After a cloak-and-dagger meeting, the world’s fastest production diesel car casts a powerful spell: monstrous speed, subtle style and great economy
MY INSTRUCTIONS are to drive to a pub car park at the appointed hour in the morning and wait. Then the handover will take place.
“How will I recognise you?” I ask on the phone.
The voice at the other end says: “Because I’ll be driving an Alpina D3 Bi-Turbo, of course.”
Good point. This, after all, is the deal. If I head to a remote part of rural Oxfordshire and don’t get lost, I will be handed the keys to the world’s fastest diesel production car and be left to do pretty much what I like with it, as long as I’m back by lunchtime.
It’s a more than enticing proposition. Allegedly hand-built by factory-dwelling pixies in Bavaria, Alpina versions of standard BMW production models are essentially a response to the premise, “If Carlsberg did BMW . . .” Two hours in Oxfordshire in a new, extensively reimagined BMW 3-series, boasting 345bhp and a 0-62mph time of 4.6 seconds? Well, what would you do? Rattle the windows of a few friends’ houses? See how well it goes off-road in a rutted field near Chinnor? Head over the county border to Berkshire and block Michael Parkinson’s drive with it? A glittering world of possibility opens up.
So, come the day, I venture up the M40 and follow my sat nav down a succession of ever-narrowing lanes until the pub sign appears and I swing off the road. I switch off my engine and try to look as innocent as a man can look while sitting on his own in a car, quite early in the morning, in the car park of a closed pub in Oxfordshire.
In due course the D3 arrives, lustrous in blue, burbling quietly on its 20in wheels with cunningly invisible valves, looking like a 3-series only a little bit lower and quite a lot better. Alpina was originally an ad hoc engine-retuning concern, annexed to a typewriter workshop. Indeed, the Alpina badge, which looks like the flag of a deeply aristocratic European principality, depicts a carburettor alongside a camshaft. Nevertheless, this new D3 could be thought to be hoisting the flag as high as it has yet gone for the company’s broader, more holistic approach to bespoke refitting — not just under the bonnet but right across the aerodynamic structure of the car and on into its interior.
Out goes the old Alpina D3’s 2-litre four-cylinder engine and in comes a new 3-litre twin-turbo straight six, which, in Sport and Sport+ driving modes, can be made to blow a warm, rounded fanfare through a special valve in the bespoke exhaust system. In comes, too, a bespoke structural brace across the front of the engine to improve the steering. There are bespoke roll bars, there is bespoke calibration for the damping system, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox gets a bespoke upgrade. All in all, the D3 is as bespoke as a car probably ought to be if a team of 50 specialist engineers had been thinking about it very hard for two years.
You want fetchingly piped and thickly stitched Lavalina leather in a shade that complements your favourite trousers? You’ll find it easily enough, and craftsmen ready to fit it, in what Alpina engagingly refers to as its “in-house saddlery”. Cars from BMW M, the in-house performance division, seem crude and a touch vulgar by comparison.
BMW’s peerless information screen remains but, in mine, there was a whole new beam of pitch-black wood across the dashboard. True, the silver build-plate, embossed with the car’s serial number, which used to lie modestly in the roof lining, now occupies a space low down on the centre console, where it looks about as unobtrusive as a taxi meter. But that was about the only off-key touch.
And to drive? Needless to say, those 50 engineers were never going to slow the car down, and it rips away from a standing start in a way that seems designed to leave a permanent imprint of your kidneys in the Lavalina. It also catches and burns past slower vehicles with little in the way of sentimentality. There’s some pleasingly old-school mechanical life in the steering, but the small buttons on the reverse of the steering wheel for manual gearchanging are likely to divide opinion. They’ll be more suave and discreet than the usual flappy paddles, or disconcertingly nipple-like, depending on your view.
Either way, the car’s immense yet smooth power is seductive. I gave up almost immediately on the idea of inconveniencing Parkinson and contented myself instead with driving in circles round the local roads with an idiotically happy expression on my face.
As a result of which I can report that the D3 does comfortable, leisurely driving very well, as befits an executive saloon, but that it does urgent, antisocial driving even better. At one point I got onto a long, temptingly vacant stretch of straight tarmac and ate it whole.
You’ll be assuming that all this speed and luxury comes at an unreasonable cost to the planet and our future upon it. But that’s the twist. For all its character-changing increased engine capacity and monstrous, road-rogering performance levels, the D3 Bi-Turbo is about as poisonous and as thirsty — more than 53 miles to your gallon of diesel — as a Ford Fiesta.
Extraordinary times for fast cars. Indeed, the only unreasonable cost here is to your wallet: the D3 Bi-Turbo is £13,000 more expensive than the outgoing D3.
But even then it seems relatively cheap at the price. It’s hot but it’s subtle. It’s fast and flash, but not in an obnoxious way. It’s going to turn heads, but only wised-up ones. It’s a nod and a wink to those in the know. If you’re ever offered one in a pub car park, take it.
“You ain’t seen me, right?”
- 2993cc, 6-cylinder turbocharged
- 345bhp @ 4000rpm
- 516 lb ft @ 1500rpm
- 8-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 4.6sec
- Top speed:
- 53.3mpg (combined)
- Road tax band:
- L4628mm, W 1811mm, H 1428mm
- BMW 335d xDrive M Sport saloon, £41,515
For: Cheaper, yet almost as fast as the Alpina; comes with the added security of four-wheel drive Against: Comparatively common
- Audi A4 3.0 TDI quattro Black Edition £38,565
For: Four-wheel drive and a powerful engine allow rapid progress Against: For all its impressive performance, the Alpina betters it. Driving it can feel unengaging