The M Alternative
The modern BMW lineup offers customers many, many options. Some would argue that is to the brand’s detriment, but when having a glut of available models results in more than one range-topper, that’s not always a bad thing. The 6 Series Gran Coupe has two extra-hot variants: the M6 and the Alpina B6 xDrive.
What’s the difference, you ask? Well, the M6 was developed by BMW’s own M Division and comes exclusively in rear-wheel drive. The B6, on the other hand, is a 650i Gran Coupe specially tuned by BMW’s close partner, Alpina. The car is only offered in all-wheel drive. Although both are powered by a twin-turbo, 4.4-liter V-8, the M6 makes 560 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque to the 2016 Alpina B6’s 600 hp and 590 lb-ft—up 60 hp and 50 lb-ft from last year’s model. Unlike the M6, which gets the M Division’s seven-speed dual-clutch transmission as standard, the Alpina uses a retuned version of BMW’s ubiquitous eight-speed automatic.
Our Alpina B6 Gran Coupe came finished in an exclusive and very alluring Alpina Green Metallic paint. The dark shade lends the four-door coupe a classic look and really makes the car look distinctive. The whole exterior treatment, from the Alpina script on the lower front valance to the unique Alpina badges on the hood and trunk to the quad-bazooka exhaust tips, is well-done. It grabs your attention but doesn’t demand it. Alpina’s signature 20-spoke wheels add to that feeling of exclusivity, and although those wheels measure 20 inches in diameter and are wrapped in rubber-band tires, the sedan rides quite nice.
Even in Normal mode, the B6 Gran Coupe offered a smooth highway ride. Road noise is also surprisingly hushed at highway speed in spite of the low-profile Michelin performance tires. The Alpina is a comfortable, civilized highway cruiser that, with a little application of throttle, transforms into a land-borne missile. Passing other cars takes no effort at all, and a stab of the gas pedal at speed is enough to push you back into the plush leather seats.
We’ve never tested an M6 Gran Coupe, but a 2014 BMW M5 with the same drivetrain and wheelbase as that car—and an extra 15 hp thanks to the Competition package—accelerated to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds and completed the quarter mile in 11.9 seconds at 122.2 mph (197 km/h). The Alpina, with its horsepower and torque advantage plus the launch-improving magic of all-wheel drive, is slightly quicker at 3.3 seconds to 60 mph and 11.8 seconds in the quarter mile at 116.6 mph (188 km/h). It’s also quicker to 60 than an all-wheel-drive, 575-hp 2014 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 S AMG we tested (3.4 seconds), though the Mercedes would take it in the quarter (11.7 seconds at 122.7 mph (197 km/h)). The all-wheel-drive Audi RS 7, which makes 560 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque from a twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V-8, is the four-door coupe to beat in terms of acceleration, recording a 0-60 time of 3.2 seconds and 11.6-second quarter mile at 120.4 mph (194 km/h).
The Alpina lapped our figure-eight course in 24.5 seconds compared to 24.3 for the M5 Competition, 24.2 for the RS 7, and a sports car-rivaling 23.9 for the CLS63 S. Stopping from 60 mph takes the B6 Gran Coupe an impressive 108 feet, but the CLS63 (106 feet), M5 (106 feet), and RS 7 (101 feet) are just a touch more impressive. Measured against most other cars, the Alpina is a wickedly fast performance machine. Among its contemporaries, though, it doesn’t have much to brag about. But there’s more to this car than just its performance number.
Although on paper the Alpina looks to have the makings of a hardcore, all-out performance sedan, in actuality it’s more of a luxury car with a restrained, sporty character and an abundance of power. This becomes most apparent inside. The front seats, adequate for everyday driving, don’t have the bolstering you expect from a sport sedan. Instead, they’re wide and upholstered in a rich-looking Amaro brown Merino leather. That leather also covers the center console, along with exclusive Alpina myrtle wood trim that’s also used in the dash and door panels. You feel like an executive sitting in your expensive leather chair, and the B6’s cabin is your rolling corner office. The Alpina emblems adorning the dash and floormats add a subtle specialness to the interior, and the blue-lit Alpina kickplates hint to passengers that this is no ordinary Gran Coupe.
In back, the sea of brown leather continues. The rear seats could use a bit more legroom but will be comfortable enough for most passengers. There’s also a rear center seat belt despite the center console occupying the space where the fifth passenger’s legs would go. Although the Alpina comes loaded with convenience features, things didn’t always work properly. On two occasions, the driver-side window refused to roll up. Whether you tried raising it normally or using the switch’s one-touch up position, the window rolled up to a certain point and then rolled back down again.
So if you want the ultimate 6 Series Gran Coupe, should you buy the M6 or the Alpina B6? The Alpina starts $4,000 USD more than the M6 at $122,195 USD, though our tester came loaded to $134,495 USD. The M6 Gran Coupe will likely be the sportier of the two despite the Alpina’s 40-hp advantage. It’s even available with a manual transmission at no extra cost. But if you want a comfortable cruiser that feels special and can go like a rocket and you love waving horsepower numbers in your friends’ faces, go for the Alpina. If you want a four-door coupe with that envy-inducing 600 hp but without a roundel on the hood, Audi will have an answer soon with the RS 7 Performance.
|2016 BMW Alpina B6 Gran Coupe|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$135,495|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||4.4L/600-hp/590-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,751 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||197.1 x 74.6 x 54.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||11.8 sec @ 116.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||108 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.96 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.5 sec @ 0.81 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||15/24/18 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||225/140 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.08 lb/mile|