I’ve never been the sort of person who judges someone by the car they drive. That’s mostly because most of the cars I’ve owned have been crummy.
And then, I spent a week driving a 2019 BMW Alpina B7 Exclusive Edition.
Let’s start at the beginning.
In July, my 2010 Dodge Caravan’s air conditioning broke, and I vowed to replace the whole vehicle. Since then, I’ve started seeing other cars. BMWs have always appealed to me, so I arranged to borrow a BMW X1 and see how it drives. The X1 is a subcompact luxury SUV; it seems like a logical step up from a Grand Caravan. A BMW X1 ixDrive28i starts at $45,794 (which includes $1500 of options). I would likely buy a used BMW X1. They’re a little less expensive.
When I arrived to pick up my loaner, however, I discovered that there had been some confusion with the booking. My contact at BMW texted to say it wasn’t available. “How about the Alpina B7, the exclusive edition?”
And that’s how I found myself driving a bespoke version of the acclaimed BMW Alpina B7 line – sticker price: $193,000, plus tax. It is one of only 21 limited-edition Alpina B7s created for the Canadian market.
The Alpina B7 is powered by a 4.4-litre bi-turbo engine generating 600 horsepower and 590 lb-ft of torque. It is a collaboration between a family-run firm, Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen, and BMW. Between 1,200 and 1,700 Alpina B7s are made each year.
Production begins at the BMW’s Dingolfing, Germany facility and finishes at Alpina’s facility in Buchloe. I know that the workers at Alpina’s facility are serious, skilled craftspeople, but I can’t help picturing them as jolly elves dressed in lederhosen singing German folk songs while casting spells and sprinkling magic powder on the 2019 Alpina B7 Exclusive Editions.
Mine was one of seven B7 Exclusive Editions that came in “frozen grey.” I knew this, because the information was etched into a plaque attached to the centre console. The car seemed made for me. For instance, if I ever became a successful professional skateboarder or rapper, there is no question that my nickname would be “Frozen Grey.”
I drove the Alpina B7 to Montreal in a heavy rainstorm. I barely felt it. The car cruised, and the luxurious interior and sound system made the seven-hour trip, which would normally have been a grind, feel like a pleasant jaunt. I arrived at my hotel and valet-parked, slipping the bellman a twenty and imploring him to take care of the B7. I checked in, and my room was immediately upgraded to a suite. This may be a coincidence, but I give credit to the car, as I have had my room upgraded a total of “none” times in the past eight years driving the minivan.
The following day I drove to Schwartz’s Deli for smoked meat. I parked on Saint Laurent and had another strange experience – people photographing my automobile. Throughout my time driving the B7, passersby would take snapshots. It’s not a flashy car – quite the opposite – but gearheads know it and know how rare it is. My car was a minor celebrity. This was an entirely foreign experience. The only reason someone would take a photograph of my minivan is because they think I hit them in the parking lot and didn’t leave a note.
After lunch, I hit the road back to Toronto. With traffic and delays for construction, it was another seven hours. I arrived home, parked, had a coffee and took the car out for another short spin. I enjoyed a few more days of luxury. I grew paranoid and became the kind of person who parks their vehicle at the far side of the parking lot away from any other cars.
Finally, it was time to return my “frozen grey” friend to its rightful owners.
Did I learn anything from my automotive version of Freaky Friday? I still don’t judge a person by the car they drive.
What is a luxury car like the Alpina B7? It’s just a vehicle that glides along the highway, gets you hotel room upgrades and turns you into a minor car-buff celebrity. Who needs the headaches?
And yet, I did get some insight. As I settled once again into my Dodge Grand Caravan’s grimy driver’s seat, I realized that, while beauty is only skin-deep, my minivan’s ugliness goes a whole lot deeper.