Meet the world's fastest diesel estate, the subtle but brilliant Alpina D3...
What have we got here then?
It’s a fast BMW estate. Understated, isn’t it? Doesn’t look much.
Well, apart from the pin-striping and those hopelessly fiddly wheels. Recognise those and you’d likely already twigged this isn’t a BMW at all, but an Alpina.
Otherwise, though, no hints that what you’re looking at here is the World’s Fastest Production Diesel.
Indeed. It’s a mark of the times that about ten years ago, this really mattered. Performance diesels were all the rage, Audi showed an R8 TDI concept, Mercedes a triple turbo SLK, and for a short while I actually held the world record for highest top speed in a diesel, hitting 174mph in a DMS-tweaked BMW 535d at Nardo.
But now? I’m not sure that many people care about World’s Fastest Diesel. Not least because the technology – and the speeds – haven’t exactly moved on. The engine that underpinned my 174mph 535d is broadly the same as the one in this Alpina – a 3.0-litre twin turbo straight six.
Why don’t people care about diesel?
Um, because Volkswagen? VW has ensured the less knowledgable flank of the car buying public views diesel cars with the same wary eye they view politicians: as a smelly, oily sub-breed that’s bound to be lying to you, even if they haven’t quite figured out how yet.
On top of tha,t the mainstream marques are all fixated by electric power now, as it absolves them of CO2 responsibility. Get a car to run mostly on electric through the test and you don’t have much internal combustion work to do to slip well under the emissions radar.
I know, so let’s get back to the real world, because outside the laboratory diesels still take a massive amount of beating. They return fuel figures most hybrids can only dream of, have satisfying mid-range surge and go forever without refueling.
And in the Alpina D3 all that is turned up by several notches. It has more torque than a Ferrari F12, yet even I drew 42mpg out of it, and boy is there oodles of burgeoning, ever-expanding thrust from the 345bhp/516lb ft unit up front. It runs slickly through the eight speed automatic gearbox too.
If you could create an equation that sought to fairly balance speed against economy, I think there’s a good chance the D3 would be the closest to mathematical perfection.
How fast is it exactly?
Alpina claims 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds and on to a max of 170mph. Because of the long gearing and gentle delivery it never feels that accelerative, but as a disguiser of speed it’s largely unparalleled.
And I know, 170mph isn’t that fast in a world where a Civic Type-R can do 167mph, but as I said, people aren’t putting the effort into diesel any more.
Still, it’s got sweet steering and nice balance to the handling. It’s not aggressive, but it’s assertive and confident.
How does the rest of it stack up?
It’s a good estate, just big enough for a family of four. It’s handsome, useful, a good size without being bloated, nicely put together. And once above town speeds where the suspension can’t insulate you from those low profile tyres clouting obstacles, the ride is uncannily smooth, way better than BMW manages itself.
It’s a cracking all-rounder with genuine rarity value, too. I’m not a fan of the fiddly wheels, and the £650 Alpina turbo gauge that replaces the airvent nearest the driver’s left knuckles is a waste of time – it looks out of place and doesn’t pack enough interesting information.
Hardly a dealbreaker. If that’s all, I’ll prepare my chequebook.
Wait. Two things you need to be aware of, neither of which is a full deal-breaker, but definitely something to be aware of.
Firstly, it’s not four-wheel drive, which given the torque involved, it should be. This is curious – Alpina says it doesn’t work with the packaging, yet the BMW 335d it’s based on is now only available in the UK as an xDrive model. Traction is good in the D3, but get carried away and the tail will wag.
Secondly, it’s not a sports car. It’s not an alternative M3 with twice the mpg. The M3 is explosive and exciting, this isn’t. I know the figures might suggest otherwise, but the manner of the delivery is entirely different, and the noise is gruff and tuneless.
Here, you coax and encourage the speed out of it, marvel at its guts and go, enjoy the composure and stability and relish the overall package. Buy it for the sophistication, not the sportiness.
Should I get one?
Well this is that with a hint more sporting nous, a dash of extra comfort and a load more exclusivity. But it’s not a sports car. Remember that.
Photos: Mark Raybone