Unless you are a well-rounded motoring enthusiast, you’ve probably never heard of the name Alpina before. But that’s okay, because even though the Alpina Automobile brand has been around since 1962, they have only really been introduced at a dealership level in Australia since 2016. So if you’re wondering who and what Alpina is, let’s get a quick history lesson.
In 1962, Burkard Bovensiepen developed a Weber dual carburettor for the BMW 1500 in the same building that his company used to manufacture typewriters. These carburettors were so well received by customers and automotive journalists at the time, as well as BMW’s own sales boss back then, Paul G. Hahnemann, that in 1964, BMW confidently awarded vehicles fitted with the Alpina certified quality carburettors systems the full BMW factory guarantee. In its first years of business, Alpina made a name for themselves by tuning carburettors and crankshafts, extracting more power from BMW engines. These main two elements eventually defined the company’s logo, which came into inception in 1967.
With that bit of history in mind, you can sort of guess that Alpina’s have always been very special and unique cars. Cars that get most true BMW enthusiasts very, very excited. Alpina’s are based on regular BMW’s, who’s tuning and body-styling elements aren’t done by BMW’s own M Divison. But trust us when we say that it doesn’t matter, and it’s almost a good thing. Because what Alpina does to their BMW’s is incredibly special and results in what would normally be any ordinary BMW, and transforms it into something very elegant, very discreet, and deceptively quick.
So what do we have with the Alpina XD3? Well, we have a current BMW X3 SUV in it’s standard shell, with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel engine that has been assembled in Spartanburg, South Carolina (like all other X3’s). Once that initial assembly phase has been completed, they are shipped off to the boffins in Buchloe for a heavy dose of mechanical upgrades and styling enhancements. The result is what you could almost refer to as a sub-X3M, albeit one that’s a bit more comfortable, a bit more elegant, but even with it’s toned down styling, is still deceptively quick and discreet. Alpina gets rid of BMW’s twin-turbo, and replaces it with their own unique bi-turbo set up; one smaller one to combat turbo lag, and another larger turbo combined with revised intake and cooling systems to deliver a hefty dose of “push you back in your seat” power. All these improvements and fine tuning result in power figures of 245 kW and 700 Nm of torque. This makes the Alpina XD3 capable of doing 0-100 km/h in just 4.9 seconds. As a quick reference, the BMW X3 xDrive30d produces 195kW and 620Nm, and the range topping X3 M40i churns out 285kW and 500Nm. Combined Fuel Consumption figures are claimed 6.4l/100km, although in our week of testing we averaged a bit higher (8.1 to be exact). To be fair, that’s also a lot of inner city, stop start traffic, and of course when the roads did open up and conditions allowed, well… let’s be honest, it’s not like we were going to be ‘breathing’ onto the throttle.
Sadly, we miss out on the 286 kW, 770 Nm Quad Turbocharged 3.0-litre diesel that is available in Left Hand Drive European markets.
Most of the changes involve adjustments to the software and control re-calibration, rather than replacing the perfectly-good BMW hardware. Further tuning is performed on the power steering, all-wheel-drive torque distribution and the ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox. Alpina also adds their own adaptive sports suspension, brakes and stainless-steel exhaust.
The XD3’s engine, gearbox and four-wheel-drive system work together absolutely brilliantly, and Alpina have done a brilliant job of making the XD3 feel much more together, a lot of fun to drive and more coordinated. When compared to some of BMW’s own, quicker X3’s, the on-paper differences in performance aren’t exactly big. But driving them on the road, you get a sense that there’s there’s quite a substantial contrast.
It’s a thrilling set-up that offers almost zero turbo lag, well matched to the responsive steering (that offers plenty of feedback) and the composed, comfortable suspension. Alpina noticed that the rear discs get less airflow than the fronts, and need a larger surface area to dissipate heat effectively, the XD3 uses bigger brake discs on its rear axle compared to a regular X3. Talk about attention to detail!
The Alpina XD3 doesn’t feel like you are driving a traditional high-riding X-series BMW. It feels like one of the lower, faster ones, even though it’s heavier and slightly higher. Where BMW’s M division prioritises speed, aggression and handling, Alpina usually prioritises comfort and simplicity. That being said, the XD3 still feels more than capable through the corners, and there’s a good chance you’ll get out the XD3 feeling more refreshed after a long drive than you would in something wearing an “M” or even an AMG badge. The entire XD3 set-up feels far more in tune with how you’d spend most of your time using it.
If you had to describe the way in which the Alpina XD3 picks up speed, two words that come to mind are deceptive and astonishing. The digital needle on the speedometer just flicks past the numbers swiftly, without the engine ever sounding stressed, while ultra smooth eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox shifts quickly yet gracefully.
The body kit of the XD3 is immensely tasteful. On the outside, changes to the front end of the regular X3 include a deeper splitter with floating Alpina lettering, while the back gets a similar extension, housing a set of polished quad tailpipes. Our test vehicle came painted in BMW Individual Sunstone Metallic fitted with the optional 22-inch Alpina Classic alloy wheels and optional sticker pack in Gold (which some thought may have tested the boundaries of taste). When speccing your XD3, thankfully the options list isn’t a long one – the decals are optional, and they do come standard with smaller 20-inch wheels. Our example also came fitted with the optional panoramic sunroof ($2690).
Inside, the XD3 certainly feels a step above the standard BMW X3 model. The optional (and highly recommended) piano black trim looks subtle yet classy, and the leather adorning the seats, steering wheel and door trims feels more supple. Alpina branded door sills and a numbered build plaque placed on the base of the centre console further hint that you’re not just in any regular X3. Simply put, the interior of the XD3 is a masterclass in pared-back luxury, with an abundance of leather, light and space.
The 12.3-inch central digital instrument dials turn bright blue with red needles (in typical alpina fashion) when you press the engine start button, adding a sense of sportiness to the cabin. Put the car into Sport mode, and the display style changes to “Dynamic” with green drag indicators. Top speed is claimed at 254km/h, even though the speedometer finishes at 330km/h.
The sports seats provide superb comfort and are appropriately supportive. Make no mistake, this is a car you could happily and comfortably drive all day long. Actually, to be more correct, this is a car that you could happily and comfortably drive fast all day long.
Certainly then, if you had a budget of around $109,000 and wanted something with razor sharp handling with a bit more powerful, ultra-responsive powertrain, you could probably be tempted into something a lot lower, a lot shoutier, and a lot lighter. You might think a high riding, performance focused four-wheel drive doesn’t make sense for that sort of money. But in the case of the Alpina XD3 you’d be wrong. This car has been masterfully executed. It is comfortable, it is fast, it is practical, and most of all, it is fun. We even managed to upset a few “sports car” owners in the time we had it. When you’re exploiting the glorious surge of power from around 50 km/h to 110 km/h (and beyond if conditions allow) you just know you’re in something truly special, and you will struggle to wipe the smile off your face.
The Alpina XD3 also comes with a vast array of standard inclusions such as Autonomous Emergency Braking, adaptive cruise control, Parking Assistant Plus with 360-degree cameras, front and rear parking sensors, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane centering, and LED Headlights and foglights. One thing we would like to make special mention of is the 360-degree camera system. This has to be, without a doubt, one of the clearest, crisp units we have ever come across, and other manufacturers should take note!
The XD3 also features BMW’s iDrive 6 infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay as standard, as well as BMW Online Services that include ConnectedDrive, DAB+ digital radio, and a Qi wireless charging pad.
The XD3 starts at $109,900 before on-road costs, which is $9000 more than the BMW X3 M40i ($100,900), though this is a different kind of animal all together. The XD3 is covered by BMW’s three-year unlimited-kilometre warranty, with the Alpina-specific parts warrantied by Alpina, and the BMW parts warranted by BMW.
There is also the option to include BMW’s Service Inclusive Program, which has five years or 80,000km (whichever comes first) of scheduled servicing for a total cost of $1750. There are no set service intervals, instead you will have the vehicles sensors telling you when it’s time to book in for a visit to the workshop.
The delight of buying the XD3 over any other Alpina model, is that whilst you are buying a versatile, practical, family SUV with enough luggage space (550L with the rear sets up, and 1600L with the rear seats folded down) for a family of four, and space for the dogs, you’re also buying a very niche, high-performance car at the same time. The Alpina XD3 is absolutely perfect for family motorists, who still want to keep a discreet dose of driving excitement when conditions allow. We’d have one in a heartbeat!
Alpina cars are known to epitomize the perfect blend of power, performance and comfort, and the XD3 does not disappoint in any aspect. With it’s exceptionally composed, unflustered handling (thanks to Alpina’s adaptive sports suspension) you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re driving a a top shelf, low to the ground, high powered wagon. So next time you come across a BMW with the Alpina badge resting on the back, you know it’s not just a fan-boy sticker-pack. You’ll know it means business.
To sum up the Alpina XD3 in one word – sublime.
Our Test Car was supplied by Motorline BMW, who are the exclusive dealers for Alpina Automobiles in Queensland. You can find them at 1/11 Old Chatswood Road in Daisy Hill. Walk through the sliding glass doors and you will be greeted by some of the best vehicles that BMW has to offer on their showroom floor, and making a right turn will point you to the Alpina section. There is always a great display of XD3 and B4 vehicles on display to look at them up close and personal.
The Alpina XD3 really is in a class of it’s own. It’s extremely luxurious, deceptively fast and genuinely enjoyable to drive. Everything about it makes it feel so much more special than a regular X3, even the range topping M40i. We’re huge fans of the styling, with the quad pipes, classic Alpina wheels, blue brake calipers and tasteful bodykit. If you want something rare, cool and fast, but still want to drive around withing drawing too much attention to yourself, this is the perfect car for you.