► Latest BMW X3 gets Alpina treatment
► Twin-turbo straight-six diesel
► High quality interior is very leathery
The family business of Alpina has been at this since 1965, tweaking high-performance BMWs to be slightly sharper, more driver focused and a little bit flashier at its HQ west of Munich. Despite the expansion of BMW’s own M division into similar territory, the relationship seems to carry on harmoniously enough.
The latest Alpina to reach the UK in right-hand-drive form is the XD3. Based on the current X3, and powered by the twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six diesel used in many BMWs, it’s not a radical reinvention. Rather, it turns the dial up just slightly on the engine, chassis and cabin, always in the direction of on-road performance and premium feel.
What exactly is different?
Many of the changes are about adjusting the software and recalibrating controls, rather than replacing the perfectly-good BMW hardware. The most significant physical changes include Alpina’s own adaptive sports suspension, brakes and stainless-steel exhaust. Equally significant are the adjustments made to the power steering, the all-wheel-drive torque distribution and the ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox.
You also get Alpina’s own bigger wheels – 20s are standard, 22s optional – and significant cabin upgrades, involving good-quality if rather dazzling white leather.
Our test car’s many options included a big glass sunroof that really brought out the brightness of the cabin and some life-enhancing (but wallet-lightening) Harman Kardon speakers.
How does it drive?
Like a fast BMW, albeit a tall and quite heavy fast BMW, rather than like an X-series BMW. Its engine, gearbox and four-wheel-drive system work together brilliantly. It’s a delightfully unlaggy set-up, and it’s well matched to the quick and feelsome steering and the well-damped suspension. The brakes are appropriately upgraded, too.
The on-paper performance differences to one of BMW’s own hotter X3s aren’t huge. But on the road, there’s a real gap. Alpina have done a great job of making the X3 feel much more together and co-ordinated, letting you exploit that fabulous diesel engine.
There’s much more of a difference between Comfort and Sport modes in the XD3 than in a regular BMW. If you’re on a mission, Sport will help you really engage with the upper reaches of the 3’s capabilities.
The only blot involves poor road surfaces, which can unsettle the car in a way you wouldn’t get with smaller wheels.
And that interior?
You’ll know at a glance whether it’s your cup of tea. Stock BMWs tend to be black, black and more black and the materials aren’t always as premium-feeling as you might hope. The Alpina remedies all that, and then some. It’s not glitz for the sake of it, like some factory-tuned Range Rovers; rather, it’s refreshingly bright and pleasing to the touch. It’s also adorned with Alpina logos everywhere – on the door sills, on the floor mats, on the steering wheel, the gearknob…
The sports seats are comfortable and appropriately supportive. In keeping with the continent-crossing ethos that underpins much of what Alpina does, this is a car you could happily drive all day. Make that drive fast all day.
Alpina XD3: verdict
Performance-focused on-road 4x4s may not be everyone’s idea of a good way to spend 60 grand or more, but this one has been excellently executed. It wouldn’t make much sense if all you wanted was pin-sharp handling and a responsive powertrain – you’d go for something much lower and lighter.
But if you buy into the high-riding, eye-catching style that’s becoming increasingly mainstream, this is a very well executed manifestation. It’s far from perfect – and we definitely wouldn’t want the 22-inch wheels – but this is comfortable, fast and a lot of fun. This is no longer any sort of off-roader, nor is it visually subtle. But it feels just about different enough from the donor X3 to make sense, in a slightly bonkers way. And when you’re exploiting that glorious surge from 50 to 100mph and beyond, you know you’re in a pretty special place.
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