The first hybrid Alpina in history reprises one of the marque’s best-loved recipes

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So slick are the cars that it’s easy to forget Alpina is barely out of nappies when it comes to sales volumes – especially when compared with BMW, the company with which Alpina has indelible historical ties and on whose products those slick cars are based.

Take the least expensive and often most popular model in the line-up, the 3 Series-based D3. Between 2013 and 2018, Alpina sold 460 D3 saloons and 790 estates in the old shape.

Few if any cars of this type are so effortlessly quick in the real world, not least because the shift strategy for the eight-speed gearbox is also obviously tuned by people who love to drive

It’s an almost microscopic sum that makes those machines rarer than any mainstream supercar, but to Alpina, it represented a cornerstone of the firm’s revenue and meant a successor simply had to be built, even in the face of rapidly deflating demand for diesel power in Europe. And that’s what the ‘D’ in D3 stands for: diesel.

That successor has now arrived in the UK, the G20-generation-based D3 S, albeit tested here in G21 Touring guise. But for the badges on the bootlid, it is outwardly identical to the petrol-powered B3 (B for ‘benzin’) of five-star road test fame, with subtly draped skirts and bumpers, and the option of forged 20in multi-spoke wheels, which our test car has.

However, starting at around £55,000, the D3 S costs much less than its M division-engined, AMG-rivalling sibling and instead goes up against the recently dieselified Audi S4 Avant and… not much else, actually, unless you include the very entity whence it came.

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Every D3 S starts life as an M340d xDrive, but then morphs considerably. First and foremost, BMW’s 3.0-litre mild-hybrid straight six receives an Alpina-specific cooling system, with two external radiators and an enlarged intercooler and fan.

The result is 350bhp and an elephantine 538lb ft – figures that are 15bhp and 22lb ft up on the M340d xDrive and also surpass those of the V6 Audi, although fuel efficiency drops from 44.8mpg in the BMW to 37.2mpg for the Alpina.

Elsewhere, the driveshafts have been reinforced and the chassis shares the same revisions as the scintillating B3: greater camber for the front wheels, bespoke spring and damper units, bigger brakes and Alpina’s own calibration for the torque split between axles, limited-slip differential and steering.

As ever with Alpina, the intention is to maximise stability, usability, performance and driver confidence, with a side order of exclusivity. And all of these aims the D3 S largely achieves. In terms of the flow of weight and feedback from the road surface, the steering is a cut above the typical BMW fare. The car is brilliantly accurate for a sizeable family estate and, in combination with the torque on offer, your sense is of a 1700kg car, rather than one weighing the claimed 1935kg.

Part of that perception is due to how relentlessly strong this latest Alpina turbo diesel straight six feels. Push the pedal and there’s an immediate pulse of torque from the 48V electrical system. Thereafter, only a slither of lag sits between you and the full might of 568lb ft, which carries you off into the distance without hesitation. Few if any cars of this type are so effortlessly quick in the real world, not least because the shift strategy for the eight-speed gearbox is also obviously tuned by people who love to drive, rather than by computers and for the benefit of laboratory-based efficiency tests.

Reservations? There aren’t many. Ride quality is generally very good, although on rougher surfaces perhaps the faint chassis fidget and road roar that are acceptable in the supercar-quick B3 slightly undermine the diesel’s raison d’être. The nature of its torque-rich powertrain means the D3 is implicitly the more laid-back device, yet you can feel that this chassis tune was developed first and foremost for the 456bhp, 190mph petrol. Sticking with the regular 19in wheels would help in both respects, admittedly.

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On the move, there’s also less that differentiates the D3 S from the M340d xDrive than there is the Alpina B3 from the M340i xDrive, although at around £9000 the premium is also smaller.

Frankly, the comparison is unfair. In terms of driving satisfaction – everything from brake pedal feel, to chassis adjustability, to its composed and reassuring gait – the Alpina skins its only true rival, the Audi, alive.

It remains the class of the sporting diesel field.

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering.