Neat and pleasant BMW SUV impressively enhanced with all the usual stuff from the Alpina toolkit. Pricey, mind

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It’s not often that Porsche does favours for its German car-making rivals, but in the case of the Alpina XD3 compact SUV the famous sports car maker seems to have done just that.

By withdrawing its Macan diesel from sale, Porsche has left the field open for Alpina, builder of 'optimised' performance versions of BMWs since 1962, to claim that it builds the market’s fastest diesel SUV available. For a base price of £57,900 — or £70,135 with options (wheels, paint, glass sunroof, big brakes) in the case of our test car — you get a compact yet spacious version of BMW’s BMW X3 that can run a 0-62mph sprint in just 4.9 seconds, and run onwards to the usual governed top speed of 155mph in very short order.

The just-sub-supercar poke is well supported by stable chassis that keeps the car well and truly planted over typically lumpy British road surfaces

The XD3 recipe is classic Alpina. A very recognisable BMW X3 gets a special bumper-spoiler at the front, a unique rear valence incorporating quad exhausts that look very businesslike. Alpina’s usual stripery adorns the flanks of what is already a much more handsome SUV than the previous model, Alpina badges join the BMW identification front and rear, and the whole thing rolls on a set of 22in wheels and ultra-low-profile tyres.

Actually, the standard wheels are 20s, but given that radical wheels and tyres are very much an Alpina trademark, which owners wouldn’t pay the extra £1820 and opt for the Alpina Classic 22s? Especially when they’re wearing special Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, 255/35s in front and 295/30s at the rear. Differently sized tyres front to rear is another part of the Alpina culture: they make a great play of building cars that handle neutrally on the limit.

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How does the Alpina XD3 stand out inside the cabin?

In the leather-lined cabin you’ll find Alpina-badged sports seats plus Alpina logos on the sill-plates, fascia and steering wheel, plus enough variation in things like trim colours and seat piping to convince you that you’re in something more bespoke than a mere well-equipped BMW. Alpinas’s brochure calls all this “discreet hints to the XD3 Biturbo’s provenance" – something akin to being discreetly hit over the head.

Still, it’s very comfortable, feels special, and from the driver’s seat the XD3 has the pleasant feeling of roominess on the inside and reasonable compactness on the road. It also shares the standard BMW X3’s advantage of having a particularly fine view over the bonnet, an interesting collection of planes and bumps that also helpfully defines the extremities of the car in tight going.

Dynamically speaking, Alpina has done its usual, taking BMW’s 3.0-litre aluminium in-line twin-turbo six and 'optimising' its induction system and cooling system, among other aspects, to conform to their time-honoured recipe of providing an especially wide power spread. Maximum power of 328bhp is supported by 516lb ft of torque, delivered between 1750 and 2500rpm, and the CO2 output is impressively low for such a powerhouse at 174g/km.

Put that lot through a ZF eight-speed automatic, support it with a Drive Performance Control that in its Sport setting electronically increases damper control and sharpens throttle response, bung it all through BMW’s intelligent all-wheel drive and you have a machine that can cope anywhere.

How does the Alpina XD3 perform on British roads?

It all comes together on the road. Despite a slightly ponderous throttle at low speeds the car feels extremely quick when it gets going. Passing slow traffic is simple, and the car feels quite compact when you’re doing it, a virtue that works well with the good visibility. The just-sub-supercar poke is well supported by stable chassis that keeps the car well and truly planted over typically lumpy British road surfaces, and controls roll in corners taken hard. There’s some trade-off over in comfort over ripples and ruts, but not much. This is one of those cars that feels more natural and more composed when driven in Sport all the time.

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With this much high quality rubber on the road, and thus grip, it’s difficult to get close to the limit away from the track, but for road use the Alpina engineers’ promise of neutral cornering seems to be well and truly delivered. The steering feels perfectly weighted – not too light – and has enough accuracy for the car to be placed easily and neatly in tight going.

In all, Alpina’s XD3 feels sufficiently unique to claim the separate place in the car market claimed by its creators. It is very obviously an enhanced BMW, but the special focus is there from the first mile.

Those who must have an SUV for family or load reasons will find they need give away little in road ability to the best sports saloons. Which is Alpina’s whole point.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - BMW X3

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.