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.
Although I tend to favor the design of outgoing BMWs, the new Z4 is hands down a more handsome car. The bodylines have been redrawn to "point" to an imaginary spot up the road. Though there is still a bit of former BMW designer Chris Bangle, the edges have been softened and every bit of sheet metal is new. The car now looks properly muscled, ripped even.
BMW repeatedly stated that the new Z4 was bigger than its predecessors. Apparently someone felt the Z4 was too tight for some drivers. At six feet tall, I never had a problem fitting into our Z4 nor did I feel cramped. The only special concern would be the trunk as the retractable top lives there. Top down, there's enough room for a full-size golf bag or a medium-size suitcase.
The Z4 will come to North America in two flavors. The base model will include the normally aspirated 3.0-liter engine while the premium version will have the 3.0 twin turbo. As of May 9, all Z4s will include a retractable hardtop, so say goodbye to the proper coupes (for now anyway). I have mixed feelings as the previous Z4 coupe was a great chassis. Losing its roof would certainly compromise integrity. Or maybe not. As we drove the new Z4 over a curb the opposing wheels were dangling midair. The doors opened and shut without issue and the top functioned perfectly. According to BMW chassis engineers, this type of rigidity is mandatory, a German law even. The retractable top plays little if any part in overall rigidity. In any case, the top will raise or lower itself in 20 seconds and do so at speeds up to 30 mph. Good to know if there's a sudden squall.
The Z4 sports BMW's latest version of dynamic stability control featuring normal, sport and sport+ settings. DSC now adjusts additional parameters including throttle sensitivity, steering and transmission shift points. And cars equipped with the optional Adaptive M Suspension will find modified maps for the electronically regulated dampers.
Scrolling through the three settings yields instantaneous results. One moment the Z4 feels like Luke Skywalker's land speeder, the next a track-ready pod racer.
Most likely the Z4 will be on sale just as this magazine hits the stands. Prices for the Z4 30i will start at $46,575 while the turbo 35i starts at $52,475.
The Z4's genesis from simple roadster to elegant sports car is complete. And as much as I may whine for "the good old days", the new roadster obliterates any desire to go back there. Right now is better than ever.
2010 BMW Z4 35i
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
3.0-liter I6, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged and intercooled
Seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual (optional)
Double-joint tiebar front axle, anti-roll bars, centrally guided rear axle,anti-dive and anti-squat
Four-piston aluminum calipers, 348mm ventilated rotors (f)Two-piston aluminum calipers, 324mm ventilated rotors (r)
* Wheels and Tires
Forged aluminum alloy, 8x18 (f), 8.5x18 (r)
HP Runflat tires, 225/40 (f), 255/35 (r)
Length/Width/Height (in.): 166.9/70.5/50.8
Wheelbase: 98.3 in.
Curb Weight: 3,494 lb
Peak Power*: 300 hp @ 5800 rpm
Peak Torque: 300 lb-ft @ 1400 rpm
0-60 mph: 5.0 sec.
Top Speed: 150 mph (limited)*Mfr data