It’s Tuesday afternoon, just before workday rush hour traffic, and we’re in the 2015 BMW Alpina B6 xDrive Gran Coupe, driving east toward Munich at the thundering pace of 165 mph.
That’s not speedometer error. In fact, we weren’t even close to the top speed of this super sedan. This latest BMW, re-created and re-engineered by the renowned tuning firm of Alpina, has enough power in reserve to hit 198 mph.
If you haven’t heard of Alpina, don’t feel too bad about your BMW knowledge. Alpina has remained a relatively small outfit for the better part of 50 years, and the company’s fine creations have often run parallel to the offerings of a certain performance unit known by the 13th letter in the alphabet – to save time counting (you know you were going through the alphabet), that would be BMW’s in-house M Division.
At the helm of Alpina is Andreas Bovensiepen, son of founder Burkhard, who continues to take a hands-on approach to designing and delivering the company’s vehicles.
Alpina’s magic happens in a nondescript building within an office park, located about one hour west of Munich. A quick glance at the offices shows individual departments, full of everyday cubicles and work desks. A deeper look reveals passionate, modern-day automotive artisanship.
At the facility, computer-aided design meets workshops brimming with toolboxes. It’s a lesson in the old and new methods of car customization. They all have the same common goal: the production of faster and more luxurious BMWs.
Alpina produces quicker variants of many BMWs, from the 3-Series to the 7-Series, but tends to send just one model line at a time to export markets, like the United States. The most recent Alpina product to hit our shores was the B7. Based on the 7-Series sedan, this was the pretty much the closest you could get to owning an M7.
Alpina is at it again, this time with something slightly smaller and sleeker than BMW’s largest 4-door. We were visiting northern Germany to sample the B6 xDrive Gran Coupe, which is based on the 6-Series Gran Coupe.
Based on hard numbers, the Alpina seems awfully close to the specs of an M6 Gran Coupe. But Alpina quickly dismisses any chatter about the M6 and it’s owncreation as being ‘too similar’ in design and performance. The M6, which is tuned by BMW’s in-house phalanx of engineers, is rear-wheel-drive only, features M-tuned touches inside and out, and is electronically limited to 155 mph.
As the name implies, the B6 xDrive Gran Coupe is an all-wheel-drive variant of the four-door Gran Coupe. It keeps the 650i’s 4.4-liter, turbocharged V-8 engine, but Alpina bumps horsepower from 445 to 540-hp —which is 20 fewer horses than the engine in the M6, in case you’re taking notes here.
The B6 xDrive Gran Coupe keeps the 6-Series’sublime 8-speed automatic transmission, but with careful reprogramming to match the car’s extra power and chassis upgrades. These enhancements include Alpina-designed intercoolers, a stainless-steel exhaust system, and exterior spoilers to maximize aerodynamics —functional touches that are complex, but never showy.
All Alpina cars have elegant 20-spoke wheels, paying homage to the wheel design that has long been a part of the company’s heritage. The brakes are large in diameter and not drilled, taken straight from the standard-issue Middle East-only 760Li. Carbon-ceramic brakes are not an option.
Aside from receiving a healthy boost to its powertrain, the B6 xDrive Gran Coupe also benefits from a thoroughly modified interior. Cabins for most Alpina cars involve a rigorous process of remodeling, with much of the conventional trim pieces replaced by high-end Alpina parts.
Cars coming to the U.S.-market do not receive this treatment, unfortunately, because of related costs (those Alpina cabins don’t come cheap) and engineering hassles. What we do get is delicious rosewood, a steering wheel wrapped in silken leather, and contrasting stitching in Alpina’s signature green and blue racing colors. It’s enough to distinguish the cabin as being something special, even if the full Alpina cabin customization remains a no-go stateside.
The best way to experience the B6 xDrive Gran Coupe, as we learned, is on Germany’s autobahn. Our route led us rapidly through the Bavarian countryside and into the switchbacks of the Austrian Alps.
The Alpina’s turbos kick in, instantly. There is no lag, none. The transmission does a great job of letting the power come on smoothly and progressively. In Sport mode, the exhaust system burbles a little bit when you let off the gas, much like it does in the current M6 Gran Coupe.
It’s laughably easy to get the B6 xDrive Gran Coupe to 60, then 100, and upwards to 150 mph. Alpina quotes a very believable figure of 3.7 seconds for the sprint from 0 to 60 mph. That’s staggering performance, especially considering how polite and user-friendly Alpina has made this car.
Push the B6 and, luckily, it never pushes back –or does anything else to alarm you, or anyone who might be along for the ride. Alpina says the M6 is much stiffer and more aggressive than the B6 xDrive Gran Coupe. That makes a lot of sense when you’re letting top gear do all the work above 70 mph, wafting the Alpina B6 down the road with total ease.
There’s not a lot of feel in the hydraulic steering rack —Alpina says this is because the RWD M6 has electric power steering, which can be programmed. Yet there is a solid on-center feel, something that is absolutely essential if you don’t want each autobahn blast to be a hair-raising venture into the unknown.
Like the standard 6-Series Gran Coupe, the rear seat is pretty snug, though trunk room (13 cu. ft.) is better than you might expect. Pack for four, but make sure the backseat drivers are aware of the accommodations. You also might want to let them in on the top speed potential, in case they’re squeamish.
We suggest ordering the Alpina B6 –and just about any BMW –with the European delivery package. This shaves nearly $8,000 off the Alpina’s hefty $118,225 bottom line, and it gives you a fantastic excuse to plan a vacation around a 540-horsepower sedan. And don’t forget, those lonely stretches of autobahn will let you give your pride and joy a proper workout.
Because, you know, somewhere, it’s Tuesday afternoon, and the roads are wide open in Germany.
Vital stats: 2015 BMW Alpina B6 xDrive Gran Coupe
Base price: $118,225 (includes $925 destination charge)
Drivetrain: All-wheel drive, 4.4-liter, 540-horsepower turbocharged V-8 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy: 16 city / 24 highway mpg