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Famed BMW tuner directs its expertise at a sleek four-door to create its latest flagship

The four-door performance ‘coupé’ is not a modern phenomenon. Lagonda has historical form with the idea and concepts such as the Ferrari Pinin of 1980, which Enzo himself is said to have particularly liked, show that even the most storied marques have experimented.

However, the format has in recent times really taken off, with Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, Aston Martin, BMW, Volkswagen and even Hyundai (what, you forgot about the i30 N Fastback?) all trying their hands, albeit with varying degrees of success.

This car isn’t really aimed at the European market. It’s more for America, where it’ll sit alongside the XB7 in the range and ensure Alpina caters for those who want something very big and very luxurious

The Porsche Panamera has bolstered Porsche’s bottom line since its arrival in 2009, but other cars have struggled to find much volume. After all, these models ask a premium for their sleek design, for which they trade practicality relative to the less expensive saloon on which they are usually based. The rational choice they are not.

The subject of this week’s road test is no different. At almost £140,000, the new Alpina B8 Gran Coupé looks expensive next to the £93,000 B5 Bi-Turbo saloon with which it shares its 4.4-litre V8, much of its chassis and its fundamental suspension design. Sales figures in the UK will also be paltry, but we’re lavishing on it the full road test treatment because this is Alpina’s new flagship model and ought therefore to be nothing short of spectacular.

Could it be the star of this rarefied breed? Alpina’s recent form has certainly been strong indeed, so let’s explore the 613bhp B8 Gran Coupé.

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The B8 line-up at a glance

Alpina is limited by staff numbers and its ‘find the niche’ strategy when it comes to the breadth of the model line-up – and that’s how the company likes it. However, two-door coupé models do seem to be dropping off the marque’s to-do list of late, and we can’t help wondering if that’s because the performance of these cars has become uncomfortably close to that of their M division cousins.

It now seems there will be no B4 Coupé for this generation, only a Gran Coupé version, and the same is truefortheB8.SotheB8isaone- model line-up, although expect the mid-life refresh, still several years out, to yield a B8 S, with more power and some chassis upgrades.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Alpina cars

DESIGN & STYLING

2 Alpina B8 Gran Coupe 2021 road test review hero side

Every B8 starts life as an M850i xDrive Gran Coupé. However, after Alpina’s changes have been wrought, much has altered beneath the donor’s bodyshell (whose spine is stiffened with carbonfibre elements) and beyond the bare bones of the chassis.

Those changes start with BMW’s ‘N63’ V8, whose 4395cc capacity remains, only it’s now fed by new and faster-spooling twin-scroll turbochargers, which sit within the valley of the cylinder banks. Alpina also fits uprated pistons and spark plugs, but by far the greatest modification within the engine bay concerns the cooling system, which is 50% larger than standard with new intercoolers and not only allows the engine to generate considerably more power and torque but also makes the car more reliable at sustained high speeds. After all, where the M850i is electronically limited to 155mph, the B8 is claimed to hit 201mph.

Only wheel option is Alpina’s 21in Classic, which is forged and larger than you’ll find on any other 8 Series. Drilled discs come with the optional High Performance brakes

The eight-speed gearbox from ZF is modified with reinforced planetary wheels and extra cooling – not least via a new aluminium oil sump – to cope with the car’s increased torque, up from 533lb ft to 590lb ft. The gearbox software is also retuned for quicker shifts and to execute multiple downshifts in one action, which the regular M850i gearbox cannot. Downstream of that, the propshaft has been reinforced, and the torque-splitting characteristics of BMW’s xDrive system have been revised to generate even greater stability and neutrality.

The driveline then ends with Alpina’s hallmark multi-spoke wheels, which are forged and, at 21in, the largest fitted to any 8 Series derivative. The choice of diameter isn’t purely for aesthetic reasons, either. The car’s deep front splitter and some of the extra cooling apparatus within the car’s underbody require more ground clearance than the M850i.

Ride and handling is another area where Alpina leaves very few stones unturned. The electromechanical steering has been recalibrated and the suspension geometry altered – not least with greater negative camber, for which at least one new link was required. And while the 8 Series still favours steel over air for suspension of the body, Alpina has fitted bespoke Eibach springs with its own tune of dampers that can provide an extra-supple Comfort Plus mode you won’t find on any regular BMW. There are new hydromounts for the front struts, and the Pirelli P Zero tyres are ‘noise-cancelling’.

Finally, the B8 comes with Alpina’s sport rear differential, which is essentially a reprogrammed version of the electronically controlled differential lock found on the M850i. Similar detail changes have been made to the active anti-roll bars and rear-axle steering, all of them with the ultimate aim of improving stability and control.

INTERIOR

8 Alpina B8 Gran Coupe 2021 road test review cabin

The B8’s cabin is much like that of any generously specified 8 Series Gran Coupé, only with the usual Alpina additions. The digital instruments have been reskinned in Alpina’s colours and the steering wheel is trimmed in sumptuous Lavalina leather, with the stitching sunk into the padding so the rimfeels natural and comfortable to hold even from brand new. You can have the crankshaft and carburettor of Alpina’s crest on the headrests and mats, and there is a numbered plaque on the transmission tunnel.

The cabin is also where the B8 Gran Coupé differs significantly from the B5 Bi-Turbo. The windscreen is noticeably shorter, the Alcantara-trimmed A-pillars more steeply raked and the flowing architecture of the centre console more suggestive of GT-car genes than those of any saloon. Thisexample’s two-tone leather – of the superbly soft and optional merino variety, and swathed across the entire dashboard – adds some extra exclusivity to the place, although it’s possible to escalate matters with the full Lavalina leather interior package, yours for £14,400.

In the past few years, Alpina has started offering its own CNC aluminium paddle shifts, and they really do feel lovely – cool to the touch and reassuringly hefty

This kind of indulgence is rarely seen on more popular Alpina models such as the Alpina B3 or B5 Bi-Turbo, but for flagship cars such as the B7 or this B8 Gran Coupé, it’s more common.

The sense of material richness continues undiluted into the second row, where, like the regular 8 Series Gran Coupé, the B8 is spacious enough even for taller adults to get comfortable. Head room is good even if you opt for the split-section panoramic roof. However, the middle berth is reasonably compromised, so you should treat the B8 as a fourseater with an occasional fifth berth.

Despite their sculpted form and modular headrest, the rear seatbacks fold forward via levers in the boot. 

Infotainment and sat-nav

Alpina reskins the 12.3in digital instrument binnacle to mirror the firm’s own blue-and-green colour scheme, but in every other way the whole infotainment world is lifted directly from the latest big BMW models. You therefore get the top-ranking Live Cockpit Professional system, whose 10.3in display is perched atop the dashboard (albeit neatly) rather than being integrated into it, and the familiar rotary controller on the transmission tunnel, even though the main display is touch sensitive.

The set-up is intuitive to use, not only the layout of the menus but also because the main areas of interest – maps, media, phone etc – are still selectable with physical buttons. The standard Harman Kardon sound system is good, too, although a £4000 set-up by Bowers & Wilkins is also available.What we still haven’t adjusted to are the side-winding dials for engine speed and road speed. Perhaps BMW felt the need to fill the binnacle to its very edges, but it has hurt legibility.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

19 Alpina B8 Gran Coupe 2021 road test review engine

Alpina’s twin-turbo six-cylinder models have, until recently at least, struggled a little to match the outright linearity of power delivery of their BMW M division counterparts, feeling boostier through the mid-range particularly. The B8 doesn’t suffer in the same way, though – not in the slightest.

This is a car with incredible linearity in its power delivery, and what feels like a really mammoth reserve of torque to plumb – but which also revs keenly and shifts gears crisply and smoothly. It has a really rounded, well-mannered powertrain ideally suited to a long- striding fast GT car, then, yet also every bit as much outright potency as you’d want – and more to spare.

Stability, balance and traction are its priorities in corners and the rear-axle steering ensures pleasing agility, backed by the confidence-inspiring accuracy of the steering.

If we have a reservation about Alpina’s modified ‘N63’ V8, it concerns how it sounds. The firm has tinkered with BMW’s digital engine synthesis software to produce a more natural audible character than the M850i has, but it hasn’t enjoyed particular success. Rival V8-engined GT cars offer more vocal charm, certainly, although Alpina will have been aiming for a blend of refinement and soul, of course, and if it has missed the mark it was targeting, it won’t have been by much.

Alpina can’t have missed its performance targets by much, either. Our timing gear recorded a 3.5sec, two-way-averaged 0-60mph time for the B8, with 100mph coming up from rest in 7.8sec. In both respects, a Mercedes-AMG GT 63 4-Door Coupé is slightly quicker, and a GT 63 S would be quicker still, but a 12-cylinder Bentley Flying Spur is fully a second slower to 100mph, while an Aston Martin DBS Superleggera would need to run to 80mph and beyond before making real headway into the B8’s lead.

Four-wheel drive and a really torque-rich, elastic-feeling power delivery have a pretty startling combined effect on how urgently this car will get on down the road ahead of you. The pulling power of this engine is almost ever present across the rev range, but it also finesses its gearshifts in a way that dynamically rougher-hewn rivals don’t.

In top gear, that engine will rarely pull more than 1750rpm at UK motorway speeds – but it also kicks down really intuitively when you just want it to pick up quickly and simply after a big pedal input, and has the sound shift logic to make fast, flowing country roads enjoyable even before you’ve reached for those lovely shift paddles.

RIDE & HANDLING

20 Alpina B8 Gran Coupe 2021 road test review cornering front

The B8 doesn’t muster quite the same level of outright agility or rear-driven poise as a Mercedes-AMG GT 63, or even a Porsche Panamera. In its suspension and driveline behaviour, it’s set up to prize stability and traction above all else, and this prevents it from having the kind of handling flair that makes the very best-handling GT-type cars stand out.

The B8 nevertheless has fine cornering balance and the eye-widening agility you’ll find in large cars with well-tuned rear-axle steering. But up the ante and it refuses to be goaded into easily accessed oversteer, diverting torque early to its front axle to ensure stability is never compromised, and generally cutting a more aloof figure than the aforementioned rivals. In their most aggressive driving modes, those cars allow their mighty reserves of composure to be overruled by their even mightier reserves of torque, and that’s something the Alpina doesn’t permit.

The B8’s natural inclination is for gentle understeer at the limit, although with some weight transfer it can be coaxed into lurid slides and held there, such is the torque

None of which is to say this car is devoid of engagement – far from it. There’s real satisfaction to be had from the steering, which is more linear than that of the BMW M850i and many genuine sports cars, and is beautifully accurate, no matter how much load might be going through the suspension. The set-up isn’t quite as chatty as some in the class, but it nonetheless inspires plenty of confidence for neatly placing what is an unapologetically large car, even on smaller roads, and that plays into the sense of usability Alpina tries to engineer into all its products.

The sense that this car has been built for real-world use is also evident in the body control. Rarely, if ever, do you find yourself wondering whether the spring rates are too high or the suspension under-damped during everyday driving. The B8 seems to calmly absorb whatever the road ahead throws at it, rolling just enough to convey a sense of speed it otherwise hides deceptively well, but never feeling ‘loose’. Ultimate control doesn’t match some cars in the class, and you’ll discover that if you push the B8 disproportionately hard, but given how well this car satisfies its road-intended dynamic brief, that’s easy to forgive.

Track performance

Although Alpina began in motorsport, and has been credited with bringing about the 3.0 CSL that dominated touring car racing in the 1970s, the road cars are developed very much for, yes, the road, and in Buchloe they make very few bones about that.

It was a surprise, therefore, that the B8 set a faster lap time on MIRA’s dry handling circuit than the Mercedes-AMG GT 63 4-Door Coupé managed two years ago. Although really fast and ever secure, the B8 isn’t blessed with the last word in chassis balance or body control, which makes it feel a little out of its depth at the very limit of grip.

That said, you would never get anywhere near this level of commitment on the road, and on the wet circuit the B8 is predictable and generates impressive traction, which mostly has the measure of its size and weight. All in, a good showing, if not the sharpest.

Comfort and isolation

One glance at the B8’s cartwheel-spec rims and you’d be excused for wondering how wise it was for Alpina to sacrifice ride quality to achieve its desired aesthetic. And surely some degree of fluency must have been traded in, although you’d hardly know it. At low and high speeds, the B8 moves with the kind of serenity that defies the basic fact that it is a 600bhp performance car wearing 30-section tyres (35-section at the front), and in terms of rolling refinement it has an appreciable advantage over both the GT 63 and the Panamera.

One expects to experience excellent primary ride in this class, but it’s the Alpina’s secondary ride – how it copes with rough Tarmac, ripples in the road surface, and potholes – that sets it apart, and makes it superb company when you’re simply getting from A to B.

This car also shows that air springs do not automatically yield the finest ride quality, and that with the right expertise, old-school steel springs and dampers can do just as good a job. That said, there is some advanced technology at play, because the B8’s active anti-roll bars undoubtedly help its cause: they are able to almost completely disengage when the car is driving in a straight line. Along with Alpina’s unique Comfort Plus mode for the car’s dampers, the result is ultra-supple progress.

Barring an ever-so-faint resonance from the tyres at motorway speeds, the B8 is also delightfully quiet. Where the GT 63 recorded 72dBA at 70mph, the B8 recorded only 67dBA, which is an enormous difference. However, the Alpina is still some way off the Bentley Flying Spur, which managed 64dBA during its road test.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Alpina B8 Gran Coupe 2021 road test review hero front

At around £135,000, the B8 Gran Coupé is priced to match rivals from Mercedes-AMG and Porsche, and it certainly ranks among them for outright capability and exclusivity.

Some might question why it costs £35,000 more than the BMW M850i xDrive on which it’s based, but when you consider the scope of the changes made to the powertrain and chassis by Alpina, that premium is justifiable.

Alpina’s residuals are similar to the Mercedes AMG GT63’s, so expect a first-year hit, and neither can match those of the Bentley Flying Spur

The B8’s closest rival arguably comes from within Alpina’s own ranks. The B5 Bi-Turbo totes the same performance and similar handling traits but costs £40,000 less.

The B5 also has stronger residuals, although it isn’t quite so elegant in the metal. Long-nosed, big capacity GT-type cars have always suffered from heavy depreciation, and the B8 is no different in this respect, with forecasts suggesting the car will shed around £50,000 in value after 12,000 miles.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Alpina cars

VERDICT

23 Alpina B8 Gran Coupe 2021 road test review static

Any top-billing Alpina should be nothing less than an exhibition when it comes to performance and capability, and the B8 Gran Coupé doesn’t disappoint.

The scope of this car’s straight-line performance borders on what you’d get from the very latest supercars, but the nature of the delivery could hardly be better suited to the task of propelling an opulent four-door GT. It’s also an exceptionally assured car, stable in the extreme and confidence-inspiring in all weathers.

This is a special machine, but I’m struggling to get my head around that price. For this kind of outlay, I’d be looking at the Bentley Flying Spur, accepting it’s not quite as sporting.

When you underline all this with Alpina’s palpable detail engineering and an interior that, while perhaps a little unimaginative, wants very little for material richness, the resulting product is certainly worthy of the term ‘flagship’.

Our only real reservation concerns this car’s ability to entertain. It is, after all, an elegant GT-type car whose demeanour suggests it should offer more than absurd pace and dependable dynamics. It is agile and beautifully linear in its controls, but the B8 would be even better if it had some true flair in its handling DNA.

As it is, strip away the low-slung body and the car’s core personality is too similar to that of the less expensive B5 Bi-Turbo.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Alpina cars

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Alpina B8 Gran Coupe First drives