What does that have to do with the new B6 Gran Coupe? Well, it may help make sense of the overall character of Alpina's automobiles, especially vis-à-vis the similarly priced, similarly powerful M Cars that BMW sells in far greater numbers. Alpinas are built by wine connoisseurs for wine connoisseurs, or wine connoisseur types; they are not rip-snortin' racecars for the road – that's M's domain. Alpinas are esoteric, rich in character and nuanced. But make no mistake: they are very, very fast.
Our brief first drive of the B6 Gran Coupe – the only 6 Series-based Alpina we'll get in the US for 2015 – took place on German autobahns and Austrian alpine roads, where the car is more at home than anywhere in the world, both literally and figuratively. With 540 horsepower and 540 pound-feet of torque on tap from its twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8 and xDrive all-wheel drive, the B6 is said to be able to hit 60 miles per hour in 3.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 198 mph, a massive 43 mph faster than the M6, which is electronically limited to 155 mph. Yet even at insane speeds – we saw an indicated 190 mph on one particularly lonely stretch of Autobahn – the B6 feels more luxurious than sporty, taking the countenance of a low-slung Bentley Continental GT or an Aston Martin Rapide S, not a knife-edged supercar. It doesn't feel scintillating like a Porsche 911 GT2; rather it feels rock steady, like the 4,780-pound luxury sedan it is.
The B6 has a handcrafted feel that makes the M6 feel robotic by comparison. Alpina hand-sews the leather-wrapped steering wheel with its trademark green and blue stitching and installs its own button-style manual shifters on the posts. America-bound versions uses top-shelf leathers from BMW for the seats and dash/door trim, but the blue-faced gauges and rich Myrtle wood with a gold inlaid crest are Alpina-isms that make for a particularly sumptuous, Maserati-like cabin. On the outside, the front and rear fascias, quad exhaust tips, rear lip spoiler, and of course, those gorgeous 20-inch, 21-spoke turbine style wheels make a style statement that is sportier than stock, but still for grown-ups.
It all comes together in a thoroughly integrated way, not like some aftermarket tuner shop that pieces its mods together in a less harmonious fashion. Like a fine wine, the Alpina favors complex and satisfying flavors rather than overt boldness.
- The 6 Series Gran Coupe is already a pretty car, but the Alpina is absolutely gorgeous in the metal, especially in Alpina Green and Alpina Blue, two colors you can't get on workaday 6 Series models. The turbine-spoke Alpina Classic wheels are oh-so-pretty, and the body mods are tasteful. The M6 Gran Coupe looks almost crass by comparison.
- The richly appointed interior feels more expensive than the boy-racer M6. Gratefully, no carbon fiber BS in here; just lustrous, reddish wood, stitched leather, Alcantara headliner and black chrome accents. It's too bad we don't get the super-posh Alpina upholstery offered in other markets. Still, the space just reeks of class.
- The heated and cooled front seats are splendid and adjust in roughly six zillion ways; the outboard rear seats are beautifully sculpted and very comfortable, so long as you're not taller than six feet.
- As with other Sixers, the dashboard is tall, the ceiling low, and the windows small-ish, creating a far more intimate ambience than in the more upright, 7 Series-based B7 in spite of the two models using the same materials. Claustrophobes will be thankful for the big moonroof, even if it only tilts.
- With 540 hp, the engine is strong, of course. Yet, this mill is calmer in character than the rowdy M6. The exhaust note is muted even in Sport mode, though make no mistake: you can give your passengers headrest concussions if you stomp on the go-pedal without warning them first.
- Alpina's recalibration of the drive control settings allow for super-soft Comfort and Comfort+ modes that should make mother-in-laws happy and keep sleeping babies from waking up. Sport and Sport+ settings can occasionally serve up jarring shifts, but the response times are quick, and there's even some delightful crackling on overrun. Shift buttons can be hard to locate with some steering angle dialed in. Alpina claims to have invented the shift-for-yourself buttons for its automatic transmissions before Porsche came up with Tiptronic, but we still prefer paddles.
- Steering remains light even in Sport and Sport+ modes. This is by design; Alpina does not want its owners to have to arm-wrestle the car when they feel like getting frisky.
- Astonishingly, the B6 keeps accelerating hard even as the needle sweeps past 175 mph; at one point we see an indicated 192 mph, though we're told by Alpina that the speedo can be a few mph on the optimistic side. Still, this thing is faaaaaaast. And stable, too, with almost no sense of lift even at these ridiculous, M6-shaming speeds.
- Wind noise at triple digit speeds is remarkably low, considering it has frameless windows.
- Huge brakes are strong and fade-resistant, even after slowing from 150+ mph multiple times for merging traffic on the Autobahn.
- The B6 Gran Coupe is undeniably heavy, and the light steering hardly tickles your fingertips despite being hydraulic. There is plenty of grip served up by the super-wide tires, but still, this is no track car.