Want a fast 3 Series estate with a straight-six diesel? We did too, of course, so here it is
Why we’re running it: To see if a fast estate is still the best car in the world
Life with an Alpina D3 S: Month 1
Welcoming the Alpina to the fleet – 21 June 2023
Time is running out for independent-era Alpinas like this, the D3 S Touring, which is based on the latest-generation BMW 3 Series and has joined Autocar for the next few months. Goody.
Alpina was bought by BMW last spring but will continue with its own line-up of models (although they are largely finished on BMW production lines) until 2025. After that, BMW will be in control of new Alpina output.
Hopefully, they will continue being things like this. A fast 3 Series wagon is perennially the sort of car that migrates to the top of those ‘all the car you’ll ever need’ lists, and the D3 S is the right sort of fast 3 Series wagon.
The D3 diesel – and its B3 petrol alternative – were revised last year when BMW facelifted the 3 Series range. The result is a 355bhp and, importantly, 539lb ft estate with a 48V mild-hybrid system.
Because Alpina is rated as a tiny manufacturer and so has less pressure on its corporate average fuel consumption than a large car maker, it can sell a car with this 3.0-litre straight-six diesel engine in the UK, while BMW itself sadly no longer does.
It officially returns 40.9mpg and 182g/km, and while doing so is a car with a 4.6sec 0-62mph time and a 170mph top speed. Alpina buyers in Germany love that kind of flexibility – and for not unrelated reasons, it’s one of the first places I took the D3 S (more on which next time).
In the meantime, here’s a rundown of the basics. The D3 S costs £66,000 and is respectably equipped off the bat, but you can add a lot of options. There’s a full list of what this car contains on the opposite page, but the important extras are the 20in black forged wheels, instead of 19s, black paint against which it’s hard to see the subtle decal kit and high-performance brakes. Inside is a Harman Kardon hi-fi and merino leather trim (it’s part blue but you can have white, red, brown or black). I’ll go into the others later.
First impressions are good. This shouldn’t be a surprise: a 3 Series is good and Alpina does good work, so an Alpina 3 Series should be terrific. And it is. I know diesels get flak to the extent that they took barely over 5% of new car sales last year, but the BMW 3.0-litre has always been a peach and with the 48V mild-hybrid system start-stopping it in an instant without shaking, the eight-speed ZF transmission remaining one of the finest in the business and the xDrive four-wheel drive system, it’s proving to be a seamless, effortless, 550-mile-to-a-tank and 50mpg-without-trying-too-hard (I’m still settling to an average) mile eater.
The diesel has lost out to the plug-in hybrid in particular (thanks in great part to the company car tax benefits), but you would have to plug one in a lot to match the D3 S’s economy. In jobs like mine, with lots of long journeys to places where I can’t plug in on location, it’s still incredibly useful.
Apparently, those high-speed, high-mile journeys play a big part in the popularity of Alpina’s diesel models in Germany (people will commute big distances rather than fly internally), while in Japan, traditionally a petrol rather than a diesel market, they think of them as we did in the early 2000s too.
Dynamically, it’s impressive. Firm, certainly, but brilliantly controlled, with relatively low noise levels, consistent if heavy steering – brutally stable at high speeds – and just a reliable, unflinching way of going about things.
It’s usually tempting to compare an Alpina with its equivalent BMW M car, but that this is a diesel and BMW itself doesn’t offer this engine means I won’t make the M3 Touring comparison. I think they are really quite different cars – the D3 S doesn’t have M levels of agility.
If it does have an issue, it’s not really all of its own making. Those 20in wheels wear 30-profile Pirelli P Zero tyres front and rear, closely matched at 255mm (front) and 265mm (rear) wide, which should make this four-wheel-drive car with even weight distribution very nicely balanced.
But twice in the past week I’ve thought I was going to rip a tyre from the rim over some very British potholes that I didn’t see at night. A proper thump of the sort that makes you think you’re going to spend the next two hours waiting for a recovery truck. It’s almost tempting to recommend the 19s instead, but they have a split five-spoke design rather than these slinkier Alpina classic spokes for which, even in black, I’m a bit of a sucker.
Anyway, more next time – including whether continental Europe is kinder to the rubber.
Prior is right to feel like the cat that got the creamy diesel V6. Alpina’s D4 S Gran Coupé sister car impressed the hell out of me earlier this year with its incredible cruising refinement and long-striding easy performance and efficiency. I remember thinking that you could probably get 40mpg out of one at 100mph-plus autobahn speeds.
Alpina D3 S Touring specification
Specs: Price New £66,000 Price as tested £88,265 Options 20in wheels £3420, Black Sapphire paint £800, decal set £420, performance brakes £1770, carbonfibre interior trim finishers £500, merino leather £3800, comfort access £560, lumbar support £195, electric seat adjust £1120, galvanic finish on controls £95, CNC aluminium gear paddles £290, high-gloss interior £205, panoramic sunroof £1550, laser headlights £1870, shadow line lights £300, driving assistant professional £1870, drive recorder £190, park assistant plus £650, acoustic glazing £190, sun protection glass £380, auto-dim mirrors £310, loudspeaker upgrade £820, electric towbar £960
Test Data: Engine 3.0-litre straight-six diesel Power 355bhp Torque 539lb ft at 4200rpm Kerb weight 1950kg Top speed 168mph 0-62mph 4.6sec Fuel economy 40.9mpg (claimed) CO2 xxxg/km Faults None Expenses None