What Car? says...
The term ‘modified car’ tends to conjure up images of teenage boy racers in souped-up hatchbacks stuffed with speakers, but Alpina’s efforts are altogether more sophisticated.
For more than 40 years, this Bavarian company has been customising BMWs with the aim of making them both faster and more luxurious. And while Alpina is independently owned, its efforts are not just tolerated by BMW but encouraged and supported.
It probably helps that Alpinas tend to be quite different in character to BMW’s own M performance models, delivering a more relaxed, less track-focused performance car experience.
Take this D5 S. It’s based on the BMW 5 Series and powered by a twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six that produces 322bhp and gets the car from 0-62mph in just 4.9sec. However, it’s also a diesel, so has a potential range of almost 700 miles between fuel stops.
Alpina has gone to the trouble of creating bespoke suspension components, too, in an effort to maximise comfort and agility. And while the D5 S features 20in alloy wheels, body decals and spoilers, it looks nowhere near as aggressive as the latest M5.
So has Alpina built a better 5 Series than BMW itself? And is the D5 S worth its hefty price tag? That’s what we’ll be exploring in this review.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
In addition to being able to blast to 62mph in less than five seconds, the D5 S can reach a top speed of 171mph. But, as impressive as these numbers are, it’s actually the 516lb ft of torque that’s most significant.
Put your foot down and the D5 S not only pulls hard from low revs but continues to pile on speed thereafter. Indeed, the engine’s muscle, allied to the speed with which the eight-speed automatic gearbox picks off gears, means there's basically a never-ending wave of performance.
There’s no shortage of traction, either, thanks to standard four-wheel drive. So the only real problem is that BMW’s own 530d xDrive model is pretty rapid in its own right and undercuts the D5 S by more than £10,000.
Take one look at the huge wheels that the D5 S rides on – not to mention the thin smears of rubber that pass for tyres – and you could be forgiven for thinking that the ride would be pretty hardcore. However, in reality, it’s as forgiving when the car is in Comfort or Comfort+ mode as a regular 5 Series is.
Switching to Sport mode tightens things up without turning the D5 S into a boneshaker, but Sport+ is best avoided because it gives you steering so heavy that it’s actually quite hard to place the car with precision.
Little wind noise enters the D5 S, even at very high speeds, while the engine has a pleasingly bassy tone under acceleration and is impressively smooth at all times. Unfortunately, it’s not all good news when it comes to refinement because there’s quite a lot of road noise.
The interior layout, fit and finish
When a donor 5 Series arrives at Alpina, much of the inside is covered with high-quality leather to build on what is already a five-star interior.
All of the materials look and feel expensive, and you get BMW’s iDrive infotainment system, which combines a 10.2in touchscreen with a rotary controller and shortcut buttons to make it easy to operate the car’s numerous functions.
In a neat twist, Alpina has incorporated its trademark blue speedo and rev counter into the digital instruments of the regular 5 Series while retaining all of their functionality.
However, it’s irritating that manual gearshifts are made by pressing buttons on the back of the steering wheel, because this arrangement is fiddly and unintuitive compared with the paddles most manufacturers – including BMW – favour.
All-round visibility is good, and while the D5 S is a big car, front and rear parking sensors help when manoeuvring in tight spaces. A bird’s-eye-view camera is only an option, though.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
While Alpina has made the 5 Series faster and more luxurious, it has little nothing to improve practicality. But this isn't really a problem because there was already loads of space for four, along with plenty of cubbies for odds and ends.
True, life isn’t so comfortable if you try to squeeze in a fifth person due to the large lump in the floor that the central rear passenger has to straddle. However, the same criticism could be levelled at all of the D5 S’s rivals.
As for the boot, it’s not a particularly square shape, but it’s so big that you can still fit a couple of large suitcases and several smaller bags without any trouble.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
There’s no getting away from it; the D5 S is a very expensive car to buy. And while its official fuel economy of 46.3mpg puts petrol sports saloons to shame, it looks less impressive next to the 53.3mpg of BMW’s 530d.
You do at least get a lot of equipment as standard, including satellite navigation, a DAB radio, cruise control and heated front seats. But then all of this is also included in a regular 5 Series.
Due to the small number of cars Alpina sells, it's hard to predict how well the D5 S will hold its value, although its rarity should help. And Alpina's three-year, 125,000-mile warranty is actually better than the 60,000 miles of cover that BMW offers.
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