Alpina's XD3 is an SUV for the motoring connoisseur

Born a BMW X3, this heavily tweaked mid-sizer has undertaken quite the journey to get here.

By Ged Bulmer, December 19 2019
Alpina's XD3 is an SUV for the motoring connoisseur

Globalisation can take credit for many positives, from cheaper cars to fridges and flat screen TVs, to name a few. It has also created a few market distortions along the way, such as Aussie supermarkets flogging us fruit from California and the Caribbean, and the Alpina XD3 SUV, which needs its passport stamped on three continents before it can reach an Australian owner.


The Alpina XD3 starts life as a BMW X3 30d – although it’s not built in verdant Munich within sight of the Bavarian Alps, but in the steamy sub-tropical wetlands of Spartanburg, South Carolina.

From Spartanburg, where BMW has been building its X-branded SUVs since 1994, the X3 hops a train to Charleston then sets sail for Europe where it is deposited at Alpina’s Buchloe facility, just down the road from BMW’s global HQ.

Here, engineers and designers working for the “small, autonomous family-owned” business set about transforming X3s into XD3s, before returning them to the BMW global supply chain for shipment around the world. 


But even though the XD3 may not brandish a passport on arrival into Australia to verify its movements, it does have a plaque on its dash verifying its provenance, and that Alpina is a pukka car maker and not some wild hot shop.

According to its corporate charter, Alpina creates “exclusive automobiles for a small circle of connoisseurs,” and is not so much a competitor to BMW as a close cousin, offering a highly individualised product line that complements BMW’s mass-market offerings. 

What this means in the case of the XD3 is styling tweaks and mechanical upgrades to the donor BMW X3 xDrive 30d ($83,900), which bump up not only its power and torque outputs, but also its price to a heftier $109,900 (plus costs, $117,039 as tested). 

The X3’s DOHC, 24-valve twin-turbo diesel is upgraded from a perfectly respectable 190kW/620Nm to a more strident 245kW/700Nm thanks to Alpina’s own twin-turbo setup, a free-breathing stainless steel exhaust, and remapping of the engine control unit. 

In concert with tweaks to the standard eight-speed auto transmission, the XD3 shaves nearly a full second off the X3’s 0-100km/h sprint time, stopping the clock at a brisk 4.9 seconds. 

Effortless and easy

Despite its pace, the XD3 doesn’t come across as a performance model, instead mastering the art of effortless acceleration and ease of driving thanks to its ample torque, all 700Nm of which is available between 1750 and 2500rpm.

It’s only when you select Sport mode and the digital instrument cluster changes from cool-blue to counter-intuitive forest green that the XD3 really gets up on its toes.

Regardless of drive mode, there’s never any doubt that you have plenty under foot, the straight-six engine remaining smooth, energetic and impressively quiet across its range.

What’s not so hushed is the tyre rumble on coarse-chip road surfaces from the staggered-width Pirelli P-Zero tyres, which come wrapped around gorgeous forged 22-inch wheels in Alpina’s distinctive multi-spoke style. The wheels are a $4449 option over and above the standard 20s, with the only other option fitted to our test car a panoramic glass sunroof ($2690). 

The XD3 comes comprehensively equipped anyway, with features including active cruise control, three-zone climate, Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging, heated front seats, DAB+ digital radio, head-up display, LED headlights and a 10.25-inch multi-function touchscreen with navigation. 

Tasteful differentiation

Other tasteful styling enhancements include a custom front spoiler with prominent Alpina script, oversized brake discs with bespoke blue calipers, colour-coded wheel arch flares, and a quartet of elliptical chrome exhaust pipes exiting the custom rear spoiler. 

Inside, the styling tweaks are every bit as subtle, including stitched Lavalina leather on the seats, doors, dash and hand-crafted steering wheel, a revised digital instrument cluster with custom logos and colours, sports seats, and Alpina branded door sill finishers.

Cosseting ride quality is every bit as big a part of Alpina’s USP as its effortlessly torquey engines. Out on the road, the XD3’s main party trick – aside from assertive acceleration – is its impressively refined ride comfort. Quite how the tiny Buchloe outfit can manage this better on those 22-inch wheels than most car makers can on 18s is beyond us, but good on them because the ‘comfort’ and ‘comfort plus’ modes of the XD3’s adaptive dampers are darn near perfect for the daily grind. 

An intriguing offering

For those drivers preferring greater body control for more spirited driving, ‘sport’ mode stiffens things up noticeably, simultaneously sharpening throttle and gearbox responses and allowing the enthusiast to discover a depth of dynamic prowess to match the athletically polished exterior.

This is the second Alpina we’ve driven in short succession after the B5 Touring, and we’re happy to offer two thumbs up to the intriguing Bavarian car maker. The XD3 is like an X3 that’s been sent to a Bavarian finishing school, from where it graduates speaking High German, exhibiting keen dress sense and with a major in track and field. 

Despite it taking the long way to get here, the Alpina XD3 is another great advertisement for globalisation, in our books.

Ged Bulmer

Executive Traveller motoring correspondent Ged Bulmer is one of Australia's most respected motoring experts and a former editor of Wheels, Motor, WhichCar and CarsGuide

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