The advertisements call it a land shark. As someone old enough to have watched the original episodes of "Saturday Night Live," I can't help but link "land shark" with "candygram" (and Chevy Chase and Lorraine Newman). The association is probably unintended-I'm guessing the ad developers were in diapers back then-but actually quite apropos. The recent delivery of european car's new long-term Z4 2.5i was the best kind of candygram anyone could receive. And when you combine the roadster's looks with its driving characteristics, the land shark moniker becomes readily apparent.
The Z4's styling is very different from its predecessor, the Z3. Where the Z3 was all flowing curves and arcs, the Z4 is intersecting planes and angles (think bottle-nosed dolphin versus Mako shark). The Z3 purposefully called to mind the classic 507; the Z4 pays very little homage to the past-well, maybe to the Z1. It is truly a very forward-looking vehicle-a look that has had many a propeller-head crying out in anger and agony. Really people, get over it. At first glance, the Z4 does startle when you compare it to the Z3. But taken on its own, it is a very dynamic-looking car. I now actually like the way it looks; it has an undeniable presence that demands attention. In just the few short weeks that we've had the Z4, dozens of passers-by have exclaimed how much they like it.
Besides, what's not to like, especially once you get behind the wheel. Our Z4 is powered by BMW's proven 2.5-liter six-cylinder engine, outputting 184 bhp at 6000 rpm and 175 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm. While that's not an enormous amount of power for a 2,976-lb car, it is more than sufficient when powering up onramps, passing slow-moving minivans and/or showing up overweight Mustangs. Aggressive driving not only comes naturally to the 2.5, it is very easy to do. The inline six is also aurally enjoyable; it emits a delightfully growly tone and the exhaust note burbles deeply when shifting or letting off of the gas quickly.
The transmission on our long-termer is the optional SMG-Sequential Manual Gearbox. Introduced last year as an option on the M3, the SMG has been modified (and simplified) for the Z4. There is only one automated mode, D3 instead of the M3's five; in manual mode there are two shift programs-Normal and Sport-versus six for the M3; and the neutral position is labeled N instead of 03. To engage the Sport mode, you depress the Sport button on the center divider. BMW refers to this button as the Dynamic Drive Control (DDC); once activated it alters the shift points and firms up the steering effort (less power assist from the new speed-sensitive, electric power steering system) for more spirited driving.
Shifting is done by either the shift lever-back for upshifts; forward for downshifts-or the shift paddles on the steering wheel, which are pressed toward you for upshifts and away for downshifts. The center section of the instrument cluster tells you which gear you're in. Based on a few weeks of driving, the automatic mode is a thing to be avoided-it is slow, jerky and most annoying. Normal manual mode works best in heavy, stop-and-go freeway traffic, and the Sport mode lets you wind out the gears in a most pleasing manner. It took several days (okay, more like a week and a half) to get used to the SMG's shift patterns. Fortunately, once I had the rpm shift points nailed down, the gearbox's initial awkwardness was gone and its flexibility came into play.