More than a decade ago, I gushed like a schoolgirl over the new Z3. It was almost embarrassing. Thoughts of cruising down PCH with the top down and music up took me back to a time when happiness was a rusty 914 and a full tank of gas.
The Z3's 140 hp wasn't going to win many stoplight grand prix but that was OK. It was more than enough for a smart driver to have a great time. I did. The European-bred equivalent to the Mazda Miata bode well for the industry. Plus, the Z3 looked great and was every bit as good as the MX5. Just looking at the car's profile, the pronounced nose and low-slung cockpit, made you realize BMW had big plans for the little Zed.
Within a year the Z3 was powered by BMW's vaunted inline six, the "Damascus steel" of engines. As performance rose, so did everything else, including its price.
That first Z3 felt like such an innocent car. It had an air of gritty adventure you can't buy (probably because you didn't have much money). The Z3 didn't need a lot of extras. In fact, that might have spoiled its roadster purity.
They say you can never really go home. The new Z4 isn't interested in that. It wants you to do a low fly-by at mach 1 and wave at the plebes below. BMW is not given to nostalgia.
Sitting in the new BMW roadster is like the captain's chair in a Citation Jet. And it feels just as fast. With a brilliant twin turbo six under hood it's got forward thrust comparable to a genuine muscle car. Squirting from roundabout to roundabout (Spain is really into roundabouts) was a study in traction management. The car produces 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of twist that equates to a burnout machine of the first order.
Obviously there's more to the car than simply smoking the tires. In an effort to get a cornering pic, I had my driver circle an empty cul-de-sac. I figured the car would get to a point when it would transition from slight understeer to throttle-induced oversteer. It wasn't happening. The Z4 kept going faster and faster, refusing to budge. My poor driver was ready to puke. It looked like one of those Tyco slot cars, the really trick ones with the undertray magnets. We learned that the Z4 has a tenacious grip. Getting this thing to step out is something you would need to do on a racetrack, probably wearing a helmet.
Driving the Z4, you can't help but sense BMW's motorsport DNA. The seven-speed double clutch transmission is something that might have been culled from its race department. Accelerating hard, your body is pushed back into the seat. Pulling toward you induces upshifts. Likewise, aggressive braking pushes the body forward and downshifts are accomplished by pushing forward. Gear changes are instantaneous, punctuated by a BLAAAT between shifts. Hearing that, the auto/manual tranny almost begs to be driven hard. Or not. Simply leaving the gear lever in drive yields a highly intuitive shift program, extremely smooth and fluid. Unlike the previous SMG gearbox, this one is a genuine dual-purpose transmission. It'll play fast or slow or anything in between.
Sporting a near 50/50 weight distribution, the Z4 uses a significant amount of aluminum suspension components including a "double-jointed" front section and constant geometry rear axle. Wearing the optional bigger running gear (8x18 front and 8.5x18 rear with 225/40 and 255/35 performance tires), the Z4 bears more resemblance to the bad boy Z8 than its older sibling. And while the Z8 had something of an unorthodox cabin, the new Z4 is pretty close to perfect, entirely redesigned and hyper-functional. Moreover, BMW's freshly revamped iDrive will make its first roadster appearance. And yes, iDrive is much better now.