Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS BMW Alpina B7
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
BMW Alpina B7
- Supremely comfortable ride
- Luxurious cabin
- Supercar-scaring 330km/h top speed
- Exhaust note could be tougher sounding
- Extra care needed to pilot through car parks and alley ways
- Australia's speed limits
Ever since the middle of the 1990s, I've been captivated by the Mercedes-Benz S Class. It used to be known as Sonderklasse - special class - and teenage me certainly thought it was. The one that caught my attention was the W140. A huge, two-tonne beast when that sort of mass was rare, it was loaded with amazingness and owned the road.
Part of its unique appeal was that that it was properly ugly. When it hove into view it was like a battleship entering Sydney Harbour. And it used almost as much fuel, with the V12 on board.
Over the years, genuine style has invaded the S-Class and today I found myself, for the first time, in an unusually pretty pair of S Classes - the S560 and S63 Coupes. And, astonishingly, it's the first time I've ever driven an S-Class. So with all that baggage I've built up over the years, they had a lot to live up to.
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
BMW Alpina B7
You know when you're walking along the footpath and you come to a soft spongey bit that the council have put in around a tree and your mind goes: "Whoah, the ground is bouncy but it looks just like bitumen?!"
Well that's the kind of response you'll get from people when they think they're looking at a regular BMW 7 Series, only to have their world go a bit bouncy when they see the Alpina B7 badge on the back of this car as you're overtaking them at Warp Factor 9000.
And you will be overtaking them like a blur because, thanks to the elves at German tuning house Alpina, the B7 is hugely fast for a five-seat, 5.3m-long, 2.2 tonne limo. But then the B7 is fast for any type of car of any dimensions, because with its 330km/h top speed this beast will outrun a McLaren 570GT. Yes, seriously.
Based on the BMW 750Li long wheelbase, the B7 begins life rolling down the same production line as a regular 7 Series. Alpina then goes on to make so many changes to the engine and chassis that the German government requires the BMW VIN to be replaced with a new one.
Ready to find out more? Well there's so much to see here that things may go a bit weird and bouncy again. Be prepared.
|Engine Type||4.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Both of these vast vehicles are phenomenally comfortable - this is the kind of car that Mercedes does so well, and has done for decades. The S Class is rarely a disappointment but it's difficult to believe that such a big, heavy GT car can also dance the way the S63 does.
The S560 is far more weighted to being a GT - supremely comfortable with that active suspension, a growly, refined V8 and a cabin full of gadgets and comfort. The S63 is altogether more aggressive, to look at and to drive. Lopping the roof off both of them adds weight but, like any cruiser, also puts you out in the sun, the breeze and into your surroundings. Plus, in the case of the S63, you get more exhaust noise.
They're two very different cars and not just because of the engine. After all these years admiring it from afar, the S63 has delivered on my teenage expectations - fast, smooth and utterly mad.
Is the S Class still the car that springs to mind when you think ultimate luxury? Or has another brand taken its place? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
BMW Alpina B77.9/10
The BMW Alpina B7 is a special car destined (like all Alpinas) to be a collector's item, due to its rarity and exclusivity. I asked Alpina just how many current model B7s there are in Australia and the answer was "less than five", which is just as mysterious as most people find the car in general.
The B7 is fast – too fast to enjoy legally on Australian roads – but it is also supremely comfortable and well appointed. For Alpina fans lucky enough to be driven in on,e this would make for a truly rare and niche way to be chauffeured.
Is the BMW Alpina B7 the ultimate fast limousine? Tells us what you think in the comments section below.
The S Class Coupe is obviously related to the sedan but manages a svelte appearance. Slimmer hipped and with a more Coke-bottle shape, the Coupe - if you squint a bit - has a bit of the classic old pagoda about it. Obviously you can't do pillars that slim anymore, but the glass roof takes away some of the visual weight inside and out.
The cabriolet's roof is nicely integrated and looks good when it's up, which isn't always the case.
They all look long, though. It's obvious to see why the cars all run on 20-inch wheels - anything smaller would look hilarious.
The cabin is a fairly sensible re-imagining of the E-Class. The big twin-screen layout of the dash and multimedia system seems a bit more at home here. The chintzy Burmester speakers in the doors let down an otherwise classy cabin, which steers clear of otiose vulgarity in looks and materials.
BMW Alpina B77/10
This is a good place to start because the B7 looks just like the 750Li it's based on, until you see the first tell-tale signs that it's not one.
There's the front wing with Alpina lettering and the boot-top spoiler, the graphics, which run the length of the car, and the 20-spoke wheels with Alpina badging.
This is late '70s, early '80s styling at its best (and possibly worst), but these special cars can pull off the irony-free look because this is how Alpina BMWs have rolled since 1975, when the E21 320-based Alpina A1/3 was launched.
BMW badges have been left on the bonnet and boot, but there's Alpina B7 BiTurbo lettering in place of the 7 Series identifier.
Most people walked by it in the street thinking it was just a big BMW, others scratched their heads wondering what I'd done to my big German limo and a handful almost dropped to their knees in praise and wonderment at spotting a rare beast like this in the wild.
These people all had their own Alpina stories – one was the third generation of an Alpina-owning family. You become a member a small and passionate club when you buy into this rarefied brand.
The standard B7's cabin is close to identical to the luxurious interior of the 750Li, save for Alpina-embossed stitching in the headrests of the soft, leather seats, the virtual instrument cluster and the Alpina plaque on the centre console denoting the build number.
The B7 is long, low and wide at just under 5.3m end to end, 1.5m tall and 1.9m across. A 3.2m wheelbase means cabin room is more than just spacious.
The B7 rolls off the Dingolfing production line in Germany and is then handed over to Alpina's facility in Buckle, where significant changes take place. Read on to find out how the B7 is different from a regular 750Li.
Well look, if you end up in the back of the S Coupe, it's not a riot of space. Obviously it has back seats (the SL doesn't even squeeze a jump seat into its considerable length) but they're for occasional, if luxurious, use.
The boot is a reasonably decent 400 litres, obviously the cabriolet loses a few litres with the roof folded. Front and rear passengers will both enjoy a pair of cupholders and the whopping long doors will each hold a bottle.
BMW Alpina B78/10
The B7 is a five-seater limousine although with the fold-down rear centre armrest which houses the media control panel the back is really set up to carry two.
That 3.2m wheelbase means cabin space is enormous. At 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position with about 30cm between my knees and the seatback. Those rear doors open wide and the entrance is huge, making entry and exit almost as easy as just walking through a doorway. The air suspension also rises and lowers the B7's ride height for better access.
Storage is excellent, with two cupholders and door pockets for rear passengers, along with the area inside the centre armrest.
Up front, the driver and co-pilot have a deep centre console storage bin with split-opening lid, two cupholders and door pockets.
Luggage space is good, with a 515-litre boot.
Price and features
One thing hasn't changed in nearly 20 years - the S isn't cheap. Available in coupe and cabriolet, the S560 starts at $314,900 for the former and $336,900 for the latter. Step up to the S63 pair and you'll pay from $370,500 for the coupe and $399,900 for the cab. If you're super keen for something spectacular, the twin-turbo V12-powered S65 is available for between $508,900 and $520,500, and features Swarovski crystals in the headlights, for some reason.
As you can imagine, there's quite a bit to cover, so for both cars I'll stick to the edited highlights. The S560s roll on 20-inch alloys, has a 590-watt 13 speaker sound system, digital TV, auto parking, active cruise control, panoramic glass roof, Nappa leather, active seats and power-closing doors.
It also comes standard with a heating pack that not only heats the seats but the steering wheel and centre console. In the cabriolet you also get the 'Airscarf' neck heater.
Both cars also feature's Mercedes' Magic Body Control with curve function. More of that wacky feature later.
The S63 AMG is a step up in power, price and spec. One notable change from the S560 is the loss of 'Magic Body Control', which is replaced with mere air suspension. The 20-inch alloys are 10-spoke forged units, the brakes higher performance composites with red calipers, while an AMG sports exhaust brings the noise.
Naturally, both are swathed in high-quality leather and feature dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric seats that adjust in every direction, deep carpets, keyless entry and start, fully digital dashboards and just about every gadget to which you can point your imagination.
Entertainment and sat nav are via Mercedes' 'Comand' system, which is displayed on a massive 12.3-inch slab of glass at the top of the dashboard. The 13-speaker Burmester-branded system is predictably impressive and with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you only have to use the basic software for the radio or various car controls.
BMW Alpina B77/10
The B7 lists for $389,955, while a 750li is about $319,000. At this level, $70K seems like a downright reasonable premium to pay for a faster, more powerful, better handling and comfier version of the 750Li.
In this case you're paying more but getting more, although standard features are close to identical. There's adaptive LED headlights, head-up display, night vision with pedestrian detection, a 10.25-inch touch screen up front and two screens in the second row for TV and other media functions.
There's a reversing camera, sat nav, harman/kardon surround stereo and Apple CarPlay. There's leather upholstery, seat massagers in the front and rear, four-zone climate control, heated and ventilated front and rear seats, front and rear parking sensors, auto tailgate, sunblinds for the rear and rear-side windows and proximity key.
The safety features are listed in the section below, and that list is also impressive.
Engine & trans
All four coupes and cabriolets ship with Daimler's formidable 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. The S560 scores 345kW/700Nm to drive the rear wheels through Benz's own nine-speed automatic. With all of that available, the S560 will crack the ton in 4.6 seconds and make a wonderful racket on the way.
Moving on to the S63, the same engine delivers a massive 450kW/900Nm. The run from 0-100km/h is dispatched in just 3.5 seconds and if I thought the S560 made a good noise, the S63 with its standard sports exhaust makes a better one. Again, Mercedes' nine-speeder is along for the ride.
BMW Alpina B79/10
Alpina takes the 4.4-litre twin turbo V8 from the BMW 750Li and rebuilds the engine by hand. Alpina fits its own turbochargers, air-intake set -up, high-capacity cooling system and Akrapovic quad exhaust. Output is 447kW and 800Nm – an increase of a whopping 117kW and 150Nm over the 750Li's grunt.
It's interesting to note that the V12-powered 760Li has a smidge more power, at 448kW, and the same torque output as the B7.
How fast is the B7? Supercar fast – the B7 has a top speed of 330km/h, which will see it outrun a McLaren 570 and almost keep up with a Ferrari F12. That's quite incredible for a 2.3-tonne limousine with three TVs on board. A 0-100km/h time of 4.2 seconds is also hugely impressive.
In comparison, a 750Li has a 0-100km/h time of a not-too-shabby 4.7 seconds, but the car is electronically limited to 250km/h.
An eight-speed automatic transmission shifts gears smoothly, although a little slowly in Normal mode, while Sport and Sport+ add urgency and harder shifts.
Finally, the B7 is all-wheel drive, and those rear wheels are designed to steer slightly for better cornering performance.
The lower-powered 560 drinks 98RON at the rate of 8.5L/100km for the coupe and 9.9L/100km for the heavier cabriolet.
The S63 ups the ante with 9.9L/100km for the coupe and an identical 9.9L/100km for the cab.
Our launch program contained some...er...spirited driving, which would explain the mid to high-teens fuel figures.
BMW Alpina B77/10
The B7 is probably not the car to own if you're concerned about either fuel prices or emissions, but then the twin-turbo V8 may not be as thirsty as you'd think, with Alpina stating that, after a combination of urban and open-road driving, you should only use 9.6L/100km.
My time in the B7 saw me double that usage but this could have had something to do with me turning off the stop-start system and driving in Sport mode constantly.
Let's start with the S560. That smooth V8 rumble is all you'll ever hear if you just slot into drive and go for a leisurely spin. The nine-speed automatic continues to be a revelation to me - in the GLC63 it's good and here, once again, it's excellent, finding the right gear for the occasion and riding the fat torque curve. Other nine-speed autos are not very good at all.
The test route for the S560 played to the strengths of the car. It had some lovely winding roads, which brought the trick suspension into focus - the Magic Body Control with curve function is hilarious. While the active suspension works hard at all times to ensure the ride is smooth and drama free, the Curve mode (no, really) actually leans the car into corners.
Those of you who remember the video game Wipeout 2097 will be big fans of Curve mode. As you approach a corner, you turn the wheel and then the car leans into the bend. This isn't active damping reading the road, it's the outside suspension lifting the car and the inside lowering it, so the car feels like it's gliding, like a hovercar. It's wild but oddly calming. Mercedes reckons it's great for those who get car sick. As I didn't have my wife on hand to test this theory - she chucks at the first sign of a corner - I couldn't verify this claim. That will have to wait.
The S63 AMG is a completely different proposition. The air suspension is more than up to the job of helping smother the effects of the car's considerable weight, meaning that no matter what you're up to, the car feels reasonably light on its feet. It never feels small, though, commanding the respect of the driver and plenty of space from other road users.
And boy, do you need some space if you kick the S63 into Sport mode. In true AMG style, the electronic reins relax and the big luxury coupe cheerfully kicks off. The tail will wriggle under an unsympathetic right foot, that signature V8 roar, crackle and hiss filling your ears. The S63 is always the harder-feeling car, but it delivers with a more sporting drive than the S560.
Being the generous soul I am, I volunteered to return the S63 to its home for the evening rather than consign it to the back of a truck. On the back roads I took to reach the highway, it was rock solid - fast, predictable and a lot of fun. Once I found the boring straight bits, it turned into a supremely comfortable cruiser, ticking along in ninth at the legal limit (and being Melbourne, it was very much the legal limit), dispatching overtaking with barely a flex of a toe.
The active cruise took the stress of keeping away from the State Revenue Office's clutches while being quiet and utterly pleasant.
BMW Alpina B79/10
Who on Earth thinks a BMW 750Li isn't fast enough or comfortable enough, even with all its horsepower, luxurious cabin and technology? Alpina, that's who.
Redevelopment of the 4.4-litre V8 with new turbochargers, a high-capacity cooling system, different air suspension set-up and an exhaust system made by Akrapovic have made this already exceptional car better. Better to drive and better to be driven in.
The ride, even on those 21-inch wheels and low-profile Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres (255/35 ZR21 on the front and 295/30 ZR 21 on the rear) is incredibly comfortable. I drove it and also had a chance to recline in the back and be chauffeured (by our photographer) and the ride was so composed and refined it was hard to believe I was travelling along some truly awful urban roads with their cracked and pot-holed surfaces.
And it's quiet, too. Which will suit those in the back being transported swiftly from the airport to their next meeting, but if you're after a loud and angry exhaust note then you won't find it in the B7. Sure, from the outside at full throttle the B7 has a menacing growl, but this isn't a BMW M car that will bark and snarl.
See, while BMW's M division makes brutal, loud, high-performance versions of their regular cars, Alpina makes comfortable, stealthy, high-performance ones.
All-wheel drive provides fantastic traction and ensures that grunt doesn't just tear the tyres off those rims when you sneeze on the throttle.
And while the air-suspension is soft and comfortable, adaptive dampers adjust for when the road goes twisty, providing impressive handling for a heavy and long car.
Really, though, the B7 is built for long, endless stretches of roads, and the acceleration beyond 100km/h is almost as startling as that from 0-100km/h, as it wants to push straight past 200km/h towards that 330km/h top speed.
Which, unless you know a good lawyer or happen to be one, will send you straight to jail. Yes, the B7 is probably too much car for Australian roads. Only on a German autobahn would a B7 be fully at home.
I felt like I was given a Melbourne Cup-winning racehorse for a week but could only ride it in my suburban backyard.
The S-Class coupe comes loaded with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward and reverse AEB with pedestrian detection, reversing camera, crosswind assist (I know, right?), traffic-sign recognition and reverse cross traffic alert.
The S-Class Coupe does not have an ANCAP or EuroNCAP rating.
BMW Alpina B79/10
The Alpina B7 comes with all of the BMW 750Li's safety equipment – this includes AEB, lane-keeping assistance and lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning, active cruise control, night vision with object recognition, auto parking and surround view camera.
Along with the suite of airbags, there's traction and stability control and ABS, as you'd expect.
The 750Li and B7 have not been given an ANCAP score.
Mercedes offers a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assist for the duration.
The company also offers both service plans (where you pay up-front as part of the vehicle purchase) and capped-price servicing on the coupes. Servicing over three years is in the order $2500.
BMW Alpina B77/10
The B7 is covered by BMW's three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 12 months or 15,000km. The B7 is covered by BMW special vehicles servicing plan, which means services are cost-free for the first three years of the car's life.