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  • 05/05/2015 - 18:00

    Tiff Needell's First Racing Car - Fifth Gear


    Tiff Needell's First Racing Car - Fifth Gear

    45 years ago Lotus launched a competition to win a Lotus 69F, and the winner was none other than Tiff Needell! This helped kick-start his career in motorsport, and after being sold through...
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  • 05/02/2015 - 18:00

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    Fifth Gear: Series 4 - Episode 5

    In Series 4 Episode 5 of Fifth Gear (Air Date 10th November 2003) We test out BMW's X3, the ultimate Mercedes-Benz and Tiff has a go becoming a MotorGP Rider! For more fantastic car reviews,...
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  • 04/30/2015 - 18:00

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    Casino Royale: Behind The Scenes #TBT - Fifth Gear

    It's #ThrowbackThursday! Fifth Gear are given access behind the scenes of the 2006 hit film, Casino Royale. Highlighting how stunt and crashes for the film are created. For more fantastic...
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  • 04/04/2022 - 17:01

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  • 08/02/2015 - 01:01

    Alpina at 50 - how to improve on BMW's finest work

    Alpina's 50th birthday celebration
    Alpina closed its factory for a week to celebrate its 50th birthday.

    For 50 years, Alpina has been making good BMWs even better, and it isn’t about to rest on its laurels
    Even for a company that has a history of doing things a little differently, Alpina’s recent 50th birthday celebrations were a bit out of the ordinary.The specialist manufacturer closed its factory in Buchloe, Bavaria, for a full week. Around 400 guests turned up every night for a string of lavish dinners, and the plant gates were thrown open on a Sunday afternoon for anyone to have a look at the facility and the 20 or so classic models dotted around the place.It was a confident statement from a family firm that is in a good place. In 2014 Alpina’s 220 staff enjoyed the firm’s strongest sales year yet, with more than 1700 cars delivered globally – and although the volumes are expected to shrink a little this year (a result of the 3 Series being facelifted and the 7 Series being replaced), the company’s turnover should rise again.The close relationship with BMW – still unique in the car industry – is as strong as ever. Started when Burkard Bovensiepen developed a twin-carburettor kit for his BMW 1500, the partnership now operates on a rolling five-year deal and includes assembly on BMW’s own production lines and its dealers honouring Alpina’s warranty.It’s a business arrangement – Alpina is charged a storage fee for any parts batches that turn up outside of BMW’s ‘just in time’ production process – but it’s very strong. BMW feeds Alpina’s engineers CAD data on upcoming models more than four years before they start production, after all.And yet for all this stability, there is a feeling of transition at the company. Bovensiepen is a sprightly 79-year-old who still lives in a house on the factory site (the hot gas from one of the engine dynos heats his pool). He splits his time between maintaining what he calls the “fundamental 
basis of trust” between Alpina and BMW and finding new product for his fine wine business.But he has recognised that a longer-term management plan is required, so his sons Andreas (Andy) and Florian now have senior roles. Crucially, they have a majority vote between them, with the potential to overrule their father if they see fit.It has been used a few times already, too – most notably with the XD3, Alpina’s first SUV, which went on sale last year, much to the annoyance of the company founder. “To start with, my father wanted nothing to do with the project,” says Andy with a wry grin. “He doesn’t like dirty cars, let alone the idea of an SUV. Then he said he would try it after all. Now all he’ll say is that it’s better than he’d expected…”The car has been a sales hit for Alpina. Production figures were hampered by a shortage of capacity in Bavaria – not to mention the extra logistics involved in producing the car on BMW’s line in North Carolina – but they’d have sold more if they could have made them.The next major step will be an entry to the Chinese market, due next year – although if major manufacturers find it difficult to set up operations in the region, you can imagine what it’s like for Alpina. “Our biggest challenges are the 
taxes on engine sizes and what we do with local production,” says Andy. “We’ll probably do a different version of our B7 (7 Series) for China, so while European and American cars will be 4.4 litres, we’ll do a 4.0-litre Chinese edition to help with the taxation.”That principle could extend to a straight six version of the 5 Series-based B5, although the complex Chinese business regulations hurt the bottom line. “The rules say that if we build that car in China, we’d have to share the profits not only with BMW but also with Brilliance [BMW’s local partner],” Andy sighs. “It’s hard enough to make a profit as it is, without dividing it up further.”That focus on the bottom line comes across frequently, in fact. Alpina invests about €10 million (£7.1m) in each new model line, through powertrain development, chassis tuning, aerodynamic research and marketing. So it needs to extract the maximum from every commitment it makes. Indeed, Andy suggests that one of the UK’s most popular Alpinas in recent years, the four-cylinder diesel D3, contributed far more to the sales volumes than it did to the coffers.“There was an opportunity for us to do the four-cylinder diesel with the E90 [previous] 3 Series,” he says, “and we did a single-turbo and then a twin-turbo version. But now with F30/F31 [current 3 Series], BMW is using a hot four-cylinder turbodiesel itself – and while we could take that and have up to 250bhp, it would be expensive to produce and then to sell."To be honest, that was the problem with the four-cylinder before. We tried to do something on price and we know it was popular in the UK, but with the strength of the pound it was hard to make any money on it.“We’ve looked since then at a new cheaper model, but our customers are quite clear on what they want. They don’t want front-wheel drive. They don’t want an Alpina version of the Active Tourer. Those things just aren’t going to happen. There is some interest in the existing 2 Series, but only in the coupé – and that makes it hard to justify for us.”The focus, then, will continue to be on higher-end models. And although the patriarch may not like it, they 
will probably include more SUVs. 
“I think it’s likely,” says Andy. “If that’s where the market is going, then we have to look there. We haven’t decided whether to go for the X4 or something larger, though.”Expansion will require greater capacity, and a spare patch of land at Buchloe has already been earmarked as a potential new manufacturing site. The thing is, though, every Alpina still comes with a dash-mounted plaque proclaiming that the firm specialises in “production of exclusive automobiles”. So at what point does it stop being exclusive?“We have more head room yet,” says Andy. “Rolls-Royce made more than 4000 cars last year, so we joke that we’re more than twice as exclusive as them. But I think that we could make 2000 or even 2500 cars per year and still our customers would consider us exclusive, as long as we keep giving them a different sort of car and experience.”Six of the best classic Alpinas1 - 3.0CSL Alpina, introduced in 1972, 1265 madeAlpina led the development of this famous homologation special at BMW’s request — and built 13 examples in its own specification.2 - B7S Turbo Coupé, introduced in 1982, 30 madeImagine a 635 CSi but with a turbocharged straight six and up to 326bhp, depending on how you twiddled the boost knob between the front seats.3 - B6 3.5 S, introduced 1987, 61 madeThis astronomically expensive two-door had a V12 engine with 410bhp and with a manual gearbox.4 - B12 5.7 Coupé, introduced 1992, 57 madeThis astronomically expensive two-door had a V12 engine with 410bhp and with a manual gearbox.5 - Roadster V8, introduced 2002, 555 madeAlpina sold more than 10% of BMW’s entire production run of the Z8 — and gave itself a great start in the US market as a result.6 - B10 V8s Touring, introduced 2002, 43 madeOne of the classic BMW shapes, enhanced by Alpina’s classic alloy wheels and an uprated V8 with 370bhp.Read more:Celebrating 50 years of AlpinaGet the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below:

  • 08/01/2015 - 01:01

    Jaguar XE S versus BMW 3 Series 340i Sport - comparison

    The Jaguar XE is only weeks old but already faces fresher competition from a facelifted BMW 3 Series. We line up six-cylinder petrol versions and choose a winner
    The A95 runs south from Munich for about 10 miles before it becomes derestricted. It isn’t one of Germany’s grandest or busiest autobahns – not at mid-morning on a weekday, at any rate, because it arrows straight into the foothills of the Austrian Alps – and southern Germany heads there mostly at the weekends.So for the rest of the week outside of rush hour, the A95’s two lanes are pleasingly light on traffic and ideal for gathering your first impressions of a brand-new German sports saloon such as the near-£40k, 322bhp BMW 340i.Cars like this quickly find their niche on the autobahn. Powerplants that might otherwise seem profligate can suddenly bring their talents to bear. Rolling chassis and steering systems tuned to reassure with their high-speed stability and unwavering body control make short work of going fast.And partly because Germany’s roads are so good, but at least equally because its cars are so well suited to them, you wonder for a little while why any other civilised country in the world should need such an antiquated, anti-libertarian thing as a national speed limit.So it is with the 340i, right down to an unexpectedly detailed level. The fact is that you needn’t even have noticed the all-important road sign with which Germany marks the beginning of a derestricted stretch of motorway when driving this car. Just flick your gaze down to the 3 Series’ head-up display, where its speed limit recognition system conveniently repeats the last posted limit you passed. If it’s a white circle with a black diagonal bar running through it, you’re cleared for Mach 2. Easy-peasy, pedal-squeezy.Read the full Jaguar XE reviewBut hang on. The new 3 Series isn’t alone in its ability to gel perfectly with the roads and surroundings where it was born and bred. On the narrower, curvier, more undulating A-roads and B-roads of the English Midlands, a near-£45k, 335bhp Jaguar XE S can do it, too, albeit in 
a very different way: with greater directional agility and poise, tuned to come to the fore at a slower but no less demanding ground-covering stride, in among hedges that are closer and higher, corners that are tighter, and with your line of sight rarely as clear as on Germany’s multi-laners.New cars, like people, are at least in part a product of their environment. It’s inevitable. But what happens when you put such differently influenced products together? Which one asserts itself? To butcher Jack Nicholson’s Boston-drawled opening line from The Departed: which can make that new adversarial environment a product of it?Well, first you’ve got to do it. And if you want the latest 3 Series, you have to go a fairly long way to do it, because the BMW has only just been launched to the international press in Munich.So you bundle a willing volunteer into Jaguar’s equally new XE and send him off towards the Channel Tunnel while you get on a plane. You aim for neutral ground: in this test’s case, an idyllic stretch of mountain road called the Namlos Pass, not far over the Austrian border.And when you get there, you prepare for the start of an automotive rivalry that could run and run – the most telling gauge yet of whether Gaydon has got it right with its most important new saloon car in decades.Stand by, then, for England versus Germany; new pretender versus old master; £2 billion of recent investment versus 40 years of experience in making what has consistently been the best compact executive saloon in the world.BMW's fightbackYou’re probably reading this twin test in advance of any first drive impressions about the 340i. There has been very little written about BMW’s facelifted 3 Series so far compared with the reams and reams we’ve published on the XE. So let’s redress that a bit.After three years at the top of our road test rankings, Munich’s fleet-market standard-bearer has only very recently been deposed from Autocar’s number one spot. However, the facelifted 3 Series has several new engines and new gearboxes, significantly overhauled suspension and a richer interior, as well as a few exterior styling tweaks and specification improvements.Among the biggest and best news is that, at the base of the range, BMW’s excellent 134bhp 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol engine has been adopted by the new 318i, giving the market an affordable 
low-CO2 petrol derivative with, at least in principle, an added dose of driver appeal.Higher up the pyramid, the all-important 320d gets the power hike (to 188bhp) that its various sibling models have been showing these past 12 months, and the four-cylinder turbo petrol 328i is replaced by a new four-cylinder 248bhp 330i. Except for some new transmission features, the 330d and 335d headline turbodiesel models carry on largely unchanged in terms of powertrain.The flagship petrol model (leaving the M3 to one side) is now this even more indiscreetly monikered 340i. It’s the first BMW to use the firm’s latest twin-scroll turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six and it enjoys output improvements of 20bhp 
(to 322bhp) and 37lb ft over the outgoing 335i.That seems to put it at a slight disadvantage to the XE S, whose F-Type-hailing 3.0-litre supercharged V6 produces 335bhp. But let’s not fail to take torque into account – specifically, the spread of it. Both cars make a peak 332lb ft, but you’ll need 4500rpm on the rev counter in the Jaguar to conjure it up. In the BMW, you get it from an unbelievably low 1380rpm.Read the full BMW 3 Series reviewBMW has also done pretty much all it can, without making heinously expensive changes to the 3 Series’ body-in-white, to update the car’s suspension and refine its ride and handling. The suspension is now mounted to the body in five places, up from three, making it more rigid, more robust and better at supporting the car’s weight.This has allowed BMW to apply stiffer springing to the car, it claims, without damaging comfort and refinement. It has had to strengthen the suspension arms to do that, of course – all of which is mass that needs controlling. So new twin-tube dampers are fitted as standard, with computer-controlled adaptive dampin g remaining an option. Active-ratio Variable Sport Steering is also an option. Our 340i had both options fitted.In some ways, the XE S matches the BMW’s specification. In others, it’s engineered to better it. Get past the lightweight aluminium body and you’ll find an all-independent suspension set-up with adaptive dampers as standard (an option on the 340i), an eight-speed automatic gearbox (also a cost option for the BMW) and a torque vectoring system.But Jaguar claims that the combination of double-wishbone front and integral-link rear suspension offers superior wheel location and camber control to the BMW’s, as well as better grip and 
ride tuning. We’ll see how apparent those claimed advantages are.The cars are within 50kg of each other on overall kerb weight, and an identical 5.1sec sprint from 0-62mph is claimed for both. Show us your musclesThere are plenty of places to stretch the legs of cars like these on the two-hour run between Munich and the Austrian border. Plenty of occasions to use every bit of available muscle and operating rev range, and plenty of times when you’ll be rewarded for sticking with the time-honoured mechanical template for a sports saloon: a six-cylinder petrol engine and an adaptable, quick-witted automatic gearbox.In most meaningful ways, the 340i’s engine and gearbox are better than the XE S’s. The Jaguar’s engine is no liability, mind you – and in some less crucial ways it has the edge.The pair’s gearboxes are the same: ZF’s eight-speed torque converter auto, somewhat differently tuned, no doubt. Both shift ratios smartly in manual mode and intelligently in ‘D’. Both allow you to drop two or even three gears in one change.But the BMW’s straight six is that much more muscular in the lower half of the rev range and still the more forceful of the two above 5000rpm that you can’t deny it an early lead in this contest. Having all that torque from below 1500rpm – which is, in effect, from zip in real-world use – makes the car feel significantly quicker than the XE S in any given set of circumstances.The 340i’s engine is probably the car’s outstanding selling point. It’s elastic, smooth and free-revving – all the things that great BMW sixes have traded on for decades. It’s frugal, too. Modern turbocharging technology is now much more economical than supercharging, and the difference between the cars on that score is plain. The 340i will return indicated fuel economy in the high 30s to the gallon all day long, whereas the XE S struggles to top 30mpg – even when you’re stroking it along conservatively.But the Jaguar’s V6 has more rousing tonality. There’s slightly less outright performance, yes, but still plenty in isolation. With its low-level supercharger whine and building power delivery, the XE S’s motor growls and warbles and worms its way under your skin. After a day or so at the wheel, you’d forgive it the rather un-21st-century fuel economy, because it’s got soul. The 340i’s demands huge respect, but it could do with a bit more intangible allure.Next: the mountain passSo far, so evident the difficulty of the task before Jaguar’s executive debutant. But everything we’ve covered thus far can be established long before you run out of continent-crossing main arterial roads on your way south through the Oberbayern district and begin to climb up onto 
a more testing, higher-altitude 
stage.To learn more, you need corners: second-gear hairpins, 
fiddly cambered sequences of 
twists and faster, open, sweeping 
bends with crests and bumps and changing gradients all thrown in. The Namlos Pass has them all.And here, over a few hours, you realise that what you imagined would be a close-run contest between two of the best-handling four-doors of the moment isn’t quite so close at all. One of these cars has perfect cornering balance, a nuanced and fluent ride and beautifully consistent steering. It has sporting poise baked into its every move. The other car feels heavy on its front wheels, reluctant to turn in, difficult to guide down the road as precisely as you’d like and, although very stable, peculiarly straight-laced.Our ‘other one’ is the BMW, which, by this tester’s estimation and albeit on the evidence of this first test only, has some improving to do before it’s even at the dynamic level of its predecessor, never mind back at the top of the class.Before we get stuck in, there’s a certain amount of couching that must go on here, and it’ll prevent us from being too critical of the new 
3 Series at this early stage. We know, for example, that the bigger-engined, bigger-wheeled examples of the BMW have historically handled a bit less sweetly than their lighter-nosed, skinnier-wheeled siblings.We also know that modern BMWs are notoriously sensitive to the wrong optional specification. The 340i about which you’re reading has a Variable Sports Steering system that we’d have warned against fitting to the previous 3 Series. We are duty-bound to do the same again now, but it should come as no surprise.It’s also true that our 340i test car was lent to us in lower-level Sport trim. UK-market 340is will all be 
M Sport trim with different wheels and tyres, although they’ll get the same chassis tune if you opt for adaptive damping.Still, all this really proves is that road testing can be a tricky old game and that all you can do is compare the cars at your disposal – as they are, not as you’d like them to be. Doing that unquestionably casts the BMW in 
an unflattering light.The 340i’s biggest and most recurrent problem is that steering. Like all ‘active’ variable-ratio systems, the BMW’s is designed to make the car feel more wieldy at lower speeds by making the steering gear more direct, only to do the opposite at higher speeds to the benefit of directional stability.As evidenced earlier, it seems to work okay on the autobahn. But using such a system to tackle a mountain pass, corner by corner, is a bit like trying to hammer a nail home into a delicate setting – but blindfolded and, between every stroke, swapping 
your hammer for a new one of unknown size and weight. Steering wheels are just levers. With this one, you’re never quite sure how much leverage you’re going to get.And that’s not the 340i’s only dynamic flaw. Contact-patch feedback is also too often sacrificed at the front wheels in a grab for extra directness and a flurry of additional power assistance. (That’ll be the steering again.) But just as you’ve little sense of what the front wheels are doing, BMW’s adaptive dampers also give you very little progressive feel for grip levels at the driven axle.Grip isn’t as well balanced in the 340i as it might be anyway, with the handling more biased towards understeer than we’ve come to expect from BMW. But working out at what point grip will run out at the rear wheels, and what happens next, is nowhere near as involving or as benign a process as it should be.The Jaguar could hardly provide a starker contrast. From the outset, it’s not immediately obvious which is the car’s biggest dynamic achievement. 
It could be its dexterous, silken-
edged ride on 20in rims, which is brilliant. Equally, it could be the perfect marriage of rate of roll, as defined by the springing, to rate of yaw ascribed by its meaty, consistent steering, which is even better.Or maybe it’s the uncommon purity of balance you get from those expertly judged grip levels, and the totally immersive adjustability of cornering line that results when you begin switching out the stability control in stages. Even now, I can’t decide. All have been engineered in at apparent painstaking effort, rather than commanded by customer feedback or marketing edict. All are the motive hallmarks of something truly outstanding.And the winner is…Well, well. You wouldn’t have bet on it, but the opening salvo has gone the XE’s way. You can argue that this isn’t the verdict that matters – that only at a later date, when a four-cylinder diesel facelifted 3 Series arrives on UK shores this autumn and squares up to its opposite number from Jaguar, will the real boss of the compact exec market become known.Rest assured, that contest is coming. But for this tester, the XE won’t be starting it as an outside bet. Not any more. The Jaguar hasn’t just shaded this test; as a driver’s car, the XE S has put clear air between itself and a car that many – me included – imagined would present an insurmountable challenge.And that’s not all it has done. Yet again, the XE has underlined its completeness. The 3 Series has a roomier cabin and boot, sure, but getting the cars together only proves how marginal the differences are. The 3 Series’ cabin quality probably beats the XE’s narrowly, but the Jaguar’s cockpit is the richer and more luxurious. The Jaguar is the car you’d rather spend time in, as well as the car you’d enjoy your time in more.So it’s credible, soulful, usable, great looking – and dynamically superior. The XE has arrived. And what an entrance it’s making.Read Autocar's previous comparison - Mercedes-AMG C63 versus BMW M3 and Vauxhall VXR8 GTSJaguar XE SPrice £44,865; Engine V6, 2995cc, supercharged, petrol; Power 335bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 332b ft at 4500rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1665kg; 0-62mph 5.1sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 34.9mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 194g/km/33%BMW 340i Sport automaticPrice £39,505; Engine 6 cyls in line, 2998cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 322bhp at 5500-6500rpm; Torque 332b ft at 1380-5000rpm; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1615kg; 0-62mph 5.1sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 41.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 159g/km, 26%Get the latest car news, reviews and galleries from Autocar direct to your inbox every week. Enter your email address below:

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