173mph and 53.3mpg… but possibly not at the same time
Later this year BMW will launch its new M3, powered by a twin-turbo 3-litre straight six engine. With 425bhp and a 0-62mph time of 4.3sec, it’s going to be the quickest 3-series ever to wear an M badge.
But until then, consider for now the proposition offered by this new Alpina 3-series. Like the M3 it will be available as coupé or saloon, but also as an estate, a configuration never used by BMW for an M3. It also has a twin turbo 3-litre straight six engine, but offers only 345bhp on account of the fact it’s fed by diesel, not petrol. But this is also the reason it has far more torque than will the M3, so not only is its 0-62mph a paltry 0.3sec slower, that performance is delivered in an instant at almost any revs. Now consider that according to BMW’s own numbers, the new M3 is good for 32mpg; by precisely the same calculations, the Alpina D3 betters 53mpg. Even factoring in its slightly smaller fuel tank, this gives the Alpina a realistic range of more than 550 miles, 200 miles farther than the M3 will travel before you’re going to start scanning the horizon for fuel stations.
Of course you can only prove so much with raw data, but here’s the thing: even if you know all about the D3’s vast envelope of performance and economy, the car itself will still have you gasping in admiration for its real world abilities.
I try very hard not to gush about cars, because when I read others who do, the hyperbole makes their opinions less credible and me more likely to doubt their ability to reach a reasoned, objective verdict. But this is hard with the D3, for it is a fantastically difficult car to fault.
The performance feels stronger even than the figures say, because it’s delivered with such a silken wallop from low revs. The recalibrated eight-speed auto plays the perfect loyal sidekick. The spring rates have increased by 40 per cent and on 20in wheels you’d think the ride would shake your teeth loose. But then you drive it and discover that, counter-intuitively, it actually rides better than a standard 3-series because body control has improved with zero apparent loss of secondary absorption.
It’s not even that expensive. The new M3 will cost £56,175 when it goes on sale, the D3 just £47,000, stunning value considering the sophistication of what this buys. Alpina makes its real money on the extras customers specify to make their cars feel even more bespoke. Of them all, the box marked ‘limited slip differential’ is the most important to tick, for I imagine the car would be massively traction limited without one, especially in the wet.
I’ve blown hot and cold about various Alpinas over the years, but not this one. The single biggest criticism I can summon is that I’d prefer it to come with conventional shift paddles rather than small buttons behind the wheel. Other than that, it is miraculous. If the idea appeals, I can only advise you to make your move now: the way I hear it, the wait for Alpina’s greatest product to date is getting longer by the day.
Engine: 3.0 litres, six cylinders, turbocharged
Power: 346bhp @ 4000 rpm
Torque: 516lb ft @ 1500 rpm
Transmission: eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 173mph
Economy: 53.3 mpg