2017 Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo Touring review: all the car you’ll ever need
The new D3 is the world's fastest production diesel estate – but is there more to it than just straight-line speed? Let's find out...
My grandad once told me a cautionary tail about trying to cover all the bases. An associate of his had gone for an interview, so the story went, only to be asked “So, what is it you can do well?”
He reputedly hesitated for a moment, before responding “Well, I can do anything you want.” The interviewers then thanked him for his time, and promptly ejected him from the room.
The reason for their reaction, it transpired, was that they wanted people who were focused and knew what they were good at. A person who claims they can do anything may well be able to perform the task required of them, but an expert in that area will carry out the same task far more proficiently – and far more quickly.
Alpina was founded in 1965 and is recognised as a standalone manufacturer
Cars, too, can fall foul of trying to tick many boxes. Engineers may end up being coerced into compromising a sports car’s structure, simply to squeeze in a token set of seats, or an engine may be unnecessarily downsized simply to meet irrelevant economy targets in laboratory tests. The end result, in an attempt to master several areas, ends up excelling in none.
Alpina’s latest D3, however, is one of those rare exceptions to the above. Here is a car that sets out to tick myriad boxes – including space, practicality, comfort, range, economy, performance and engagement – and, remarkably, manages to pull it off.
How does it differ from a regular 3 Series?
It’s not just a BMW with a set of slick decals and some terrifyingly low-profile alloy wheels, if that’s what you’re thinking. Alpina works through the car from front to back, tweaking the cosmetics, the aerodynamics, the transmission, adaptive suspension system, brakes and the interior.
The company also reworks the BMW’s straight-six powerplant. It starts by ditching the single ‘TwinPower’ turbo, for starters, replacing it with a pair of smaller variable geometry units mounted on a new high-flow exhaust manifold.
The new D3 has been developed by a team of 70 Alpina engineers.
A bespoke induction system and bigger intercooler helps boost performance even more, while a custom engine control unit serves to eek the most out of the diesel six – which benefits further from an upgraded oil cooler and an additional radiator, keeping its vital fluids in check when worked hard.
Straight-six power plants always sound decent, even when compression is kicking off the combustion cycle, but Alpina’s not one for leaving stones unturned. Consequently, specialist supplier Akrapovic has been roped in to develop a quad-exit sports exhaust system – which no doubt also frees up a few more horsepower.
Will the engine leave me wanting for a petrol equivalent?
Not in a month of Sundays. Let’s deal with the figures side of things first. Alpina’s twin-turbo six puts out 345bhp and a whopping 516lb ft, compared to the regular TwinPower six’s 255bhp and 413lb ft.
Consequently, the D3 pulls far harder than a stock 3 Series. Every time the next gear engages the Alpina surges forward with renewed vigour, like a freight train shedding carriages, and not at any point in the rev range does it leave you wanting.
The D3 features a 495-litre boot and the rear seats split and fold.
Speaking of revs, this is a diesel that likes to stretch its legs to the upper echelons of the tacho on a regular basis – all while making a pronounced and pleasing, straight-six growl, with only a little diesel rattle raising its head at the very top of the rev range. As far as modern diesels are concerned, this is one of the best.
The ever-familiar ZF eight-speed automatic shifts snappily and, enthusiasts rejoice, can be configured so that it doesn’t shift up automatically when the engine clips its 5300rpm limiter. Adding to this sense of control are two neat fingertip-sized shift buttons, integrated into the back of the steering wheel, that let you take manual control when desired.
As an added bonus, the Alpina’s claimed to average 52.3mpg. During our test it knocked on the door of 40mpg without any effort, granting a useful range of some 500 miles to a tank. Not bad, for an estate that's capable of 0-62mph in just 4.6sec.
Does it handle like a regular 3 Series?
Fire the D3 into a corner at speed – something that’s all-too easy, given the almost comical rate at which it piles it on – and you’ll quickly find that this is a very different machine to a regular 3 Series.
Besides a more solid, planted feel, it’s immediately evident that the the Alpina’s steering is far more responsive and its body control far improved. It doesn’t roll or dive to anywhere near the same extent, and the feedback through the column and seat seems far clearer and informative than it does in the standard car – no doubt thanks to the recalibrate power steering, tweaked camber and toe-in settings, uprated suspension and additional front body brace.
Options include 20-inch Alpina 'Classic' wheels, which cost £860
Couple this smoother, slicker and more engaging steering with the D3’s potent yet easily modulated brakes, and it’s compliant yet not overly stiff suspension, and you’ve a sporting estate that flows down the road beautifully. With that muscular, rev-happy diesel propelling the D3, you can blaze a rapid trail across country with ease.
Traction’s rarely an issue, either, despite the D3’s rear-drive set-up; mash the pedal from a dead stop and the D3 will linger for a mere fraction of a moment as boost builds, then squat, scream and sprint forwards, tail yawing gently in the first few gears as the Michelin Pilot Super Sports do a fine job of dealing with the torrent of torque. A limited-slip differential is optional, if you’d like to indulge in lairy rear-drive antics, but there’s more than enough fun to be had without.
What else do I need to know?
Alpina has done a neat job of overhauling the 3 Series’ cosmetics, both inside and out, changing just enough to make it stand out in a refined, restrained and classy fashion. This adds to the air of having bought something special, something that people have honed to perfection.
Otherwise, the usual positive 3 Series attributes remain. It strikes a fine balance of size versus footprint, offering plenty of interior space without becoming so big as to prove problematic on tighter roads, and outwards visibility is good.
Despite the large alloys and low-profile tyres it rides smoothly, too, proving that compliance can indeed be engineered back into the car if the time is spent doing so – even if you opt for the Sport Plus mode, which is easily tolerable as the default setting.
The tweaks to the Alpina's cabin make it feel far more upmarket and interesting than a standard BMW
Admittedly there’s some tyre roar on rougher surfaces, but not to the extent where it gets tiring. Get up to motorway speeds and it’ll simply settle down into a long-legged, comfortable and low-effort cruise. At 70mph, in eighth gear, a mere 1700rpm will register on the tacho, for example.
Standard kit is adequate, including dual-zone climate, cruise control with brake assist, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats and rear parking sensors. It’s worth ticking the options boxes for the Professional media system (£1500), though, as it’s a far more modern-looking, useful and befitting set-up.
Is it worth the premium?
A new D3 will set you back £49,950 in standard form, which is just a smidge over £10,000 more than a top-spec 330d M Sport Touring.
BMW’s offering is one second slower to 62mph than the Alpina, which you may quite rightly judge a moot point in the real world, and – in a similar moot fashion – it’s limited to 155mph, leaving the 170mph-capable D3 scorching ahead on those rare derestricted stretches of autobahn.
Alpina claims a top speed of 170mph.
The D3, however, feels drastically different to the regular 330d. It’s much sharper, quicker, more composed and far, far more entertaining. It’s the estate embodiment of a Savile Row suit – bespoke, precise and sophisticated.
A regular 3 Series by comparison, predictably feels more like something that’s just come off the peg from Next. The way the Alpina performs, handles and deals with day-to-day motoring is simply superb, and helps it justify its premium – which isn’t extortionate, by any stretch – right down to the last penny.
Its overall performance is so compelling, in fact, that you might find yourself not wanting anything else. If you’re in the market for a sporting estate, and it’s in budget, don’t hesitate. What are you waiting for? Pick up the phone.
2017 ALPINA D3 BI-TURBO TOURING
Engine: 2993cc twin-turbo straight-six diesel
Layout: Front-engined, rear-wheel drive
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Power: 345bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 516lb ft at 1500-3000rpm
Top speed: 170mph
Economy: 52.3mpg (combined)
You can order the new D3 now.