While filling up the admittedly thirsty 2015 BMW Alpina B6 at my local gas station, an elderly gentleman pulled up in an old Fusion and eyed the blue specimen.
“They still make Alpinas?”
Turns out he had been a car enthusiast in his younger years, having owned a Jag, a Porsche and an Aston Martin. He knew Alpina from its successful racing partnership with BMW, when the motorsport duo won three European Touring Car Championships in the seventies.
One’s initial assessment might be, “It’s just an M6 with all-wheel drive.” Ah, but it goes deeper than that.
Indeed, there is some history behind the Alpina badge. It all started in 1962 when Alpina founder Burkard Bovensiepen turned up the heat on a BMW 1500 by slapping on a pair of dual-choke Webber carbs. In the years following, legendary racers such as Hans Stuck Jr and Niki Lauda piloted Alpina BMWs to victory.
In 1988 Alpina said goodbye to motor racing and concentrated on the business of building their special brand of BMW road cars – fast, luxurious and oh-so exclusive.
And so to this 2015 B6, which is Alpina’s take on the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe. Ringing in at $150,000, give or take, this rare beauty is a study in subtle aggression. And it sure doesn’t hurt that BMW’s Gran Coupe is surely one of the prettiest cars on the road today. A few body mods, Alpina Blue Metallic paint and 20-spoke 20-inch alloys have it dressed to kill.
So why would anyone want this car when BMW already sells three variants of the 6 Gran Coupe? Drop into your local BMW store and you’ll find the 315-hp six-cylinder 640i xDrive at $87,900, the 445-hp 4.4L V8 650i xDrive at $99,800, and the full-bore rear-drive M6 that starts at $127,900 and extracts an extreme 560 hp from the same 4.4L V8.
Well, you have to drive it to find out. After a week in the B6, I totally get the appeal of this exclusive 540-hp grand tourer. One’s initial assessment might be, “It’s just an M6 with all-wheel drive.” Ah, but it goes deeper than that.
The Alpina recipe leans more on the side of luxury than on-track performance, but having said that, the B6 is hardly a poseur. Those body bits are functioning aerodynamic aids as this four-door coupe posts the highest top speed of any BMW – thanks to its Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires and the deletion of that pesky 250 km/h governor found on all other high-po Bimmers. Oh, and let’s not forget the Alpina-modified 4.4L twin-turbo V8 that makes 540 hp (down 20 hp from the M6) but a robust 540 lb-ft that trumps the M6 by 38. Give it enough room and the Alpina B6 will see 318 km/h.
Partially assembled all-wheel-drive 650i xDrive Gran Coupes are plucked from the BMW assembly line and sent to Alpina for finishing. With only 210 employees, this family-owned company in Buchloe, Bavaria, produces around 1500 BMW-based cars a year.
The engines get high performance Mahle pistons, new turbos, water-to-air intercoolers and a heavy duty cooling system with 30 percent extra capacity so things don’t go boom when running at high speeds in hot climates. The United Arab Emirates comes to mind.
Alpina tunes the excellent ZF eight-speed auto to their liking and installs their own stainless steel exhaust system that exits through a pair of twin elliptical tailpipes. In keeping with the philosophy of the automaker, the sound is rich but subdued – unlike that of a V8-powered Mercedes AMG vehicle that will unapologetically belt its intent into the next county. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
Alpina also reinforces the xDrive system and rear axle, tweaks BMW’s variable damping control and adds a bit more negative camber in the front for better bite in the corners. And of course, there are bigger brakes to retard this 2,168 kg beast – it weighs a hefty 175 kg over the rear-drive M6 Gran Coupe. The B6 is no sports car.
All this mechanical broo-ha-ha doesn’t mean squat if it don’t deliver the goods, yet it only takes a few kilometres behind the wheel to discover the B6 a complete package. It distinguishes itself from the other Gran Coupes in a big way.
The extra torque coupled with all-wheel drive give the Alpina B6 unrelenting urge with a rock solid composure. It flows down the road like liquid mercury, and to the detriment of we North Americans, it disguises its speed very effectively. This tester had the speed warning set to 130 km/h, and I can’t count the number of times the polite “bing” alerted me to my felonious activity.
Looking at the B6 all squat on its 20-inch wheels, you’d be forgiven for expecting the ride to be crap. Uh, no. Alpina masterfully tunes BMW’s variable rate damping system to deliver a surprisingly good ride, even over the torturous road surfaces here in the GTA. Yet there is nary a hint of float, slop or secondary rebounds. Select Sport or Sport + modes and parameters of the suspension, transmission, stability control and steering adjust accordingly. The exhaust opens up a tad too.
Inside we’re treated to the top trim spec BMW offers in the Gran Coupe, along with a few Alpina flourishes like blue-faced gauges, illuminated Alpina scuff plates and a steering wheel with blue and green stitching – the traditional colours of Alpina. The white leather is stunning.
Shift paddles are replaced with buttons on the back of the steering wheel. Alpina calls it Switch-Tronic. I call it a bit odd, but they work fine. I’m guessing the average B6 owner will not be hurtling his car around the race track, banging off shifts at the redline. Additionally, they probably aren’t interested in fiddling with the many individual settings the M6 offers for transmission mapping, steering feel and stability control functions.
The Alpina B6 is engineered for ease of use. It’s cosseting, engaging, fast as hell and bypasses the robotic feel of the M6.
As would be expected of a car with this mission of exclusive luxury, many of the high-end BMW gizmos are included in the price – LED headlights, top grade leather interior, Alcantara headliner, piano black trim, head-up display, heated/ventilated/active seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, electric rear sunshade, soft close doors, navigation, blind spot detection, lane departure and collision warning… you get the picture.
This tester had a few standalone options as well – an excellent Bang and Olufsen audio ($4,900), night vision with pedestrian detection ($2,500) and Driving Assistant Plus ($1,000) that adds adaptive cruise with stop and go and collision mitigation.
Fuel economy? Well, if you have to ask… On the highway it gets into the 11 L/100 km range. Around town, this heavy all-wheel-drive projectile hovered around 20 L/100 km. Ouch.
BMW is not saying how many 2015 Alpina B6 are making their way to Canada, but you can be assured there won’t be more than a handful. If the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe is on your wish list, and the pockets in your Hugo Boss suit plumb reasonable depths, the extra coin for the Alpina B6 is entirely justifiable.
4 years/80,000 km; 4 years/80,000 km powertrain; 12 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance
|Model Tested||2015 BMW Alpina B6||Destination Fee||$2,095|
|Base Price||$142,400||Price as Tested||$152,995|
Bang and Olufsen $4,900; Night Vision with Pedestrian Detection $2,500; Driving Assistant Plus $1,000