There used to be a time when people bought BMWs to stand out from the crowd. Having a BMW was supposed to be something special. All of a sudden BMW, like every other ‘premium’ manufacturer, started expanding their range to increase sales until they had a lineup of models covering every corner of the market, from MPVs to hybrid sports cars.
In 2016 BMW made up around 1.8% of all new cars sales in New Zealand, outselling other mainstream brands such as Skoda, Jeep, Peugeot, and Ssangyong. BMW outsold other premium marques such as Audi, Jaguar Land Rover, Lexus, and Volvo.
All of a sudden having a BMW became the norm. It was the obvious “next step up” from a Nissan or Mazda. So what do you want to do if you’re of the Bavarian persuasion but want don’t want to be “just another BMW” driver? Let me introduce you to Alpina. Alpina are a fully fledged manufacturer separate from BMW and not simply an aftermarket tuner like Brabus or Mansory.
Alpina’s cars are manufactured alongside BMW’s at the latter’s factories. The two brands have had a close relationship since the founding of Alpina in 1965. Alpina only produce around 1700 cars a year, Japan gets about 400 of those, so these are exclusive and limited cars. BMW dealers in Australia have started selling selected Alpina cars alongside BMW and BMW M cars. Alpina are looking closely at New Zealand as being their next market to enter. Alpina’s exclusivity then, is the perfect solution to standing out from the 1800 or so ‘regular’ new BMWs that were sold in New Zealand in 2016.
The Alpina range is easy to follow as they’re named closely to the BMW cars they’re based on. For example, the 3-Series Alpinas are named either B3 or D3, depending if they’re fueled by petrol or diesel. The car I’m testing is the D3 BiTurbo, a diesel powered four-door based on the current generation 3-Series. It’s also available in Touring (wagon) body style.
That’s pretty much the only choice you have. There are no trim levels, high or low power output models, and no poverty spec. Alpina cars come highly equipped as they only use the top spec BMW base cars. As such, even the standard D3 comes with iDrive with satnav, LED headlights, automatic climate control, cruise control, keyless entry and start, engine idling start/stop, automatic sports seats, rear parking assist, 9-speaker HiFi system, Drive Mode, as well as all the Alpina goodies such as the exterior styling, Akrapovic exhaust, and Elm wood trim.
Alpina’s D-range cars started with the first D3 (based on the E90 3-Series) in 2005. Since then, more than 900 D3s have been sold. Alpina have expanded their diesel range to include the D5 (based on the F10 5-Series) and the XD3 (based on the X3 SAV).
Alpinas are aimed towards connoisseurs rather than boy racers. These are for individuals who want the something beyond the norm, something bespoke, and something elegant. What differentiates Alpinas from BMWs or even BMW M cars are their more restrained and subtle approach to performance and luxury. Looking at the D3 it doesn’t have the same “look at me” styling of a M3 or even a 3-Series with M Sport parts.
The signature Alpina multi-spoke rims, Alpina decals, subtle body kit, boot lid spoiler, and quad Akrapovic exhausts give the D3 enough to differentiate it from a regular 3-Series. There’s no doubting it’s a handsome looking thing. I especially like it in this Alpina Blue colour, though it looks as nice if not better in the Alpina Green. Oh and blue brake calipers are hard to not love.
For a more low-key look, you can have the Alpina D3 in one of BMW’s paints if you so please, and you can also remove the Alpina stripe on the side. But I’d keep them on because they’re too cool to delete. There is an Alpina badge on the back but BMW’s rotary badge still remain in their place.
This was my only major complaint of the D3. First let me acknowledge the elephant in the room; my test car was left hand drive. This wasn’t the first left hand drive press car I got given in Japan, the C63 AMG was last wrong-hand drive. But that’s because customers in Japan do like having the steering wheel on the opposite side because it’s different to the domestic cars. It’s a status symbol if you will.
Anyway, my complaint about the interior are down to how similar it looks to a regular 3-Series’ interior for my liking. Not that it’s a deal breaker or anything, it’s far from the worst interior in the world. But bombarding the interior with Alpina badging wasn’t exactly the bespoke interior I had in mind. That said, familiarity is never a bad thing. Especially in a car where the steering wheel was on the wrong side.
Sure, the materials used were better than those used in, say a 320d, but if you’ve spent any time in a base BMW you wouldn’t be blown away by the D3’s interior. I did like the reddish wood trim, which I felt suited the personality of the Alpina better than carbon fibre or aluminum trim.
Another noteworthy feature of the interior was the blue and green stitching on the leather-bound steering wheel. It’s not going to make the car any faster or more efficient, but it did make it significantly cooler in my mind.
The leather trim on the seats was top notch, and the aluminum Alpina badging was a neat touch. I just wished they used the same leather from the seats on the dashboard. Speaking of the dashboard, each Alpina gets a dedicated plaque showing which number your car was. In this case, my test car was D3 number 246.
BMW’s brilliant iDrive system is carried over unchanged, a good thing as it’s pretty much perfect the way it is. Like in other BMWs, you get Sports Displays showing the amount of power and torque you’re using at any given time. It’s a bit gimmicky and unnecessary but a lot of fun to see.
If you’re familiar with the 3-Series, the space inside is more or less identical. You can fit four adults in comfortably, five might be a pinch. As with most cars in this segment, the middle seat is quite small and the transmission tunnel is high so best reserve the middle seat for emergencies, small children, or for people you don’t really like. The boot is a decent and usable size, however I was disappointed to find out fold-down rear seats were an optional extra.
This is where the D3 surprised me. When I first picked it up from Alpina’s showroom in suburban Tokyo, it felt pretty much like a normal BMW. My first drive, as with most of these cars I test in Tokyo, was on regular roads with stop start traffic. The D3 sets off in its default Comfort drive mode and it’s every bit as comfortable as you’d want it to be. It soaked up bumps beautifully, more so than I expected a car of this calibre to.
It was also incredibly refined and quiet. If diesel powered cars have a limited future, then this will go down in history as their peak. The D3’s 3.0-litre bi-turbo inline-six diesel engine is an absolute gem and perfect example of how far diesel engines have come. This engine produces a healthy 350hp/257kW, which is more than enough. But it’s the 700NM torque figure that really impresses and boy, do you know notice it when you’re driving along.
The D3 has a little switch next to the gear stick that selects the various drive modes; there’s ECO PRO, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. The drive modes change the characteristics of the engine and transmission. ECO PRO dials everything back and makes it rather docile to drive. Best leave that mode if you’re just pootling around town in no hurry. Comfort is the default setting and works well in most situations. Sport sharpens everything up if you want maximum responses while Sport+ turns some of the ESP control off.
I flicked it into Sport, yes still on regular roads with traffic, and felt first hand those 700NM of torque at work. I can’t remember the last time a diesel sedan pushed my head so violently back into the headrest. In city driving, that torque is incredibly addictive. It made me feel like I could out run everything off any set of lights. But I didn’t because that would be very immature.
Alpina does claim a 0-100 km/h time of 4.6 seconds, and I’m sure it’s more than capable of doing that. Same goes with the D3’s 276 km/h top speed, which is more than the 250 km/h limited top speed of other German sedans. Anyway, let’s not get bogged down with performance figures because the D3 is more than a stats sheet.
What really impressed me that most about the D3 was its ability to literally do everything amazingly. It reminded me a lot of the BMW M5 actually, which is about as high praise as I can give to any four door car. Except the M5 costs around twice as much as the D3 costs new and doesn’t have the same 700 or so kilometre fuel range.
Sure, there are sedans out there with more power, that sound nicer, that are more practical, or less expensive than the D3. But none that can execute comfort, power, handling, efficiency, looks, and usability wrapped up in a discreet package quite like the D3.
Open up the D3 outside the constraints of the city and it transforms from a sensible family sedan to a comfortable long distance grand tourer. It has all the hallmarks of a GT car; big fuel range, comfortable ride and seats, impeccable NVH levels, and a smooth powertrain. Even if you cruise about in Sport mode the ride is never intolerable and the noise from the engine is never intrusive. But if the traffic in front is keeping you from getting to your destination at a reasonable time, you have more than enough power and torque to overtake anything and everything with ease.
The kick down from the 8-speed ZF auto is seamless. This auto is one of the best out there and compared to the racier dual-clutch transmissions used in BMW M cars, is much smoother and better suited to day-to-day driving the D3 will be used for. A neat touch were the lack of paddle shifters. Instead you get F1-style buttons behind the steering wheel. The work similar to paddles; left side is to go down gears and the right side is to go up. What I liked were they weren’t in your face, so if you didn’t need to use them they were discreetly out of sight. But if you needed to flick down a cog or two, the buttons were within reach.
Should you find yourself on some empty twisty roads, the D3 will not disappoint on that front either. Sure, it’s not quite the naughty B-road blaster like a BMW M3 or AMG C63 but it’s not bad either. The steering is direct and precise, if not having overwhelming feel. A luxury sedan should not be as chuckable and rewarding to drive around corners as the D3. I guess most of that is thanks to the already brilliant chassis of the base car. Alpina has added larger 19-inch wheels, Michelin Sport Cup 2 tyres (245/35 up front and 265/35 at the rear), and better damped suspension on top of that.
I felt in total control all at all times, I never worried about the D3 trying to kill me or it stepping out of line. It gave me confidence, which is what you want in a car with this sort of performance. The D3 felt planted at all times, the Sport Cup 2 tyres clawing onto the tarmac like a stubborn cat. Even on slippery surfaces such as the joints on bridges and motorways it never felt like it would kick its ass out. In many ways it’s rather effortless in the way it takes on corners and particularly in the way it exits them.
By the end of my time with the D3, I had used to for all sorts of things. Getting around Tokyo, a long distance motorway trip up north to Tochigi, and the weekly shop. When I handed the car back the readout on the dash said I had averaged around 15km/L of fuel (roughly 6.6l/100km), which is rather impressive for a car with this sort of performance being driven by someone who was constantly playing around with all the torque.
The overall driving experience of the D3 was what I’d imagine driving a Bentley would be like. I know, it’s a world away from that but the effortless performance, balanced ride and handling, and long distance cruising capabilities are second to none. Especially in this price point and segment.
The Alpina D3 is a bit of anomaly. There really aren’t many performance oriented diesel sedans in this class, or even in the market in general. The closest thing to it would be BMW’s own 335d on which the D3 is based on. So for its competitors I’ve had to go look at petrol powered cars around its price range.
|Brand/Model||Engine||Power||Fuel L/100km||CO2 g/km||Price – High to Low|
|BMW M3||3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbo petrol||431hp/317kW||8.3L/100km||194g/km||$159,500|
|Alpina D3||3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel||350hp/257kW||5.8L/100km||154g/km||¥9,990,000/$122,217*|
|Mercedes Benz C43 AMG||3.0-litre, V6 turbo petrol||367hp/270kW||8.2L/100km||188g/km||$116,400|
|Lexus IS350||3.5-litre,V6 petrol||316hp/233kW||9.7L/100km||225g/km||$107,900|
|Audi A4 3.0TDI||3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbo diesel||272hp/200kW||5.2L/100km||179g/km||$106,400|
|Jaguar XE S||3.0-litre, V6 supercharged petrol||340hp/250kW||8.1L/100km||194g/km||$106,000|
|BMW 340i||3.0-litre, six-cylinder turbo petrol||326hp/240kW||6.8L/100km||159g/km||$99,900|
Pros and Cons
What We Think
The Alpina D3 is about as close to the perfect all-rounder as I can think of. Small wonder why the D3 and B3 are the brand’s best sellers. They do everything you could possibly want from a car like this brilliantly, and some. I’d argue the D3’s long distance range, comfort, and performance would make it the ideal choice for New Zealand buyers too.
Sure it doesn’t sounds as sweet as the B3 but you are able to drive an extra 200-300 kilometers between fuel stops allowing you to enjoy the D3’s perfect balance, comfort, handling, and endless torque for longer. I’m giving 4.5 chevrons though because a dark green D3 Touring would be even more perfect.
If the D3 is anything to go by, the Alpina versions of BMWs are a step above and should be considered alongside Mercedes AMGs, Audi RS, and BMW’s own M Division. That said, I’d love to try out more of Alaina’s products, in particular their take on cars BMW M don’t make such as the 600hp Alpina B7 and XD3 performance SUV. I really do hope Alpina do start bringing some cars into the New Zealand market because with the popularity of BMWs there, it won’t be difficult to find buyers. The problem will be satisfying the demand once people have tried them out.
|Vehicle Type||Mid-size luxury sedan|
Alpina Blue Paint: ¥399,000/$4,878
Electric Glass Sunroof: ¥175,000/$2,139
Adaptive LED Headlight: ¥138,000/$1,687
Alarm System: ¥67,000/$819
Front Seat Heater: ¥55,000/$672
Rear View Camera: ¥85,000/$1,039
Active Cruise Control: ¥115,000/$1,406
Lane Change Warning: ¥77,000/$941
Harman/Kardon Sound System: ¥93,000/$1,137
|Engine||2992cc inline-six-turbocharged diesel|
|0-100 kph||4.6 seconds|
|Length x Width x Height||4645mm x 1810mm x 1445mm|
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||N/A|