Alpina D3 S Touring 2021 review – the ultimate daily driver?
A desirable formula executed extremely well. It's fast and has a sweet chassis, but can feel a little blunt compared to the B3
There was a time when a compact estate car with a sizeable diesel engine was the dream ticket for those who wanted a respectable level of performance to go with their frugality requirements. And if that diesel-sipping engine happened to have six cylinders, or more, better still. This is a niche Alpina has long had to itself in the compact executive estate class with the D3 S Touring, but with Audi and indeed BMW now offering their own big diesels in small packages, does it still occupy this most desirable of USPs?
Sales would suggest so, with Alpina selling a third more D3 S Tourings than it does saloons. And despite sales of diesel cars in general dropping more sharply than an oil-burning engine’s power curve, the firm is hoping that the popularity of its take on the diesel 3-series will continue with the arrival of this new, G21-based version, which starts life as an M340d xDrive, also making this the first mild-hybrid Alpina.
Unlike the brilliant petrol-powered B3 (see evo 281), which benefits from a fully fledged S58 M engine, the D3 S retains the 340d’s 3-litre twin-turbo diesel unit, albeit with a new map for the ECU to lift power and torque to 350bhp and 538lb ft respectively (up 15bhp and 22lb ft). Alpina also upgrades the cooling system with two new radiators and an uprated intercooler and optimises the shift pattern and speeds of the ZF eight-speed auto.
There’s no disguising the shove the straight-six delivers. With the mild-hybrid system masking the traditional slow responses of a diesel engine waiting for its turbos to spool up, the instantaneous pick-up makes even the regular M340d feel light on its toes. The Alpina is even quicker off the line, more responsive through the mid-range and has a wider top end, too, adding the sucker punch that’s missing in the M340d.
But – here it comes – just as the standard car’s advantage over its petrol equivalent has all but been erased with the latest generations of petrol engines being so parsimonious, so too the D3 S operates in the B3’s M-powered shadow. And while it’s key to acknowledge that the petrol Alpina costs considerably more, if you were to drive the pair back-to-back you’d be hard pressed not to conclude that the petrol-engined model is worth every penny of its £12,000 premium.
Not that buying a D3 S is a poor decision, and if you have shortlisted an M340d or Audi S4 Avant, you should at least consider the Alpina , if not ignore the others altogether, because while its powertrain isn’t as special as its M-engined brother’s, it still benefits from Alpina’s other upgrades. The driveshafts are uprated and there’s Alpina’s own torque split for the xDrive four-wheel-drive system; there are also new spring and damper rates, an upgraded brake system, recalibrated steering and revised software for the rear limited-slip differential.
The standard wheels are 19-inch items in the classic Alpina style, but 20s, as fitted to our test car, are also available for an additional £2080. They look a little overkill in terms of size and result in a ride that’s a little noisier at low speeds, but when you widen the throttle opening it settles, with more focus and a firmer grip on the body than you’d find with the M340d. The D3 has more directness to its steering, too, and more precision during the initial turn-in phase, and as you’d expect from a German manufacturer (Alpina is able to stamp, albeit rather crudely, its own chassis number on the front suspension turret) it only becomes more confidence inspiring as the speeds climb higher.
The D3 S is also a more fluid car when you begin to push and lean on its chassis, the torque split more rear biased more of the time than in the BMW, resulting in a more hooked-up and engaging car to drive. As you start to peel away the layers of electronic intervention the D3 S begins to feel more organic, as per the B3, with Alpina’s more detailed dynamic set-up able to extract more, leaving you feeling more in control. Stepping over the limit allows the diff to demonstrate that a well-sorted, (predominantly) rear-drive BMW is still an engaging and fulfilling car to drive. Although it does leave you frustrated as you contemplate how much better it could be if it didn’t weigh the wrong side of 1900kg – 1935kg to be precise, which is 70kg more than the B3 Touring and totally unacceptable and unnecessary.
Nevertheless, as fast diesel estates go, the D3 S gets our vote over an S4 or an M340d, but there would always be that nagging doubt that we should have worked harder to be able to afford the B3.
Prices and rivals
The Touring will set you back from £55,950 in the UK, and are able to be specified more flexibly than previous D3s models, which often were either bare-bones basic or fully-loaded (with a price point to match). For the money, all D3's are well equipped, with 19-inch wheels, sports seats, sports suspension and Alpina's love-or-hate deco set. For the full Alpina experience the £6350 'Lavalina' leather is an indulgent, but very plush addition.
Rivals include the aforementioned M340d which just undercuts the D3 at £52,060, or Audi's S4 Avant at £50,810, which is also now powered by a high-spec six-pot diesel.
|Engine||In-line 6-cyl, 2993cc, twin-turbo diesel|
|Power||350bhp @ 4000-4200rpm|
|Torque||538lb ft @ 1750-2750rpm|