundant. Both of these cars were long-wheelbase 7 Series’, so they both had effectively the exact same interior. The long-wheelbase model is the full-on limousine, so there is gratuitous space for occupants both front and rear. The front seat feels like a sumptuous recliner, with nice soft padding that you just sink into. The rear seat might as well be a couch because it is just as comfortable, especially if you check the option box for the massage function. This class of car is the utmost in luxury, so naturally you would expect it to deliver unparalleled levels of comfort, and both do so exceedingly well.
Any feature you could want on a car can be had on these models. In addition to the obvious navigation, Bang and Olufsen sound system, rear seat TVs, etc, you can also get night vision on the dash, adaptable cruise control, and adaptive safety systems. Many companies have things like lane departure warnings these days, but I really like how BMW’s works through the steering wheel and not by tickling my butt. Cadillac’s system works via the seat, and it just feels like you’re being violated every time you’re merging lanes on the highway.
The only things that did vary between the interiors of these two cars were the trim options. The B7 was fitted with the full Alpina interior, light tan leather with reddish wood trim, and Alpina badges all over. The 760, though, was fitted with BMW’s “White Ash Grain Wood” trim, which has to be one of the coolest options I’ve ever seen fitted to a car. Other than the white wood trim, the 760 had the Opal White leather from the BMW Individual line. Both interiors were quite stunning, and beautifully appointed, but my own personal taste leans toward the white wood in the 760 because it was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. That said, as far as I know, you can get any of these options on the Alpina B7 as well, so customers can do what they wish with their own order.
On the Road: Similarities
Obviously, being the same car in two forms, there will be many similarities to the way the Alpina B7 and 760Li feel on the road. I found the most similarities with their handling. I took each car on the same route with the same corners, and both proved to be competent, but not encouraging. I am lead to believe that the Alpina’s suspension is a bit sportier than the 760’s, but at what I’d call “fun road speeds” I didn’t notice any real difference between the two. Maybe on a track some difference would show near their limits, but on the road at 7/10ths they were basically identical.
That brings me to a point here: These high-end 7 Series handle well for competence sake, but not because they “want to.” When I was in Germany last year, I noticed that many main roads end up winding through the mountains at some point, with all sorts of fun, but hazardous, corners. For a car to be truly comfortable, it must be able to tackle those roads as confidently as it cruises on the autobahn. Handling, here, is a means giving occupants an uncompromised feeling of security that will grant them true comfort on the road.
While these 7s did handle quite well for their hefty mass, which is around 5000lbs for both, their physical size is not something you are able to forget. These cars are very long, very wide, and extremely heavy. These proportions do take some adjustment when you are used to driving a smaller car. The steering for each was responsive and accurate, but the large proportions make placing the car on tighter roads a bit of a guessing game. Braking is necessarily powerful, slowing these monstrous sedans from high speed in a surprisingly short distance. Being confident in your brakes is also a large factor in being able to relax behind the wheel.
Both cars had two comfort settings, “Comfort” or “Comfort Plus”. I really don’t see the point in having two, because if I wish to be comfortable, I want to be as comfortable as I possibly can be. Comfort Plus it is then, because otherwise, I would havd the car in “Sport Mode”.
Both of the 7s are very much luxury focused cars. You don’t get a sense that BMW was trying to give them eager handling, like Jaguar did with the XJ Super Sport I sampled. No, the 7 Series is a big limo through and through. Both the Alpina and the 760 are exceedingly competent on the road, but neither of them could pass as a sports car. That is why there is no BMW “M7.” It just wouldn’t be proper to put an M badge on a car like this. If handling prowess is what you desire, go try out an M5. These 7s both work better with a far more relaxed approach, at least as far as cornering is concerned.
Most 7 Series buyers will only ever go fast in a straight line, usually on a highway, and that is really what these top-tier 7s are all about. If you just want a big car to relax in, you should probably save your money and just buy a 740i. The Alpina and the 760Li both bring a substantial level of speed to the mix, and only those who “really!” want to make use of it should spend the extra money. However, it is at this point that the differences begin to appear between these two cars.
Underneath, the Alpina is a BMW 750i/Li that has been upgraded. The B7 has had some changes for 2013 due to the implementation of BMW’s Valvetronic valve lift system and a new 8 speed automatic transmission. The 4.4L twin turbo V8 now pumps out a hefty 540bhp and 538ft/lbs of torque.
If you compare the B7 and 760Li on paper, it appears that the V12 has been outgunned by the V8, with BMW rating the 760 at 535bhp and 550ft/bs of torque. However, I have learned to be skeptical of BMW’s official power claims because they are consistently conservative by around 10-15%. I decided to do a speed test, on the same straightaway, between the B7 and 760 to find out where the V12 really stood. Without going into any incriminating details, I found that the 760 was going around 10mph faster than the B7 was at the end of the straight… definitely not a result we would expect from a 5hp deficit. It seems to me that the 760’s 6.0L twin turbo V12 is actually putting out more in the neighborhood of 600hp than BMW’s claimed 535hp.
In terms of speed, car to car, the difference is felt in the higher end. 0-60 times will likely be similar, but on a highway pull the 760 should pull away from the Alpina. That said, remember that this is a clash between titans here. Both cars are extremely fast, especially for their size.
Having felt the Alpina at speed, I don’t think it’s power has been underrated like the 760’s has. One reason for this is that Alpina is an aftermarket tuning company, and isn’t a full manufacturer like BMW. I’ve heard a few reasons for BMWs, and other German cars, being underrated on paper. One is that there may be some tax in the EU based on horsepower figures, and the other is that German companies have been rating the minimum power levels of their engines. This means that at the top of a mountain, with far less oxygen in the air, the car will produce what the manufacturer claims. Either way, a physical test showed the 760Li to be faster than the Alpina B7, so take it how you will.
Speed is not everything here, though. Even if the 760 is faster, the B7 is still extremely rapid on its own. Effectively, a small difference in speed is no difference at all, because you don’t spend six figures on a limousine to go bench racing on the highway.
The real difference between these two cars is how their engines affect the driving experience. Many people might think its all about power and torque figures, but it’s more about how those things are delivered by the machine. A V12 is not needed to make 500, 600, 700 horsepower, especially now that everything is turbocharged. What a V12 does do, is smooth everything out substantially. This even goes as far as the tangible physics of the engine as it runs. A V12, by its very design of six cylinders on each bank, is naturally in perfect balance when the engine is spinning. This means that you don’t feel any vibrations coming through the chassis of the car as you drive along, everything feels more at peace. It is actually similar to how a rotary engine in a Mazda RX7 feels, except a V12 has loads more torque available when you put your foot down.
This isn’t to say that the V8 in the Alpina feels bad at all. It feels quite powerful, and punchy like any V8 does. However when I hopped into the 760 after driving the Alpina, the difference in smoothness was noticeable. Vibrations are just one part of it, power delivery is another. Now obviously both of these cars were twin turbocharged, so they both had phenomenal low-end torque available. But where the V8 in the Alpina hits hard and fast, the V12 in the 760 delivers its power a little more gradually, with a substantial force that never seems to relent. The V8 feels like a sledgehammer, but the V12 feels like a Tsunami.
Each of these engines might appeal to different people, but for me the V12 760Li is the way to go. The speed is a bonus, but the smoothness is everything, especially when we are talking about top-tier luxury cars. Even if the the B7 had been faster than the 760, I would still prefer the 760 because of the V12’s characteristics. It is easy to see why there continues to be a niche market for big, twelve cylinder limousines among the well to do. They really do offer the most pristine experience possible.
Dollars and Sense
Let’s be real here. For anyone just looking for a big luxury car to cruise around in, a BMW 750i/Li will do everything the Alpina or 760Li will do, and that includes going fast. For someone to spend the extra money on these two top-spec 7s, they need to place a heavy personal emphasis on the “fast” part of the equation. Someone has to have a fair interest in cars to even know what an Alpina B7 is, let alone buy one. So realize that we are talking specifically about a niche market in the paragraphs that follow.
If money were no object, the 760Li would be the way to go every time. However, a V12 is never something that is necessary these days. Effectively, the V8 in the Alpina gives you the exact same overall package you get from the V12 in the 760Li. A V12 is one of those “finer things in life”, something only true automotive connoisseurs really will insist upon at this point. That said, there remains a solid market niche of V12 limousines out there, so there must still be enough wealthy car snobs to make it worthwhile.
If you happen to be one of those wealthy car snobs, and are between vehicles at the moment, then the BMW 760Li is a pretty solid choice for you. Fully loaded, and I don’t know why you’d have it any other way, the 760Li tops out around $161,000. That makes it a bit of a bargain, all things considered, because it’s closest competitor, the Mercedes S600, starts at $160,000 without any options fitted at all. I haven’t tried the S600 for myself yet, but I can definitely say that I’d rather have a loaded 760Li than a base S600 for the same amount of money. The 760Li is also a solid bargain compared to the Bentley Continental Flying Spurr, which goes for around $200 grand and has similar luxury features and performance. Audi’s A8 W12 is another possible contender, but it lags far behind on performance with a non turbocharged engine, and its base price is only a few thousand less than the Bimmer’s. So in the world of V12 car snobs, the 760Li may actually be the best overall choice on the market right now.
For those buyers who want a performance limousine, but don’t “need a V12 because it’s just better”, the Alpina B7 is the way to go. As I said earlier, objectively, it offers the exact same package as the 760, but it costs 10 grand less. Even though that isn’t a huge amount of money in this range, a penny saved is still a penny earned.
The other advantage of the Alpina is that, because it is based on 750i models, it can be had in both rear wheel drive and all wheel drive. That means it can go head to head with the likes of Audi S8, as well as rear-drive challengers like the Jaguar XJR and the Mercedes S63 AMG. The Alpina is around $12 grand cheaper than the Mercedes, but it will face more stiff competition from the Jag and the Audi. Of those two, I have only tried the Jag, and I’d say it drives a good bit sportier (it’s much lighter) while still offering phenomenal luxury. As for the Audi, from what I’ve seen elsewhere, it would demolish all of the above in terms of raw speed, even some supercars cannot match its 0-60 time of 3.5 seconds. However, as a full-size luxury sedan, I’d have to say the Alpina B7 is an extremely solid purchase. It is more visually distinctive than much of its competition, and it excels at everything that makes for a great luxury car.
This flagship BMW shootout has yielded interesting conclusions. Personally, I liked the V12 760Li a little more than the Alpina B7 in terms of the driving experience. However, it turns out the Alpina is surely the smarter purchase. Even so, among its V12 company, the 760Li also proves to be a solid value for money. So it seems that both of these cars are a win for BMW in different enough ways that they still see it worthwhile to sell them both.
I know I have been very critical of BMW as of late. In my opinion, they are dealing with some serious brand identity issues with many of their models. The 7 Series, however, remains exactly what it should be, and this current F01/F02 generation 7 is probably the best 7er they’ve ever made. The bloating of size and weight has been a curse for M cars, but it serves as a benefit for a big limousine like this. The 7 Series has always been the quintessential big autobahn cruiser, and the new one, especially the two I drove here, could not be better for that task.
I think if I were filthy rich I would purchase a loaded 760Li, and then have Alpina put their bodykit and other modifications onto it. Yes, I like to have my cake and eat it too, so I would make my own “Alpina B760”, or whatever. As for choosing between them, just evaluate how highly you value having a V12, and the question will answer itself.
WoM Score: BMW Alpina B7
Primary Function: Luxury: 2
Secondary Functions: Performance(2) Practicality(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2
Final Score: 10/10
WoM Score: BMW 760Li
Primary Function: Luxury: 2
Secondary Functions: Performance(2) Practicality(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 1.5
Final Score: 9.5/10