Two visuals regarding our long-term Z4 M Coupe: for older readers, those home-made go-karts made of wood and using baby carriage wheels (usually stolen), where steering was a couple of ropes attached to a two-by-four that had a full turning radius, as it was fixed by a single nail. For the rest, take the new shocks off your GTI and replace with a set of frozen tubes.
To clarify, these scenarios are not to suggest that the M has a problem with its suspension or handling. It does not. With regard to handling, it may rate as one of the best out-of-the-box production cars of this decade. But the ride is incredibly stiff. Only two other cars I've driven compare, a Lotus Seven (Super and various kit forms) and a 1964 Bill Thomas Cheetah. The Z4 M Coupe has one other thing in common with both those rides: the silly grin plastered on your face as you're being delivered the most important factor possible-fun.
My week with the M included a haul up to Laguna Seca. As I was fueling, someone inquired how it was to drive. I joked that BMW had developed a multi-link rear suspension that felt like a live solid axle.
Visually, BMW has pulled off something with the Coupe that's lacking in the Roadster, an emotional catalyst that provokes response. There doesn't seem to be a gray area in regard to aesthetics-you either like it or dismiss it. In an odd way, the coupe has the overall look of an FIA or homologation special, even a drag car-that 'tack on a roof so it meets the rules' appearance. Of course, that's pure nonsense, but when you spend enough time in the M Coupe, a rush of different images present themselves.
The ZF six-speed manual gearbox is a throwback to the days when a performance car had to be really shifted, no waiting for sensors to bleep and upshift for you automatically. There's no hunt and peck, just solid gate placements. It isn't the sub-five-second zero-to-60 times that are important here, but the numbers beyond the legal limit. The ratios help the 3.2-liter six get to the 150-plus mark without much effort. The cabin is tight and you can still hear the stereo if you choose (at any number past century, I shut off the stereo and listen to the mechanical symphony).
However, high-speed cruising is not what the M is all about. On a trip of more than 500 miles in a day, it can be a tiring experience and make you wish for a 3 or 7 Series. The seats, while firm in the best compromise of a street/track application, are difficult to get comfortable in over a long, straight highway haul. And the sport suspension pummels you over every slight bump or crack in the road, as if to punish you for choosing such an incredibly dull and pedestrian route.
I arrived at Laguna Seca trashed and tired. The M demonstrated its distaste for the Interstate by beating me up physically. It became the transportation special for the next four days, shuttling back and forth from Pacific Grove to the track. When it came time to go home, I decided to take the Big Sur coast route and avoid the highway as much as possible. Here it came alive; I got into the flow of what the car is all about and hunkered down for a wild ride. Everything I loathed on the boring drive up became an asset on the drive back. In these days of automotive complacency, the Z4 M Coupe makes no excuse for wanting to be driven on its own terms.
At A Glance
+ Interior trim, good fit and finish, tight body gaps
- Subjective, depending on how far you drive and the route chosen
Total mileage: 7548
Fuel economy: 22 mpg highway average (while lighting up the rear tires in town)