Since 1963, Burkard Bovensiepen has been lovingly nurturing his Alpina brand. It began with a multi-carburettor unit for a BMW 1500, called the Alpina Unit, and has grown into a much sought-after brand by those who know their cars. Today, Mr Bovensiepen and his two sons are still fervently supported by BMW, whose cars they take, style and engineer to Alpina standards that focus on both power and comfort – the latter commodity often a rarity in the high-performance automotive world.
Bolstered by a loyal troupe of brand fans, Alpina has ambitions in the UK to almost double sales next year, from the 57 it sold in the UK in 2018, to 100. At Frankfurt motor show this year, the company unveiled its new B3, based on the 3 Series Touring, which will play a big part in its sales success.
While we wait to get behind the wheel on public roads, we’ve spent a week in the XD3, Alpina’s take on BMW's diesel X3 family SUV.
From the outside, the design tweaks cultivated by Alpina are enough to make onlookers glance again, but not so much that the result is in any way overt. There were decals running the length of our navy XD3, round to the rear where quad exhausts and an Alpina XD3 badge sit. At the front, there is more aero work below the grill, and the car sits on 20-inch wheels shod in Pirelli ultra-high-performance tyres.
Inside, the same balance of difference and subtly is carefully crafted. There’s an Alpina badge in the steering wheel boss, and the leather-clad wheel rim has the company’s trademark blue and green stitching.
There are green and blue stitched diamonds set into the white leather headrests, and a metal plaque below the ventilation controls specifies which number off the production line your car was.
You get BMW’s familiar iDrive system, but on start-up, the digital driver’s dials turn electric blue, and have a green drag indicator if (when) you switch to sport mode.
This is where the magic of Alpina lies. Although the performance figures are basically the same as that of the standard BMW X3 with the same 3.0-litre straight-six diesel, the induction and cooling systems have been recalibrated for a much flatter torque curve, resulting in a smoother drive with much more access to the power. Overall there’s 333 horsepower and 700Nm (518lb ft) of torque, resulting in 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds, which seems to be the magic figure for hot SUVs these days.
There are sports springs and electronically adjustable dampers that lower the centre of gravity and an active limited-slip differential, electronically controlled for sharper driving dynamics. The variable steering is cleverly calibrated and not too intrusive. A high-performance braking system is available as an option, with lightweight drilled composite brakes.
There are many fantastic things about owning an Alpina, not least of which is the residuals (sorry to be so mercenary). Because of their rarity, Alpinas hold their value incredibly well, which will provide some comfort to owners who fork out the initial £15,000 or so over the BMW version of their chosen model. A finance deal is also worth considering. Again, because the residuals are strong, the monthly payments on a PCP deal can be attractive.
Money aside, Alpina ownership offers the otherwise overlooked blend of comfort and power that is important to more consumers than brands sometimes give credit for. The badge is still a thankfully rare sight on our roads, and the heritage behind it is one of unalloyed petrolhead passions, making this a car for connoisseurs.