RE: Alpina D3 | The Brave Pill

RE: Alpina D3 | The Brave Pill

Saturday 17th October

Alpina D3 | The Brave Pill

This week we're pitching a derv ball...



Last week's leggy Porsche 993 received one of the warmest responses of any Pill so far, with much love for its combination of air-cooled awesomeness and an enticing price tag, as well as acknowledgement of the sizeable stones that would be required to take it on and make it great again.

We're taking a bigger risk this week, if only in terms of the likely severity of the critical response. This is a choice that threatens the sort of flaming normally reserved for Burger King's patties. Pill has featured diesels before - in V8, V10 and even V12 flavours - but this is the first time we've expended valuable pixels on a four-cylinder one.

It's not just any old four-cylinder oiler, of course. When the history of the gradual rise (and spectacular fall) of compression ignition engines in passenger cars is written - a book with likely limited mainstream appeal - it seems almost certain that the first Alpina D3 will be remembered as one of the finest examples of the genre. This is a car that didn't so much capture the zeitgeist as lock it in a dungeon and successfully ransom it. The D3 was a smash hit by Alpina's standards.


Diesel sales expanded throughout the 1990s by appealing to the sensible and the miserly, those in search of minimal cost-per-mile transport. But turn of the century saw the arrival of a new type, one aimed at enthusiasts, the so-called performance diesel. And as the Germans did most of the early running when it came to punchier compression ignition powerplants, it soon turned into a bit of a sausage swinging contest of swelling outputs and increasing cylinder counts.

The E46 BMW 330d, launched in 1999, was an early pinnacle. This combined the 181hp M57 six-cylinder engine as seen in the E39 5 Series with the lighter 3 Series to serious effect - a youthful Jenson Button was collared by the French police travelling at 141mph in one on his way to the 2000 Monaco Grand Prix. Button's 5,000-franc fine was a small price to pay for the huge publicity this dramatic proof of the 140mph diesel 3 Series earned BMW. The successor E90 3 Series moved things on even further, slotting the option of a 282hp twin-turbocharged 335d above the 330d.

For tiny Alpina, this escalating arms race posed a serious problem. European buyers were demanding the tuner create a diesel model, but it lacked the engineering resources to extract a meaningful increase in power from the six-cylinder engine. So instead it chose a radically different path, building a less complex and more agile model based on the junior 320d. The base M47 2.0-litre engine was combined with the injectors, turbo and intercooler from the 330d, with a retuned ECU taking peak output to 197hp and 302lb ft of torque.


The D3 was slower than both the six-cylinder 3 Series diesels and its B3 sister, but it was also lighter and more agile. A 0-62mph time of 7.4 seconds was eminently respectable for a diesel at the time, as was a 145mph top speed. The engine was vocal when worked hard, and a bit laggy at lower commitment levels, but enough of Alpina's magical handling fairy dust had been applied to the chassis to mean that mattered little. The D3's suspension was firm without ever being harsh - despite what were then-massive 19-inch wheels - and its steering was incisive and full of feel. Grip was plentiful, and although the balance between axles could be turned amusingly rear-biased, the D3's lack of a limited slip differential prevented tyre-smoking hoonery. Yet despite the agility it was also superb at cruising, feeling planted and unflappable at serious speeds.

It was a combination of virtues that created something close to warfare when Alpina gave a long-term test car to the magazine I worked for at the time. Every Friday afternoon staffers would try to gazump each other with reasons why they should get the D3 for the weekend, even when the car park was full of more exotic machinery. Those without fuel cards fought particularly hard: the Alpina could be beaten like a red-headed mule and still return better than 40mpg.

It was also a bargain, even by the standards of a much cheaper age. When launched the diesel Alpina cost Β£26,995 - Β£500 less than a 320d M Sport, although with considerably less standard kit. It was possible to equip the D3 with pretty much anything from the 3 Series options list, as well as some Alpina goodies, but many early buyers were evidently keener on the driving experience than creature comforts, with some even failing to upgrade the upholstery to leather, or the manual air con to climate control.


Early enthusiasm kept D3 residuals as solid and rock-like as Dwayne Johnson; they only started to slacken when the punchier Bi-Turbo replaced it in early 2009. But buying any D3 secondhand has always been made difficult by the simple fact that owners tend to hold onto them for years, many racking up starship mileages - frequently in excess of the 180,000 odometer reading of our Pill. This car is wearing Alpina's trademark combination of metallic blue and those 'seventies style pinstripes. It has the half leather seats, full climate control and what would have been the extra cost option of rear parking sensors, but it doesn't have cruise control, and in-car entertainment seems to be limited to that provided by BMW's boggo single-CD head unit.

A Β£3,750 asking price makes it one of the year's cheapest Pills, and - as you'd expect - it's not cosmetically perfect. The pictures show scuffs and chips on the front splitter and some minor dings elsewhere. The straight-spoked alloys are in obvious need of a refurbishment - the nearside rear seeming to have lost most of its paint. At least one of the tyres is a Landsail, so not exactly the sort of premium rubber that gives reassurance of unstinting care. The vendor also reports rust on the front offside wing; E90s are generally pretty corrosion resistant, so this isn't a reason to panic about more serious hidden issues. On the plus side, although less powerful the single-turbo D3 doesn't suffer from the infamous chain-snapping issues of the N47 engine that formed the basis for the Bi-Turbo.

This isn't a particularly sensible time to be buying an elderly diesel for more than banger money. Life for those examples incapable of meeting Euro 6 standards is going to get considerably tougher, with a wave of ultra-low emissions zones set to banish them from many urban areas. It likely won't be many years before cars like this are endangered species. But Brave Pill isn't about being sensible, and this D3 is still cheap enough to be used and enjoyed with an eye on a medium-term horizon rather than being treated as a forever car. In terms of sales, the E90 D3 was Alpina's Mont Blanc, and even in its dotage a well-used example remains a compelling alternative to more mainstream alternatives.


See the original advert here




Author
Discussion

Billy_Whizzzz

Original Poster:

1,312 posts

101 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
A relief to see one without that awful central iDrive binnacle. And of course this would be better as a touring. But very hard to see why you wouldn’t get a 330d and put some Alpina wheels on it if that was your thing.

Daninoxon

12 posts

66 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
I had one back in 2009 as a replacement after a string of 330d’s to do 30-40k mile a year in, I fell for the looks and the wheels and perceived fuel economy over the e46 330d. I sold after 20k miles as mine wanted a litre of oil every 1000 miles - got really annoying when the oil light popped up on the dash and you are on the M4 between services. Had it checked out and got the “they all do that” reply, MPG was no better than the 330d, squeaks and rattles, famous swirl flap worries (got mine taken out when I had the egr replaced after it cracked - as all of my seven BMWs have including my last 63 plate 330d), & lack of kit left me feeling that it was an exercise in marketing rather than a serious alternative.

apm142001

139 posts

47 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
Billy_Whizzzz said:
A relief to see one without that awful central iDrive binnacle. And of course this would be better as a touring. But very hard to see why you wouldn’t get a 330d and put some Alpina wheels on it if that was your thing.
^^what he says^^

Can’t see much of a case for this - with a diesel (especially a 4 cylinder) it’s somehow not special enough to be a proper Alpina, so it becomes just a high-miler BMW diesel. At which point why not get a 6 pot one, which by virtue of not being an Alpina will also be better value.

smithers-jones

19 posts

46 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
Having owned a multitude of 4 and 6 cylinder BMW'S and Alpina (currently own a 6pot petrol E91alpina and have owned a 4pot D3biturbo) the question of why no 6 cylinder is part answered in the article. Weight. Those 6 cylinder lumps destroy the E9x handling. The D3 and the far superior D3 biturbo ( by dint of better brakes from 330i/d, better LCI build and a smoother twin turbo lump) handle like go carts....with magical springs and dampers. Compare the ride with standard BMW fayre and you'd get it. My d3biturbo could keep up with far faster in theory BMW's on welsh mountain roads as it could corner where they were being plucked from hedges. My 400hp B3sBiturbo has brutal performance and is massively faster than one of these, but nowhere near the fun on UK roads. (I don't find overpowering a car a turn-on, btw, or bleet on to friends about POWA!!!! as I have got plenty/ too much available and yes, haters, I can drive quickly and slowly in them equally well).

Secondly as to why the D3 and D3biturbo were made. Alpina were financially stricken, and not being VAG, Peugeot, BMW, or that Merc tribe etc they are true independent and need to sell cars to survive and not run on government bailouts, shifty shareholders and similar. The D3 quite simply saved Alpina by shifting these at low profit margins, whilst their other more expensive cars could be developed and sold in mediocre numbers. Checkout the worldwide and UK build numbers on the alpina archive and you'll see what it did for them. And that in turn gave BMW some proper r&d input for the other models you may think so superior: the backbone of many is alpina r&d.

Thirdly: the article mentions a turbo taken from elsewhere in BMW range. It wasn't: it's a hybrid/ mongrel made up of various off shelf and Alpina special parts and a pita to repair if it fails. Beware.

Fourthly: all D3 are manual and standard 320d. All are prone to crank oil leaking into clutches, bearing failures chucking grease into clutches, clutch judder and flywheel cracking. And the brakes from the 320d are marginal at this power output, so pushing too hard is for the foolhardy.

Buy one. Then get it. Superb.

Edited by smithers-jones on Saturday 17th October 07:44

Gareth9702

218 posts

90 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
This looks fine for the price but it lacks any excitement factor. I owned an M120D so have some experience of the diesel. It is a good engine but still a diesel with all that implies for sound and feel.

smithers-jones

19 posts

46 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
Gareth9702 said:
This looks fine for the price but it lacks any excitement factor. I owned an M120D so have some experience of the diesel. It is a good engine but still a diesel with all that implies for sound and feel.
A 120d msport or sport surely? Not in any way an ///M. Just a BMW design exercise with over-hard suspension fitted as standard. Been there too, myself. My son still is. Decent cars. But the Alpina isn't majoring on its engine sound: it's feel is nothing like the standard M47 as it has bigger fuel injection, a proper remap and a bespoke turbo. It majors on point to point ability, comfort, ride and poise. An open minded test drive ( maybe not of this 180k option) would reveal the huge difference in engine flexibility and output. I grant you, the M47 is ' kin gruff, hence i didn't buy one and had a from new D3biturbo with its far superior N47 base lump.

Edited by smithers-jones on Saturday 17th October 07:53

Court_S

3,338 posts

135 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
I used to quite like these, but to be honest I’d rather a 330d now.

When I looked there were loads of poorly spec’d D3’s which was a complete turn off.

s m

19,802 posts

161 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
Court_S said:
I used to quite like these, but to be honest I’d rather a 330d now.

When I looked there were loads of poorly spec’d D3’s which was a complete turn off.
Unless you need the size of the 3-series a 123d and handling kit/wheels/tyres offers same performance for less maybe.
EVO have used them in comparisons with the 350Z and old M3 and rated them as a drivers’ car


DoubleD

14,471 posts

66 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
Ive never liked the aftermarket look of these. The bits just look glued on and the wheels are awful.

Pughmacher

43 posts

1 month

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
smithers-jones said:
Having owned a multitude of 4 and 6 cylinder BMW'S and Alpina (currently own a 6pot petrol E91alpina and have owned a 4pot D3biturbo) the question of why no 6 cylinder is part answered in the article. Weight. Those 6 cylinder lumps destroy the E9x handling. The D3 and the far superior D3 biturbo ( by dint of better brakes from 330i/d, better LCI build and a smoother twin turbo lump) handle like go carts....with magical springs and dampers. Compare the ride with standard BMW fayre and you'd get it. My d3biturbo could keep up with far faster in theory BMW's on welsh mountain roads as it could corner where they were being plucked from hedges. My 400hp B3sBiturbo has brutal performance and is massively faster than one of these, but nowhere near the fun on UK roads. (I don't find overpowering a car a turn-on, btw, or bleet on to friends about POWA!!!! as I have got plenty/ too much available and yes, haters, I can drive quickly and slowly in them equally well).

Secondly as to why the D3 and D3biturbo were made. Alpina were financially stricken, and not being VAG, Peugeot, BMW, or that Merc tribe etc they are true independent and need to sell cars to survive and not run on government bailouts, shifty shareholders and similar. The D3 quite simply saved Alpina by shifting these at low profit margins, whilst their other more expensive cars could be developed and sold in mediocre numbers. Checkout the worldwide and UK build numbers on the alpina archive and you'll see what it did for them. And that in turn gave BMW some proper r&d input for the other models you may think so superior: the backbone of many is alpina r&d.

Thirdly: the article mentions a turbo taken from elsewhere in BMW range. It wasn't: it's a hybrid/ mongrel made up of various off shelf and Alpina special parts and a pita to repair if it fails. Beware.

Fourthly: all D3 are manual and standard 320d. All are prone to crank oil leaking into clutches, bearing failures chucking grease into clutches, clutch judder and flywheel cracking. And the brakes from the 320d are marginal at this power output, so pushing too hard is for the foolhardy.

Buy one. Then get it. Superb.

Edited by smithers-jones on Saturday 17th October 07:44
I had a Le Mans blue e90 320d Msport and the handling was superb! Agree about the weight of a 6 pot derv messing with handling. I also had an e61 530d and you felt the weight of the engine in that; which didn’t help matters when the going got quick but that’s a different car with a more relaxed gait!

Glad you mentioned the hybrid turbo as well as I was sure these didn’t have an off the shelf 330 jobbie. Pretty sure if that was the case it would be incredibly laggy to the point of redundancy.

My brother currently has a 123d coupe and the twin turbo engine is quite honestly amazing for what it is. It sounds like an old 8 valve petrol engine unless it’s being ragged (or the window is down). The torque is impressive in delivery and duration when we have the odd play. I have a (torque light) e46 M3. The 123 is plenty fast for the road.

In an ideal world this car would be the twin turbo model and then you’d buy it and drive it with a huge grin. But this isn’t an ideal world. Still like it though.

unpc

2,207 posts

171 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
I ran one of these for a couple of years when I was doing high miles. Beautifully balanced handling but that's their only redeeming feature.

Engine sounds like a cement mixer, awful gearbox, and hideously unreliable. The combination of diesels and manual gearboxes don't make happy bedfellows.

Avoid

stuckmojo

2,168 posts

146 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
Last year I needed a mile muncher so I bought one for less than £4K - took it to BMW for rust work as it was still within the warranty and had had no accidents and I went from 109,000 to 154,000 miles, then sold it for exactly what I paid for it.

I loved it. Low MPG, handling was superb, and pushed quite well.

only annoyance the lack of cruise control and very basic interior.

I love Alpina and at some point I'll buy a Touring F31D3.

Fantastic cars,

Pughmacher

43 posts

1 month

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
stuckmojo said:
Last year I needed a mile muncher so I bought one for less than £4K - took it to BMW for rust work as it was still within the warranty and had had no accidents and I went from 109,000 to 154,000 miles, then sold it for exactly what I paid for it.

I loved it. Low MPG, handling was superb, and pushed quite well.

only annoyance the lack of cruise control and very basic interior.

I love Alpina and at some point I'll buy a Touring F31D3.

Fantastic cars,
Wouldn’t bother with f31 imho. Had a 320d Msport version. Steering is woolly, brakes are wooden and the throttle does what it likes unless you put it in sport at which point it becomes binary. E90 is the high water mark in my view. Only my view mind! In interest of balance the interior was nice on the f31 (idrive much better quality and integration in the dash) and it had more grunt than the pre lci e90 I had. Both cars were spoiled by run flats so think of changing those. I much preferred the e90.

Billy_Whizzzz

Original Poster:

1,312 posts

101 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
Gareth9702 said:
This looks fine for the price but it lacks any excitement factor. I owned an M120D so have some experience of the diesel. It is a good engine but still a diesel with all that implies for sound and feel.
What’s an ‘M120d’?

Water Fairy

3,305 posts

113 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
Always fancied one of these but everyone I've ever looked at had poverty spec. My current E46 320cd msport is luxurious in comparison.

As said a 330d seems far better value.

skullandbiscuits

48 posts

65 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
I don't understand how a 2 litre diesel can be considered "brave pill"

DoubleD

14,471 posts

66 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
skullandbiscuits said:
I don't understand how a 2 litre diesel can be considered "brave pill"
Its a BMW thats why ha ha

s m

19,802 posts

161 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
skullandbiscuits said:
I don't understand how a 2 litre diesel can be considered "brave pill"
All the brave pill you’ll ever need

MHWM5

18 posts

80 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
Having had 2015 a 320D saloon on a lease followed by a self owned 2011 four pot D3 Bi Turbo Touring. The D3 was far better to drive. Steering, handling and braking were excellent. Now have a 2016 6 pot D3 touring with about 150BHP and 200ftlb more oomph than the four pot. Picks up speed as fast as you want with no drama but does not handle as sweetly even with switchable damping. Alpina certainly know how to fettle a BMW and create a better car. As has been said you need to drive for one for a few hundred miles to really appreciate it.

BigChiefmuffinAgain

370 posts

56 months

Saturday 17th October
quotequote all
I seem to remember that the reason the cars are pretty much all basic spec is that, to keep costs down, they were all pre ordered like that.

If you wanted any options, such as I drive, you had to pay a premium just to be able to change the spec.

This was not the case on the superior Bi turbo which is why these cars come with better, more varied spec. Sadly, they are therefore a lot more expensive.

Covered many miles in a B10 and a B10V8s. The latter in particular was a lovely car.

Alpina bits can be expensive and the wheels are a pain.