Potent Pairing: Two Equally Matched Teutons Square Off in a Duel of Luxury and Speed
Did you know that in today’s world of $5-per-gallon gas and a struggling economy, there are no fewer than 20 luxury sedans offering at least 500 hp? The ol’ One Percent’s got it pretty good. And the median price of those 20? As the adage goes, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. (Let’s just say “well into six figures” and leave it at that.)
Of those 20, most fall into the category of midsize sport rocket (BMW M5, Cadillac CTS-V, Porsche Panamera Turbo, etc.) or long-wheelbase, ultra-posh barge bullet (Bentley Mulsanne, Rolls-Royce Ghost, etc). Only two fall in between and offer the following credentials: full-size classification, “short” wheelbase, German origin, and seating for five. They are the Audi S8 and BMW Alpina B7.
The new generation 2013 S8 and B7 share these stats as well: twin-turbo V-8, eight-speed automatic, 21-inch alloys, adjustable air suspension, full LED headlamps, Bang & Olufsen audio system, and, last but certainly not least, an alphanumeric nameplate.
To determine which of these super sleds is indeed the ultimate 500-hp luxury/sport missile from Deutschland, we spent three weeks driving them all around SoCal, including on our demanding test loop in Malibu. We even took them over to K&N Filters for a spin on the dyno — after all, one proved so damn fast, we just had to verify the numbers. Let’s go.
So what is Alpina, exactly? Established in 1965 in Germany, Alpina started as a race shop that specialized in tuning BMWs. By the early ’70s, it was claiming the European Touring Car Championship with such drivers as Niki Lauda and Derek Bell. In the late ’70s, Alpina expanded into making production cars — e.g., the 3 Series-based B6 2.8 — and, by 2002, it officially entered the U.S. market with the Z8-based Alpina Roadster, which epitomized the brand’s mantra of producing automobiles built more for high-speed hush than green-light go. More than a decade later, the $128,495 2013 B7 abides by that mantra.
If you think the Alpina B7 is a tuner car, think again. Its 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 is carefully put together on BMW’s Munich engine line, and the car rolls out of the Dingolfing plant alongside other 7 Series. Sure, Alpina specifies and develops many of the components, including the engine, transmission, suspension, and wheels, but BMW builds the car, sells it through its dealer network, and provides the warranty and scheduled maintenance — just like any other new car wearing a blue-and-white roundel.
With a claimed 540 hp and 538 lb-ft of torque, or gains of 20 hp and 57 lb-ft over the S8, the B7 entered this head-to-head as the heavy-hitter. But as the dyno revealed, the B7 wasn’t hitting quite so heavy (see sidebar). As a result, the Alpina needed a comparatively tardy, albeit still quick, 4.3 seconds to reach 60 and 12.6 seconds at 113.6 mph to eclipse the quarter mile. Remember that mantra? It’s evident in the B7’s 2.81:1 axle ratio, which is considerably taller than the S8’s 3.20:1. While slower on the clock than the Audi, the BMW also felt more lethargic, thanks in part to lagging throttle tip-in. “Throttle in the BMW is frustrating,” said Scott Evans. “Laggy at tip-in and unresponsive in Comfort; better in Sport, but that dead zone at tip-in is still there.”
Despite being similarly sized to the S8 and only 93 pounds heavier, the B7 felt worlds bigger. Said Jonny Lieberman: “The B7’s problem compared with the S8 is it feels like a large, fast sedan, and the Audi feels, for the most part, like a sports car. The Alpina is too big and floaty.” Still, the B7 put up solid handling and braking numbers at the track — 0.89g lateral accel, 25.8-second figure eight, and 104-foot 60-0 — but they didn’t translate to the road. Except for one of us. Said Carlos Lago: “The B7 behaves like a nicely balanced, traditional RWD car. It’s smooth and composed, and flows elegantly from corner to corner. Even without the Audi’s ridiculous acceleration, the way the B7 accelerated out of a corner was rewarding and enjoyable. It doesn’t so much explode out as it surges forward.”
Alas, in this test, the B7 couldn’t surge forward quite enough. Yes, we adored its heavenly ride, quiet cabin, organic steering, and stealthy facade — those signature Alpina wheels are especially badass — but the other car was simply too fast and, well, too fabulous. OK, let’s just get the absurdity out of the way first. This third-gen S8 is one of the quickest sedans we’ve ever tested. And by “one of the quickest,” I don’t mean it was actually the third or fourth quickest; I mean that it tied with the other quickest, the Porsche Panamera Turbo S. Just like the stupid-fast Porsche, the S8 devoured 60 in 3.5 seconds and the quarter mile in 11.8 at 118.3 mph. (The Panamera’s trap speed was actually 0.3 mph slower.)
How does a 4619-pound sedan with all-wheel drive and only 520 hp go that damn fast, especially when the 4388-pound Panamera also has all-wheel drive and 30 more hp? For one, the dyno tells a different story, and for another, the S8’s eight-speed and Quattro drivetrain are just plain dialed in. Lieberman: “I can’t believe this is an automatic transmission. Since it is, I can easily declare it to be the very best automatic transmission, period. Why bother with the cost and complexity and weight of a dual clutch when you could have this?” Evans: “AWD has so much grip you can roll hard into the throttle coming out of any corner, and it just goes.” Lago: “To the S8’s credit, its acceleration is absurd. The torque delivery feels like you’ve just driven the car off a cliff; it induces the same sensation in your stomach.”
Dubbed “EA 82,” the S8’s new 4.0-liter, twin-turbo V-8 is a monster, making it no wonder Bentley shoehorned it into the Continental GT V8. Yet, somehow, Audi managed to make it a docile, controllable monster with a brilliant chassis that keeps a firm hold on the reins. From the taut but comfortable ride and the unflagging brakes to the Rubber Cement grip and ready-to-rotate rear (thank you, sports differential), the S8 is adept at everything. Yes, everything. Want to beat a ZL1 in a drag race? Check. Want to hang with an M5 on a country road? Check. Want to chauffeur a double date to the opera in complete comfort? Check. Want to cruise 521 miles on a single tank while your copilot uses the car as a Wi-Fi hot-spot? Check. Our only nits were steering that still suffers from a case of artificiality and a nose-heavy front end prone to mild understeer.
Minor complaints, for sure, certainly considering all the conveniences the S8 has to offer: 22-way power front seats with ventilation and massage; four-zone auto climate control; heated steering wheel and rear seats; adaptive cruise control; and nav with Google Maps. All for $125,995 as tested, or a fair amount less than the $136,245 B7 and a ton less than the $194,665 Panamera Turbo S.
In summing up the S8, the winner of the head-to-head test, my fellow evaluators had this to say. Lieberman: “Bottom line: brilliant car.” Evans: “This car is awesome.” What more can I say?
Using K&N Filter’s SuperFlow WinDyn dynamometer, we measured each car’s output in fourth gear. Here’s what these twin-turbo V-8s really put to the pavement. www.knfilters.com
BMW’s claim: 540 hp at 5200 rpm and 538 lb-ft at 2800 rpm
Dyno reading, at the wheel: 414 hp at 6255 and 437 lb-ft at 3811
Factor 20-percent driveline loss: 497 hp and 524 lb-ft
Audi’s claim: 520 hp at 6000 rpm and 481 lb-ft at 5500 rpm
Dyno reading, at the wheel: 479 hp at 6305 and 422 lb-ft at 5237
Factor 20-percent driveline loss: 575 hp and 506 lb-ft
Blasts from the Past
A look back at previous S8s and Alpinas
Alpina B7 Turbo
1978-87 Both the e12 and e28 5-series spawned B7 models. These cars had turbo 3.0-3.5L straight-six engines and made more than 300 hp and 340 lb-ft.
2011-’12 The second B7 to come Stateside once again had a 4.4-liter, but this V-8 was all-new and twin-turbocharged. Coincidentally, output remained the same, at 500 hp and 516 lb-ft.
2001-’02 The automotive star of “Ronin,” the first-gen S8 came with a 4.2-liter, 360-hp V-8, five-speed auto, and Quattro. At around 6.0 seconds to 60, it was quick for the day.
2007-’08 The initial B7 had a supercharged 4.4-liter V-8 good for 500 hp and 516 lb-ft. Our track test produced a 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds and a quarter-mile run of 12.8 at 110.9 mph.
2003 The Roadster ditched the Z8’s M5 4.9-liter, 400-hp V-8/6M powertrain in favor of a 4.8-liter, 375-hp/5A setup. Only 555 were built, with 450 coming to the U.S.
2007-’09 After a five-year hiatus, the S8 returned, this time with a 450-hp version of the R8’s 5.2-liter V-10. A six-speed auto was standard and ceramic brakes were optional.
| ||2013 Audi S8||2013 BMW Alpina B7|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front engine, AWD||Front engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, aluminum block/heads||Twin-turbo 90-deg V-8, aluminum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||243.6 cu in/3991 cc||268.2 cu in/4395 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||520 hp @ 6000 rpm||540 hp @ 5200 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||481 lb-ft @ 5500 rpm||538 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm|
|REDLINE||6500 rpm||6800 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||8.9 lb/hp||8.7 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Multilink, air springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks , anti-roll bar||Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, adj anti-roll bar; multilink, air springs, adj shocks, adj anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F;R||15.7-in vented disc; 14.0-in vented disc, ABS||14.7-in vented disc; 14.6-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||9.0 x 21-in, cast aluminum||8.5 x 21-in, 10.0 x 21-in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R|| 265/35R21 101Y
Continental ContiSportContact SP
| 245/35ZR21; 285/30ZR21
Michelin Pilot Sport PS2
|WHEELBASE||117.8 in||120.9 in|
|TRACK, F/R||64.7/64.4 in||63.8/64.1 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||202.2 x 76.7 x 57.5 in||200.5 x 74.9 x 58.4 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||40.4 ft||40.0 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4619 lb||4712 lb|
|WEIGHT DIS., F/R||56/44%||51/49%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||37.2/39.1 in||40.6/38.5 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.4/38.7 in||41.3/38.9 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||59.1/57.8 in||59.2/57.4 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||13.2 cu ft||17.7 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.4 sec||1.7 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.7||1.9|
|QUARTER MILE||11.8 sec @ 118.3 mph||12.6 sec @ 113.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||107 ft||104 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.90 g (avg)||0.89 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.1 sec @ 0.79 g (avg)||25.8 sec @ 0.75 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1600 rpm||1400 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$125,995||$136,245|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 mi||4 yrs/50,000 mi|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 mi||4 yrs/50,000 mi|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/unlimited||4 yrs/unlimited|
|FUEL CAPACITY||23.8 gal||21.7 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY ECON||15/26 mpg||16/24 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||225/130 kW-hrs/100 mi||211/140 kW-hrs/100 mi|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.05 lb/mi||1.03 lb/mi|
|MT FUEL ECONOMY||14.4 mpg||15.3 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|