First drive: 2014 BMW Alpina B6 xDrive Gran Coupe

Ignore the tomb-quiet but disjointed interior, and the Alpina B6 will delight drivers with its freeway cruising and cornering competence.

Let’s list some things that feel heavy: a big ol’ sack of flour, a medicine ball, a fat dog, a 20-gallon water jug, the 2014 BMW Alpina B6 Gran Coupe.

Yes, just like those other leaden things, and despite its chopped roofline, which provides visual lightness, from behind the wheel the Alpina B6 feels very heavy indeed. But that’s OK; for the big sports sedan’s wiles far outweigh its massive heft.

Alpina?

Before I sell you on this big German sledge, I ought to explain just what is an Alpina.

The Alpina felt heavy – not just by car standards but also by cosmic standards.

Alpina is a semi-independent tuner of BMWs. Hopefully, however, that tidbit was already obvious. Alpina, which has been messing about with Bimmers for over 40 years, works side-by-side with the BMW engineers. After a new model is designed, like the 6 Series Gran Coupe for example, the BMW CAD files are turned over to the men at Alpina for their own purposes.

The Alpina designers then muck about with the car design and add in their own bits, mostly bigger turbochargers, bigger engine cooling, more sound deadening, and a slightly swankier interior. When they’re all done, Alpina’s designers turn their drawings and specs over to Bimmer and the cars are assembled at BMW factories.

In addition to the special mechanical parts, Alpina adds its signature 20-spoke wheels and a coat of distinctive paint. Then they top it all off with a few Alpina badges. What is left is a car that began life as a 650i xDrive Gran Coupe and has been transformed into an Alpina B6.

Heavenly heft

Having just come off the launch of the 2015 Aston Martin V12 Vantage S Roadster, I thought the Alpina B6 couldn’t possibly compare in terms of handling or motoring enjoyment. And I was kind of right.

While the Aston felt light and nimble at any speed, while also offering exceptional levels of comfort, the Alpina felt heavy – not just by car standards but by cosmic standards. That isn’t to say, however, that it didn’t overcome its bulk in a serious way.

2014 BMW Alpina B6 xDrive Grand Coupe

On the highway, the Alpina benefitted from the ‘lowest’ of its drive modes “Comfort+”. In this mode, the car’s suspension is at its softest mode, allowing a driver to waft with all the cushion-y comfort of a Bentley. Delightfully, it’s not just cloud-like, it’s also serenely quiet.

One of my biggest complaints of BMWs of late – well, OK, of all time – has been the deafening roar of road and wind noise. It seems the brand has an aversion to sound deadening – presumably because it adds weight. Alpina, however, is not afraid of the stuff. Accordingly, the Alpina B6 is as tomb quiet as the Audi RS7 at top freeway speeds.

Turn off the freeway, though, and drivers are delighted to another side of the B6. Click the drive modes up from Comfort+ all the way past Sport to Sport+ and the B6 transforms from highway cruiser into corner crusher.

The Alpina B6 is as tomb quiet as the Audi RS7 at top freeway speeds.

I tested the cornering capabilities of the B6 on the California Highway 2 in the mountains outside of Los Angeles. There, the B6 proved German magic can overcome all things, including physics.

Coming hard into corners with a car that feels like it weighs more than a Ram truck, I expect to find the frictional parameters of the car quite quickly. In the B6, however, I didn’t. No matter how hard I hurled the car into the bends, it remained planted and true.

My eagerness to find the limits of the B6’ traction frightened my co-driver, Davis Adams. “I just don’t trust this car,” he said. “It’s too heavy and I don’t at all feel connected to it.” Though I did trust the car, Davis was right; it did lack connection.

The steering is heavy and well weighted but lacked any sense of being connected to the car. The same goes for the suspension. It got nicely firm in Sport+ and held the car’s weight well, but didn’t feel like it was apart of a rolling automobile. Just as the 2016 Audi TT and 2015 Porsche Macan felt like they were floating on a cloud of science, the Alpina B6 felt it was sliding along on a big block of German magic.

That said, unlike a comparably comfortable, priced, and equipped Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the B6 never gave in to my pummeling. The xDrive all-wheel drive kept power flowing and the car firmly glued to the road. With such a heavy car, I was expecting two things: brakes to overheat and the body to roll and pitch like an ocean liner in a squall. The B6 did neither.

Then, when I’d had my fill of the spirited driving, and realized I could not overwhelm or out-drive the car, I clicked it back down into Comfort and cruised back home.

What you get

For the $117,300 base price, Alpina B6 buyers get a 4.4-liter twin-turbocharged V8 that produces 540 horsepower and 540 pound feet of torque, which is mated to – in classic Alpina fashion – an automatic transmission, an eight-speed auto with Alpina Switch-Tronic software and quick-shift buttons to be exact.

Frankly, the Alpina B6 is just what the 6 Series Gran Coupe should be. Period.

All told, the B6 will pull 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds and reach a top speed of 198 mph. The EPA has rated the B6 to achieve 16 mpg city, 24 highway, with a combined score of 19. To be fair, I was achieving around 12 mpg during my time with it.

Don’t fret; the Alpina includes more than just an engine and transmission. It has an upgraded interior, too. In addition to the white Nappa leather seating, Alpina adds some garish red-hue wood trim and some Alpina badges.

The interior is nicer and quieter than the standard 650i Gran Coupe, but it’s not so nice that buyers will be glad they didn’t buy a Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG instead. Being nicer than a 650i is one thing. Being nicer than the Merc is another. And the Alpina is not. Mostly, it just doesn’t feel as cohesive as the Benz. It feels just like it is; by that I mean, it looks like someone came in and added stuff on top of someone else’s designs. It’s good, but it’s not as tied together.

As for tech, occupants are treated to the same 10.2-inch iDrive infotainment screen, which runs navigation, Bluetooth, media, radio, including Sirius XM, and vehicle settings. Included with every B6 is a Harmon Kardon surround sound system, which is pretty darn good – I must say – at bumping bass-y tunes.

Cruising down the highway, Davis turned to me and asked, as he looked to the positively non-existent rear legroom, “Why does this have four doors?” “Because it looks cooler than the coupe,” I replied. While this was my kneejerk response, in retrospect I figure it’s also the most appropriate. Yes, Alpina could have made a B6 that wasn’t based on the 6 Gran Coupe but rather the Coupe. That, though, isn’t quite as striking.

Conclusion

Frankly, the Alpina B6 is just what the 6 Series Gran Coupe should be. Period. The Alpina, though a relative steal for the money, simply reminds drivers what BMW could do with its vehicles if it tried just a bit harder.

That’s been my biggest complaint with modern Bimmers; they feel too cheap and tinny for their price tags. Yes, they are indeed the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine,’ but they lack the refinement of comparable Audis and Mercedes. The Alpina, though, hits that mark perfectly, with brilliant materials and a noiseless cabin.

That’s what’s amazing about Alpinas; they offer comfort and serenity of cars three times their price mated with performance just shy of BMW M models.

If the Alpina B6 is on your shopping list, I say go for it. Just realize, however, the Audi RS7 is a better car, looks cooler, and will attract more appreciation from the masses. And the only people who will appreciate an Alpina are Bimmer nerds.

Highs

  • Distinctive exterior styling
  • Slick, signature Alpina wheels
  • Tomb-quiet cabin
  • Excellent performance on both freeways and backroads

Lows

  • Virtually zero backseat legroom
  • Exceptionally fuel thirsty
  • Lack of preceived connection to the road
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