2008 Lotus Exige S 240
Transverse mid-engine, rear-wheel driveTransmission
Peak Power: 240 hp @ 8000 rpm
Peak Torque: 170 lb-ft @ 5500 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.0 sec.
Top Speed: 150 mph (est.)
Base MSRP: $64,890
Price as Tested: $70,060
BMW Z4 M Coupe
The wild animal
Anyone who's spoken to me in the last year or so knows how much I like this car--but I'll concede that it has its flaws. Its biggest problem making friends seems to be an inherently feral nature.
Not that it imparts the same raw, no-compromise driving experience of the Lotus. It's just difficult to deal with, being that you really have to muscle the car around to get any response from it.
It's especially true with the steering and gearshift. Some have complained that the shifter is notchy and imprecise. I don't consider the feel notchy, just very positive. When the lever is slammed home, you know without a doubt you're in gear. In the Lotus, for example, the throws are so short and closely grouped that I often second-guess the gear selection. And I don't consider the M's shifter imprecise. I quite enjoy the extremely stiff, deliberate feel; I've put about 15,000 of the car's 19,000 miles on it and have never missed a shift (honest).
Another important complaint is that the car is `squirrely' and `edgy' (that last comment from BMW brass, no less). Edgy, yes--though BMW claims 50/50 weight distribution, the M is one of only a handful of modern cars with a distinct propensity toward oversteer at the limit. Engineering editor Febbo attributes this to its forward-mounted engine (see sidebar).
This is the only one of the three with a standard-fit limited-slip differential. With that diff and a torque-rich, 330-horse inline six, the M offers the most aggressive and intoxicating acceleration. On long, sweeping sections of road, it seems to walk away from the other two. It also feels the most stable at high speeds, thanks to generous amounts of tire and a 98.3-inch wheelbase.
Considering this is the most massive car in the group, braking power is suitably muscular. The large, cross-drilled rotors offer a good amount of bite under hard use, and pedal feel is extremely firm with just a tiny bit of play for ease of modulation.
Its biggest drawback is overall visibility. The rearward and lateral rear views are fairly terrible (although not non-existent, as with the Exige S 240). Forward visibility is the worst in the group as the driver tries to peer past that long nose, making apex navigation a chancy proposition at times.
The best thing is the seating position. The cockpit really wraps around you in a way the others don't. I can adjust the seat and steering wheel so that both elbows are supported on comfortable pads on the center console and door insert with hands placed at three and nine, allowing steering input with minimal effort.
More difficult to control than the other two, the Z4 M Coupe still makes for a potent carving machine. It just needs a little more work and a little more brass to make things happen.
2008 BMW Z4 M Coupe
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
3.2-liter inline six, dohc, 24-valve
Peak Power: 330 hp @ 7900 rpm
Peak Torque: 262 lb-ft @4900 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.9 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph (limited)
Base MSRP: $50,100
Price as Tested: $57,500