Richard Aucock | February 2014
Alpina cars attract proper enthusiasts. Owners are loyal, engaged with the brand and fully appreciate what it stands for and what the cars deliver. Which is? A refined, grown up performance alternative to BMW M. Think Le Mans rather than F1; elite engineering but geared for long distances rather than edgy sprints.
They’re based on BMWs but they’re not BMWs. Alpina has, since the late 1970s, been an engineering company in its own right and so all its cars are, well, pure Alpina rather than BMW Alpina. They’re based around BMW’s core model range; this D3 Bi-Turbo is Alpina’s 3 Series (seems obvious? It’s not always so with its other cars…).
D3 signifies diesel rather than the B3 petrol, and Bi-Turbo shows the regular single BMW TwinPower Turbo of the 335d it’s based upon is replaced by a twin-turbo setup. That’s a smaller one for low-end response and a bigger one for high-rev power.
Like all Alpinas, the core engineering is not open for choice. There’s one suspension setup, one type of brakes, one gearbox. Even the seats are defined by Alpina as the perfect match to the rest of it. Tailored engineering for an elite clientele – just 1200 Alpinas are produced each year.
This D3 Bi-Turbo is exclusive for another reason, too. It’s the fastest production diesel car in the world. 350hp equals 0-62mph in just 4.6 seconds and a top speed of 173mph. Yet this ferocious pace is complemented by staggering efficiency: officially, 53.3mpg and 139g/km CO2.
It all makes the £46,950 list price actually look surprisingly reasonable (the regular 317hp 335d, in M Sport guise (albeit with xDrive), costs £41,515). Sure, at first glance, it appears expensive. Then you drive it, and start to appreciate it…
What is the 2014 Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo like to drive?
An Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo is a wonderfully addictive car to drive. Press on and it’s exceptionally fast: 516lb ft of torque makes it one of the torquiest cars in the world for its size (the new M3 has 111lb ft less pulling power – that’s an entire mid-line family hatchback’s worth!). Bi-Turbo means it’s a near-instant jet-thrust, too. This engine’s response rarely frustrates.
The culture with which it performs ia equally satisfying. The straight-six diesel engine warbles softly and is virtually clatter-free. The exceptional eight-speed automatic gearbox shifts with genuinely imperceptible speed. Explore the rear wheels’ traction, as you often will, and the traction control measures the power without spoiling the flow.
It could be like an uncontrollable firework, but it’s not. And the fact its chassis builds upon the inherent brilliance of the regular BMW F30 3 Series means it steers with equal class. The chassis is balanced, very engaging, very dynamic; the steering itself is sharp, well-weighted and informative. It isn’t quite as full-on as a BMW M, but it’s a very well judged step up over a regular BMW.
Alpina’s decision to use BMW’s adaptive suspension even adds quality to the ride. It’s tautly controlled but not harsh and never loses its cool, even over complex surfaces. There’s a feeling of breeding in how it rolls along the road, and the surprise is actually how rarely those big, gorgeous multispoke trademark Alpina wheels thump stiffly into road surfaces.
Is the Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo a better BMW M3?
We don’t yet know what the new BMW M3 is going to be like. But if everything goes to plan, the Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo suggests it’s going to be fantastic. This car arguably sets the benchmark for BMW: the brand needs to match its quality of ride, for example, with its confident dynamics through corners.
It also needs to produce a turbocharged M3 engine – the first forced induction M3 – that’s as satisfying in use as this. The accuracy of power deliver, despite it generating so much drive, is exemplary and BMW surely knows it has to do something equally impressive.
The Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo gives us a tempting first look at that car, about what it ought to be, and we’re rather excited. BMW’s job is to step this up further and trade some of the all-roads comfort for an extra edge of performance. Do this right and it’s onto a belter.
But could the Alpina be a better car than the M3? Depends on your priorities. As M3 have proven for years, the best M cars are thoroughbred sporting machines of justifiable repute. But if you want something that has similar integrity and n equally bespoke-engineered feel over a standard BMW, the Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo warrants your attention.
MR VERDICT: 2014 Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo
Subtlety is the name of the game with the Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo. You can have trademark Alpina blue or green, but you don’t have to. The graphics are optional. The interior enhancements are subtle but purposeful: blue dials with Alpina graphics, a brilliant set of Alpina-branded seats, rich piano black instead of standout carbon fibre.
It lets the drive do the talking. And how. But for all its staggering performance, it feels like a quality performance saloon rather than a tuned special. It’s ever-satisfying to drive. Owning it would be a pain-free pleasure. No wonder its customers are such enthusiasts. Time to discover their secret.
- Audi S4
- BMW 335d
- Infiniti Q50 Hybrid
- Lexus IS 300h
- Maserati Ghibli Diesel
Specification: 2014 Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo
Engine 3.0-litre straight-six bi-turbo
Drivetrain Eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Prices from £46,950
Torque 516lb ft
Top speed 173mph
First 5 Minutes: Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo
Road Test Notes: Alpina De Bi-Turbo