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Tom Mallett2012-08-31 14:54:16

The Opinion: Alpina D5 Bi-Turbo - The Right Tool For The Job

Alpina D5 Bi-Turbo - The Right Tool For The Job -

To many, the idea of a 6.15 am flight to Munich followed by an 850 mile trek back to England might not sound like much fun. These reservations might be compounded by the thought of a 2am alarm call and the news that this must be done in one day, specifically the 23rd December. To be honest, I had moments of doubt. 850 miles is a reasonable day’s drive, however, having been awake for 10 hours prior to the journey, it takes on the form of a marathon. To make this journey possible, the car was going to have to be nigh-on perfect.

The raw statistics suggest that the new Alpina D5 Bi-turbo should be the ideal car for the journey. It has 350 bhp and 700 nm of torque, all from an economical 3.0 litre six cylinder diesel engine. More subjectively it has a chassis that is more comfort-oriented than its Bavarian M Product cousin. Mile munching should be something the D5 positively revels in.

The Alpina brand manager, Matt Stripling, gave me a lift to Gatwick airport in his newly liveried Alpina D3 saloon. We made decent time, and a pre-printed boarding pass allowed a swift passage through customs, quick enough for a heart stopping McDonald’s breakfast. Unsurprisingly, the ensuing plane ride was used for a mixture of sleep and digestion.

We had been concerned about the weather in Germany. Quite often, at this time of year, Germany is covered in snow, and the low temperatures make summer rubber virtually useless. So, despite my early start and bleary eyes I was pleased to discover that, a little bit of dampness aside, the ambient temperature was a relatively balmy 10 degrees centigrade and the only signs of possible precipitation being a few rain clouds.

Waiting at Munich International Airport was Oliver Saboy, one of Alpina’s engineers. Oliver grew up in Buchloe and he had great enthusiasm for Alpina, having had two stints with the company. As is often the case in Germany, we made good time on the journey to Buchloe and I was able to have my first peek at the D5.

Most of the factory had shut down for the Christmas period, so we went through to the sales department while Andy Bovensiepen carried out a final sign off drive in our D5. The next couple of hours proved to be not only informative, but also very pleasant. Gunther Schuster, who I have met before, talked me though Alpina’s success in Japan and a few moments were used to bemoan the current economic situation, although Germany seems to be unaffected to the naked eye.

Having approved the D5, Andy took over. An Alpina calendar and their Grosse Weine selection were proffered and it would have seemed churlish to turn the wine down, despite the forthcoming January detox (Alpina is one of Europe’s largest wine importers). Andy couldn’t help but let his enthusiasm for the new car spill over, and took me through the details of the two full days it takes to craft each car; that and his insatiable love of motorsport made the next 45 minutes fly by.

Finally, I got into the driver’s seat. Alpina has always been keen to run cars in, so this journey would be the perfect opportunity to bed in the gearbox and engine. The first 100 miles had already been covered by Andy and his engineers, so some of the work had already been done. I was to cover the next 300 km using the first 2500 rpm and increasing the engines workload slowly after that. However, I was allowed to stretch the powerful diesel’s legs as the trip progressed and take full advantage of Germany’s famous Autobahn network.

After a ride through the town of Buchloe I joined the A96 and made my way towards Memmingham. The engine initially feels very strong, especially linked to BMW’s excellent 8 speed automatic gearbox. The first thing that strikes you on the Autobahn is how small of a handicap the self-imposed 2500 rpm limit is. Maximum torque is produced between 1500 and 3000 rpm, with 2500 rpm in eighth gear translating to 110 mph and an indicated 33 mpg. To my mind, despite sharing the same DNA as the B5, the diesel feels sharper than its heavier brother, the 55kg saving having clear benefits on turn-in.

Another hour in the car saw my hopes of an unblemished run back to England dashed. Approaching Stuttgart the traffic got heavier and progress slowed, clearly this was a worry due to the long distance ahead. It was time to sample some of Germany’s culinary delights, compliments of one of the Autobahn service stations. It seems that Germany isn’t much ahead of England in this department at least, a mere 13 euro for a basic Burger King, a bottle of water and a Red Bull isn’t cheap.

Clearer roads and some decent weather after lunch posed some difficult questions. Is it poor form to overtake a police car, when the police are doing 100 mph? Is it sensible to stop off at Zolder on the way back? And finally, how can all of these German drivers make their 2.0 litre diesels fly along at such a prodigious pace?

The might of German industry is clear to see as we pass Stuttgart and beyond, with disguised Mercedes flying past, even on the day before Christmas. Meanwhile, huge industrial estates replete with ostentatious signage leave little to the imagination when it comes to the driving force behind European recovery.

3 o clock saw my first wrong turn and a glimpse of the Hockenheim Grand Prix circuit, while it would have been nice to explore, the skies were beginning to darken and from the A6 the circuit has none of the mystique of the Nurburgring or Spa. In fact, it looks more like something Hermann Tilke’s younger brother might have fashioned before Grand Prix racing became such a symbol of success and excess in emerging economies.

Koblenz had been dispatched and with 400 miles covered I approached Kerpen, home of Michael Schumacher’s Kart track. Without being unduly careful to save fuel, the advantages of a powerful diesel were evident. I still had over ¼ of a tank of diesel left, but had sacrificed none of the ability to make progress where traffic would allow. Located in another industrial estate, and visible from the Autobahn is the Kart centre. It has both, indoor and outdoor facilities and Schumacher memorabilia everywhere, including scale models of his Grand Prix cars and huge helmets adorning the barrier protected areas of the track.

The next stop was Zolder, a circuit steeped in history, its location also tied in with a fuel stop. Even with a run up to its theoretical top speed, the D5 had done over 500 miles without a fill and returned 34mpg. With the 70 litre tank topped up I ventured into the circuit, there seemed to be plenty of activity, but they allowed this strange Englishman to have a poke around none the less, despite the rain and darkness.

The next 200 miles to Calais passed with little fuss, a bag of Maltesers providing ample sustenance. It was at this point that rain became a major issue and winter tyres might have proved effective. Having said that, the 20 inch wheels and wide tyres still managed to clear enough water for my progress to continue, largely unabated.

Back in England, courtesy of the Channel Tunnel (which is a blessing to anyone in a hurry), I was able to tackle English roads for the first time. After continental driving it is always a shock to have your speed restricted to not only 70 mph, but on many parts of the M25 a derisory 50 mph. However, I at least had the blast cross country from Cambridge to the north Norfolk coast to look forward to.

The last 50 miles proved to be fast and enjoyable. The D5 does not have the same level of focus that BMW’s M division bestow on their cars, but that is what had made it so good for the preceding 800 miles. The D5 responds well to smooth steering inputs and it is best to relish the torque of the engine rather than ringing it out for all it is worth.

It is a testament to the car that I arrived at my destination not only with a smile on my face, but still with enough energy to wish my mother a happy birthday, and in fact, feeling relatively fresh, despite the drinks cans and sweet wrappers strewn around the centre console.

So, was the D5 the right tool for the job? Yes, unequivocally it was.


Other articles from this series:

The Opinion: Toyota GT86 ‘IT’S ALL ABOUT BALANCE’
The Opinion: Porsche Boxster 2.7 ‘It’s hard to fault’
The Opinion: BMW 640d Gran Coupe ‘BMW has missed a trick’

D5 Bi-TurboD5 Bi-Turbo
D5 Bi-TurboD5 Bi-Turbo
Straight 6
183 cu in
Top Speed
171 mph
Maximum power
350 hp @ 4000 rpm
Saloon (sedan)
Fuel consumption (combined)
39.86 US MPG
$ 102.665
* based on Germany prices
annual ownership cost
$ 1.774

1 comment

Nice piece, the Alpina is a very specialist make, but I guess that's the secret, to find a niche and offer something (slightly) different and more exclusive
07.02.2012 @ 12:39


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