Thursday, 13 June 2013

BMW Z4M Coupe

What I thought about the BMW Z4M Coupe in 2006
The BMW Z3 Coupe had seemed something of an afterthought. A roof was added later to the original 2-seater, which cost a lot and ruined the proportions. It was not well thought through, although the steel top made the structure stiffer so it handled better than the open car and earned glowing reviews. Introduced at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show, it was distinctive, a bit quirky, very fast and ought to have had resonance yet it never really caught on.

The main reason was price. It cost twice as much as an entry level Z3. By 2006 BMW was determined not to fumble the Z4, so despite what Adrian van Hooydonk head of design said about the roof being done in the design office’s spare moments, this time it looked as though it was designed from the outset. Van Hooydonk called the Z4 Coupe a GT car shrink wrapped round two people to be “the smallest possible package that can accommodate occupants and luggage, while retaining the strong muscular stance of the roadster.” He described it as a Pocket GT.
Contentious perhaps from the country that gave us the Pocket Battleship.

The Z4 Coupe was certainly small, cramped, and except for the agile, not easy to get in and out. You could find yourself leaving a leg outside because the door did not open wide enough. “Shrink wrapping” extended to a double-bubble in the roof and while it looked pretty, the Chris Bangle origami remained contentious.

The Z4 of 2006 was a bit wide of the mark. While the Z3 Coupe was a better car for driving than the open one, the Z4 Coupe sadly never was, even with a bodyshell twice as stiff. A Z4M was fine for track days on a smooth classic racing circuit like glorious Goodwood, but in the real world of an average highway it was harsh and uncompromising. Bumps unsettled it; cambers threw it off course. Supple modern sports cars should not be so demanding.
The Z4 came from Spartanburg South Carolina, and while every bit as well made as a BMW from Munich, maybe it was designed for the wrong sort of customer. Americans expected sporty cars to be “difficult”, which was why they liked Porsches with engines overhanging the back wheels. Americans did not feel fulfilled unless they were fighting oversteer; not getting their money’s worth unless a car felt dangerous. They wanted to be James Dean fighting it out (and ultimately losing) his Porsche Speedster.

The Z4 was nothing like that, but it was not very compliant and a BMW with such a turbulent ride was an historical anomaly. In 1936 when sports cars were uncomfortable, noisy, draughty, stiffly sprung and had a chassis that twisted, BMW came out with the 328. Softly sprung, the 328 had a chassis frame of strong tubes that did not flex and bend, and was, as they would have said then, streamlined. Enthusiasts thought it effete until they tried keeping up with one. It outpaced everything. The splendid 6-cylinder engine survived into the 1960s as the Bristol, gave 100mph performance, and touring-car refinement. Even the sleek shape survived. The 1948 Jaguar XK120 of William Lyons was inspired by the 1940 Mille Miglia BMW 328.
In BMW-speak M means Motorsport and in the case of the Z4M engine it meant Magnificent. The Bavarian Motor Works has always been best at engines and this one was a masterpiece in magnesium alloy, the lightest production 6-cylinder in the world, revving to a glorious 7,900rpm, thrilling to drive. Achieving 100bhp per litre took it into the realms of racing engines, with the pistons moving at a mind-bending 24 metres per second. Those on BMW’s Formula 1 engine did 25 metres a second, although it only had to last two race weekends, while the Z4 straight-6 was expected to last something approaching a lifetime.
Alas behind this paragon of power units was a pedestrian transmission. Its long-throw 6-speed gearshift made driving a series of leaps and bounds, instead of a smooth seamless progress. It needed a shorter travel lever, less obstructive synchromesh and a quicker clutch. Perhaps Americans knew no better.
BMW said it would only bring 200 Z4Ms to Britain in a year. It was probably well advised. The ordinary non-M Z4 suffered similarly from road reverberations, making long journeys tiresome, for which the high cornering power was some recompense. The huge brakes were strong; just as well with all that power. Porsches, on balance, were better.

SPEC: Engine 6 cylinders in line, magnesium alloy, 3246 cc @ 7900rpm; 343bhp (255.8kW); 6-speed manual gearbox, Variable M differential; price £41,285; Coupe; 2-doors, 2-seats; weight 29.2cwt (1485kg); maximum speed 155mph; 0-60mph (96kph) 5.0sec; fuel consumption 12.2mpg. (Below) Test Z4M by Charles Rennie Mackintosh masterpiece, the Glasgow Art Lover's House.

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