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The BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe is what a BMW should be

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Are there any truly special cars left? BMW M cars used to be – maybe they still are, but boy they sure do sell a lot of them. Mercedes AMG has breathed upon almost the entire lineup. Most of the good Jags are gone. It’s not hard to see Ferraris running up the canyon roads…nope, not much is left. But then there’s this Alpina B8 Gran Coupe. They make less than 2,000 Alpina cars worldwide, and that includes other things like the B7, variants of X cars, even a 5 Series wagon.

Of course, we only get a few across the pond – including this one.

Could this be BMW’s best car?

BMW Alpina B8

2023 BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe Quick Take

Get one:

The sensation of driving a wave. Suspension tuned to perfection. BMW’s classiest interior. Steering is back. Gosh, you’re pretty.

Don’t get one:

More expensive than an M8, but less exciting.

Soul Score: 9

This is what every BMW should feel like, not just a $160,000 one.

The BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe Overview

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe

This B8 is an embarrassment. Not to you and I, automotive connoisseurs, but to BMW themselves. How we get there is complicated.

Alpina is a small tuning company that takes a regular BMW, such as an 8 Series Gran Coupe, and transforms it. Founded in 1962, they’ve produced everything from typewriters to wine, and are recognized by the German Ministry of Transport as an automobile manufacturer. Quite the feat for a small outfit. In 2022, BMW finally bought them, and I’m not sure what it means for the future.

Alpina B5
Alpina has been around awhile – wheels and front badge are hallmark touches.

But this is the present, and the B8 is of pure blood. Its V-8 is hand assembled, shipped to BMW’s factory for installation, then sent back to Alpina (in the car), for finishing touches. They tune the suspension themselves, and finish the cabin in leather everywhere. It’s Mercedes-level stunning (well, almost).

Though Alpina makes unique versions of many BMWs, only the X7, 7 Series and this car are currently brought to our shores. It will not get you a lot of attention, except from people who are cool.

History lesson over – do you want one?

Performance Score: 9. Surf and turf

It’s time to invite the BMW M8 into the conversation – it’s nearly $11,000 cheaper base price and comparable performance means you’ll be eyeing it before signing for this Alpina.

Well, I’m going to explain the difference. Are you able to handle the truth?

Engine

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
As quiet as a Lexus, until you get on it.

I’ve experienced this engine in a regular BMW, an M car, a Land Rover, and now this B8. Each time it feels different, but here, the 4.4-liter N63 feels truly special. With 612 horsepower (five less than an M8), and 590 lb-ft of torque (37 more), it’s not punchy or quick to rev like an S63. Instead, it builds power like a wave pushing you from behind. Peak power is available at 6,000 RPM, and when you get there, you move. It’s not just easy to drive the B8 smoothly, it’s nearly impossible to jerk it around.

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
All-wheel drive helps put down big torque.

Please be patient – the sensation of waiting is intentional. Nothing so vulgar as turbo lag is present, it’s simply a tuning choice by Alpina, and a good one. Once you adjust, it’s an incredibly smooth engine that crushes you with torque. Roll onto the throttle here, don’t stab.

Inside the cabin, it’s silence until around 4,000 RPM, where a delicious crescendo builds to redline. Think Metallica with a full symphony behind them, only the symphony is starting first. There’s a layer of nuance to the exhaust note not present in an M car, and the silence at low speeds rivals a Lexus.

Transmission

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
A crystal shifter is attached to the typical ZF eight-speed.

The ZF is here, and it’s spectacular as always.

Like the rest of the B8, it’s tuned to respond in an appropriate manner, in step with the car’s mission. Perhaps here is where M is missed most – the M2 that recently left had much sharper responses, something I as a manual owner appreciate. In the B8 it won’t kick down immediately, even in Sport mode. It does lend itself well to that wave of power sensation – perhaps it’s me that’s uncouth.

Steering and chassis

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
The B8 has perhaps the best ride and handling trade-off of any modern BMW.

IT SPEAKS! Real steering feel – they do know how to do it.

The Alpina’s wheel has some heft as you turn it, and unlike normal BMWs, builds feedback progressively in corners. That means you sense little vibrations through the column, and the wheel becomes more difficult to turn the harder you’re into a corner (that’s a good thing). It’s nearly Porsche-level – not as raw, but in a BMW it’s a revelation.

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
The steering provides real feel through the column, along with some nice heft.

Perhaps it’s as good as it is because of the the chassis – among the best I’ve ever experienced in a luxury sedan. Forget Comfort, Comfort Plus (a setting unique to Alpina), or Sport mode – as soon as you sit inside, press the “Adaptive” button. Exclusive to the B8, this allows the steering effort, throttle response, and shock damping to vary continuously based on how you’re driving. It provides the sort of ride and handling balance that no other BMW has – never crashing over bumps (even with sidewalls the size of micro-bikinis), or allowing the car to lean over in turns.

This is how a 530i should feel, and indeed used to. Now, it takes a small aftermarket company to tune a chassis properly.

Brakes

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
The brakes might look typical, but provide perfect feel without the need for multiple settings.

Again – excellent, progressive feedback when you step on the pedal. No need for a brake adjustment setting, it’s just right, right away.

The brakes themselves are huge, with pretty blue calipers that clamp down on solid 15.6-inch pizza pies in front. I can’t be sure, but I bet that if you looked at the part numbers for the calipers, they’d be the same as an M8. Though carbon ceramics are not an option, there’s no need for them.

This is absolutely not a car for the masses. It’s for you and I – the automotive equivalent of a wine sommelier. Such nuance, and effort, given to the small details. The hardware remains very close to BMW, so it’s the tuning that makes the difference, as Alpina has always done. Bravo.

Utility Score: 5. It’s not a 5, or a 7

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
You’ll fit in back, but only if you’re birth year begins with a 2-0.

Stand and behold this car from the outside, and you will immediately notice its imposing size. For that, you do get a comfortable cabin, especially in the front, but I sure hope your rear seat passengers are short, or beheaded. That steep slope in the back severely compromises head room, and BMW’s answer of scalloping the seat cushions give the effect of your knees seemingly touching your chin. Kids do fit back there just fine.

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
The center seat is replaced with this.
BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
Make no mistake – this is a big car. Remember when the E9X was considered oversized?

The trunk is wide, but shallow. It’s a beautiful car, and I assume anyone purchasing this has another vehicle to utilize for Home Depot runs, but the B8 can accommodate daily life with ease. Just don’t expect 5 or 7 Series levels of room.

Fuel Economy: 6. V-8s forever

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
Despite a V-8, the Alpina still gets decent mileage.

Let me give you facts first: 17 MPG city, 24 highway, 19 combined. When I saw the window sticker informing me of these numbers, I snickered.

“Yea, ok…”

But no – it’s true, I averaged 17 during the car’s stay. Part of it is the Alpina’s personality, never encouraging you to push it but always welcoming it. An 18-gallon tank provides a range of nearly 400 miles.

Let’s look to the Mercedes AMG GT 53 as a direct comparison (remember, Mercedes said bye-bye to the V-8 last year). That car’s EPA rating is 21 combined, just two miles per gallon more – an extra 36 miles per full-up. Since we aren’t talking about entry-level cars (where penny pinching would be more relevant), there’s no question which powertrain I’d have.

Here’s proof that a powerful V-8 need not be a gas guzzler. Bad move Merc.

Features and Comfort: 6 – The gr8 debate

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe

BMW has a certain way of doing interiors that I love. Though they are starting to lose the plot with too many screens, they remain a comfortable, nice and logical place to be whether in a 228i, M3, or this Alpina B8 Gran Coupe.

Actually, therein lies the issue – this B8 feels an awful lot like cheaper models in many respects, and I’m afraid all the fancy leather in the world won’t help that.

Interior of the norm

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
It’s not quite Mercedes-level inside.

Sit inside this Alpina, and the aroma of cow hide smacks you in the face. Every surface is covered in beautiful, soft Merino moo. There’s a full Alcantara treatment on the pillars and roof. Stunning crystal controls provide a sense of occasion about it all. Unique Alpina stitching on the steering wheel is a detailed touch. Even the floor mats – real wool. And yet, it’s hard to get excited about the interior.

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
At least it’s not iDrive 8.
BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
The Bowers & Wilkins stereo looks stunning, but doesn’t reproduce the best sound considering its high-end price.

The seats are just fine. Taken out of a regular 8 Series, they aren’t as supportive as the thrones in an M8, let alone that Merc GT with bolsters that adjust as you turn through corners. Elsewhere too – ambient lighting is nice, but haphazardly placed in random spots, not nearly as integrated as a Mercedes. The Bowers and Wilkins stereo is beautiful, even lighting up at night, but doesn’t sound much better than the regular Harmom Kardon. It’s a $3,400 option.

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
Privacy screens power up and down in the rear.
BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe

Though Alpinas traditionally have blue instrument dials, modern BMWs get a digital dash. Sure enough, they make the dials blue, but it still looks like all the other BMWs, giving the effect of putting a pretend Rolex face on your Apple Watch. Placing the car in Sport mode makes them blue and green. Yeesh.

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
The Alpina instruments before screens felt much classier.

Part of me doesn’t want to fault BMW – the fact that every interior is so similar means you can just get in and focus on driving right away. But the way it’s done here feels like it’s a tape and Spackle job – hoping to hide all the cheaper parts that lie beneath. And since BMW M has really become a luxury marquee in their own right, the Alpina version needs to differentiate itself even more.

Curves for days

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe

I don’t think you’ll argue with me on the point that this B8 is one of BMW’s prettiest cars on sale. The design language is all there, and it’s familiar, but with curves you just won’t find anywhere else. Makes an M5 look like grandma’s whip from some angles.

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
The grille lights up here.

And this is Alpina, so you get those stunning, exclusive 21-inch multi-spoke wheels that lets everyone around you know you’ve arrived. There’s also a subtle ground-effects kit just for the B8, along with the traditional Alpina nameplate on the lower front lip. I thought it was a decal until I saw it up close – it’s actually part of the bumper design. Nice.

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
The Alpina effect is classy and subtle.
BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe
20- or 21-inch Alpina wheels are available. Take tire insurance.

Another exclusive touch – Alpina Green Metallic. Also available is Alpina Blue Metallic, and both are stunning. Skip the other 5,000 color options and stick to the classics.

The BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe is simply BMW’s best car on sale

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe

Forget for a moment all the pomp, circumstance and carbon fiber that has become the modern BMW, and think back to the cars of the late 90s and early 2000s. They were pure – not terribly powerful, nor grippy enough that you’d melt your face off, but whether in a 528 or an M5, that spirit, or balance, of comfort and sport was always there. You were in a BMW, and it felt like it.

A modern BMW has to compete more than ever with the luxury of Mercedes, the competence of Porsche, and the technological advantage of Tesla. In doing so, they have moved away from the purity of making a car simple, but good. The Alpina B8 harkens back to those days. It’s not exciting in the sense you might be used to, instead reminding you to savor each drive.

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe

I love the power delivery, the comfort and handling trade-off, and the look of it all. This feels so special from behind the wheel. Despite the lackluster interior, this car fits me in a way other luxury marquees don’t always manage to. For your $150,000, you get a real BMW. Finally. I’d have this as a daily above anything else. Come on, Mega Millions.

I took my wife out to dinner in it on a Saturday night in New York (she’s a stunner, like the B8). The valet offered, but I declined. Then he pointed to the very front of the restaurant and offered the spot in view of everyone.

Never had that happen before.

Probably wouldn’t have happened in the M8 either.

BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe

2023 BMW Alpina B8 Gran Coupe Specifications

Vehicle Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-door, four-passenger sedan.

PRICE

Base: $139,900
As tested: $148,095

POWERTRAIN

4.4 liter ALPINA Bi-Turbo V-8
612 @ 6,500 rpm
590 @ 4,600 rpm
Eight-speed automatic

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 119.0 in
Length: 200.4 in
Width: 76.1 in
Height: 56.0 in
Curb Weight: 4,800 lbs

EPA FUEL ECONOMY

Combined/city/highway: 19 / 17 / 24 MPG

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