The other day, when I drove up Highway 1 on the way to Pebble Beach, I passed a McLaren 570S and a McLaren 650S. They are groundbreaking machines: precise, cold-hearted killers. Perfect on paper. I had given them high reviews. But I had a thought as I passed by: No way I’d want to be driving one. The drive to Carmel takes six hours. It’s been 90 degrees during the day in Southern California, and those whips are low and tight and loud and bare. They are not designed for a day trip along the coast.
As it happened, I was blissfully engulfed in a 2016 BMW B6 Alpina Gran Coupé. And I bring you glad tidings of comfort and joy: This is as grand a machine as its name suggests, both in driving demeanor and in its indisputably good looks. It overtook and summarily dropped everything I saw on the road up to Carmel, and it did so with the thrilling distain of a Hapsburg prince.
Here is what it is not: an M6. While BMW’s M line focuses on developing aggressive personalities in its performance cars, Alpina, a separate company that started tuning BMW cars back in the 1970s, cultivates a rather more elegant demeanour for its family. The aura is similarly evident in the B7— the other Alpina developed stateside and based on the 7— as in the B6 I drove around Los Angeles and Carmel this week. Don’t drive this vehicle if you think you want a BMW M6. You’ll never make it to the M6; the Alpina will stop your search on the spot.
The Alpina B6 Gran Coupé I drove has a 447kW, twin-turbo V8 engine. It has an intelligent all-wheel drive (i.e., it reads and responds to the road in real time) on an eight-speed automatic transmission that’ll pull to 100km/h in 3.6 seconds. Top speed is 320km/h. Doing 160km/h on an empty highway by the sea feels as easy as the wind. Or, uh, so I hear. The M6 has only rear-wheel drive and a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic or a six-speed manual. You would know the difference in an instant, if somehow you could drive them both blindfolded.
In fact, this entire machine makes you feel as if you’ve entered The Matrix, able to see bullets pass by in slow motion as you move through space unchallenged, unrestrained, in total control of every muscle in your body. As a critic, my job is to nit-pick every little thing because little things add up to big impressions, but I find it impossible to find anything to complain about, driving-wise, in the B6. The brakes and steering respond as if they’re connected to electrodes in your brain — simply think a command and it’ll happen. The acceleration feels as insistent and unwavering as a bullet train. Smooth doesn’t begin to describe it. There’s simply no resistance, no lull, no apparent inertia or friction in the alternate universe you enter when you slip behind the wheel. Push the gas and feel the car embrace you — at warp speed — into another reality.
You will know the B6 by its style. It has a certain pizazz, to use a word my mother would use, that is unusual for serious German coupés. I was not a fan of the glittery green paint job on the car I was driving — racing green should, in my opinion, be reserved for British-bred cars — but that is easily remedied as there are 18 exterior paint options. Elsewhere, the four tail pipes, long curved roof, rear spoiler, adaptive LED headlights, and blown-out sport grill retaining those trademark kidneys leave no doubt for anyone as to what they’re dealing with. Nor does that unusual (for BMW) third brake light in the center of the roof.
The detail here is exemplary: tiny treads on the door handles for extra traction, contrast blue and green stitching on the steering wheel, alternate white leather piping on the caramel seats, Alpina custom 20-inch, 20-spoke classic rims and extensive “Gran Coupé” badging throughout. ALPINA is even written plainly across the front grill. Inside, the myrtle wood trim looks like something you’d find in a Bentley. And the seats, the seats. On my drive I kept checking myself: Was my back tired yet, annoyed, hurting? Nope. The four-way lumbar support, articulated upper backrest, and something special about the head rest placement felt like a vacation. And this was coming off a nonstop flight from JFK to LAX the previous evening.
To that end, may I recommend some mix of Springsteen, Stones, Fetty Wap, Garbage, and Sinatra on the way up? It is silent as a tomb inside the B6. Its 16 Bang & Olufsen surround sound speakers deserve the chance to show off their worth with multiple genres of music. The B6 Alpina Gran Coupe costs $122,150 (R1 575 020 at the current exchange rate) unless you want extras (duh!) and bespoke options on the wood and leather and stitching and rims and badges, in which case it’ll cost a lot more.