Testing gives us an opportunity to here the Batmobile-like cars in action
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Why’s that middle-manager stuck silly wheels on his 520d? Sure, to the untrained, disinterested eye, this is a workaday BMW 5 Series with some go-faster stripes and a chin spoiler. But to those in the know, who take the time to look for the subtleties, this is something a bit special. Not merely another tuner car. It is, of course, an Alpina. Masters of the fast diesel, purveyors of cooler, stealthier and rarer performance BMWs than the M Division and perennial TG favourite – Alpina’s ostensibly minor tweaks add comfort, refinement and speed to BMW’s best barges. What’s it packing? The D5 S has the same twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six as the 530d on which it’s based, but with 322bhp to the standard car’s 260bhp, and 516lb ft to its 457. Which is great, because it’s a bloody good engine. Economical, refined – even sounds decent. And it means this near 1.9-tonne car will hit 62mph from a standstill in 4.9 seconds, and run on to a derestricted 171mph top speed. Power is sent to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. It feels fast – sure – but so does a 530d. They deliver their performance in that typical big diesel style, all brawn and surge. No point in running it all the way out to 5,000rpm because that’s not where the power is, but it will do so happily if you ask it to. Best leave it in Comfort (or better yet, Comfort PLUS), auto and ride the wave of torque. Just be careful – the D5 S is obviously a car designed to cruise quietly and comfortably at speeds that far exceed what’s legal, sensible or indeed possible in Britain. So, watch yourself. So it’s a good cruiser. What about handling? This is not an all mouth and no trousers-type upgrade. The suspension has been tweaked – special wishbones give a degree of negative camber for better turn in – the power steering, gearbox, adaptive dampers and all-wheel drive system are all running special Alpina software, there are bigger brakes borrowed from the 200mph+ B5 and bespoke Pirelli tyres. Our test car, which was specified to a startling £86,000 (£62,000 base, £10k more than a AWD 530d M Sport), was fitted with something called the Alpina Sport Plus Suspension Pack, which bundles rear-wheel steering and active roll stabilisation together as one. The classically-styled 20-spoke, 20-inch alloy wheels are forged this time around, giving a 25 per cent weight saving over cast aluminium wheels of the same size. And so, this is a 1.9-tonne barge that handles with more verve than you might expect, than it really needs to. The D5 still drives like a 5 Series, but Alpina’s tweaks have amplified its best attributes and give a real duality of character. In Comfort or Comfort Plus the D5 is as plush as they come – Alpina is among the very best at tuning suspension to work with big wheels – yet in Sport or Sport Plus body control is tight and purposeful. It really does ride and control its not insubstantial bulk exceptionally well. Shame the steering isn’t a few per cent more communicative. But hey, you can’t have it all. The eight-speed auto is a masterstroke too. We can think of several manufacturers whose engineers ought to drive one of these – just to see how the gearbox behaves. Not too keen to change up into an unnecessarily high gear, nor too keen to kick-down when you want to pile on a bit of speed. Responsive in manual mode too, although we’d prefer it if Alpina had left the conventional paddles in place behind the wheel, and not swapped them out for the little buttons it insists on fitting. Sounds awesome. Oh it is. And don’t forget the interior and exterior have been given the Alpina treatment too – inside there’s special leather, trim, stitching and so-on, whereas outside there are the wheels, decals and subtle skirts and spoiler. The front seats are some of the most comfortable offered on any car, the leather soft and the optional B&W stereo superb. As a place to while away the hours, it really takes some beating. And then there’s the exclusivity – it’s entirely possibly you’ll be able to count every D5 Alpina sells in Britain this year on two hands. Should I buy one? Perhaps. A regular 530d might not be quite as special, but it gets 90 per cent of the way there on basically every front. Driving the D5 S – enjoyable as it is – is not a radically different experience. If the exclusivity, cool-factor and power/handling tweaks are worth £10k to you then by all means go for it. We would, if we had the money. But don’t feel like you’re missing out if reality prevails.