BY STEVE WALKER
Although it may not have its predecessor's ability to drop your jaw or that car's Marmite 'love it or hate it' appeal, the BMW Z4 Coupe is nevertheless an arresting sight. It's the old school recipe of long bonnet and a squat cabin that hunches on its haunches which gives the Z4 Coupe the almost caricature visual effect of all its power being stored up like an Acme bottle rocket from a Road Runner cartoon. It just invites you to jump in and light the blue touch paper.
When the Z3-based M Coupe was first unveiled in 1998, it came as a bit of a shock to the system, especially as BMW seemed to be moving towards more civilised and, some said, sanitised cars. Its development history is interesting. A team of hardcore driving enthusiasts at BMW's Research and Development Centre felt that the M roadster wasn't extreme enough for their liking. Working after hours, they stripped the wings off a Z3 roadster and sculpted a coupe body. It's tempting to imagine that they neglected to adequately ventilate the studio and lost all power of reason due to the fumes from the sculpting foam, but that's not the case. The design they came up with was shocking, challenging and quite unlike anything BMW had ever produced. It's also a modern BMW classic.
Fast forward eight years and BMW reprised the M Coupe theme, albeit with a little more restraint. The Z4 Coupe was, unlike its predecessor, available in this country in non-M guises as well as the range-topping Z4 M tarmac stripper from Garching. This range of cars came at an ideal time for BMW, facing down a rejuvenated Audi TT and the Nissan 350Z. Add the Porsche Cayman and the Alfa Brera to that mix and it's clear that 2006 was a boom time for sexy-looking coupes.
Two engines were offered from launch, BMW's ubiquitous 3.0-litre straight six and the 3.2-litre unit from the M model. The 3.0-litre models were badged 3.0si and came in SE or Sport trim. The Sport model features the firmer M-Sport suspension that was standard on the Z4 M. The open-topped Z4 roadster models had already been around for three years when the coupe arrived. When both cars got the axe in 2009, they were replaced by a new dual purpose Z4 with a folding metal roof.
What You Get
Everything about the 3.0 Z4 Coupe is built from solid foundations. Instead of trying to make a compromised platform work, BMW has got the basics right. The rest is easy. Pop the bonnet and you'll notice that the engine is set well back behind the line of the front axle for excellent weight distribution and keen turn-in.
It's hard to recall but it's worth noting that many were unconvinced by the styling of the Z3 when it was first launched, BMW later carrying out a series of design tweaks to remedy the perceived inconsistency between the pugnacious front and the apologetic tail. The Z4 had no such problem. It was unconventional all over. Most of the attention was paid to what designer Chris Bangle described as the 'flame surfaced' flanks. These feature a curved line along the bottom of the doors that at first looks as if the car's sills have collapsed. Give it time and you'll get used to them. Everywhere you look, there are details that catch the eye, sometimes clashing in a 'look at me' clamour. It's not a beautiful car, but it's certainly strikingly muscular, especially in Coupe form.
The cabin has plenty of room for two but there are no rear seats so you'll rely on the boot for luggage capacity. BMW claimed that you could fit two sets of golf clubs in the rear but it would be a struggle. You might have to pass them through an industrial wood chipper first. The interior design is typical of BMW products from this era. Minimalist, well built and without too much to catch the eye.
What to Look For
Although the Z4 is a relatively complex car compared to its predecessor, no specific faults have yet come to light. Lessons learned with the Z3 were applied to make the Z4 a more reliable and sophisticated car. Like all modern BMWs, rather than specifying preselected service intervals, the car's on-board diagnostics indicate when a service is due. It's therefore important to discover when the last service took place and ask to see documentary evidence of this. Check the alloy wheels for kerbing damage and make sure the alarm and immobiliser system are functioning properly. Some owners will have specified their Z4s to the nines from BMW's options list and will want to claw back what they've spent. Don't entertain any of it.
(approx based on a 2006 3.0 Z4 Coupe) In recent years, BMW spares have gained a reputation for being sensibly priced and the Z4 benefits from a spares basket that compares favourably with rivals from Mercedes, Porsche and even Honda. A replacement headlamp unit is around £165, and a door mirror is £170. A front shock absorber is £120 and a fuel filter is around £18.
On the Road
Although the recipe is traditional, the Z4 Coupe is anything but a thud and blunder bruiser. Take the 3.0-litre engine as an example. With Valvetronic throttle-less induction, infinitely variable cam timing, a triple position air intake and a highly efficient electric water pump, this is a technological standout. Any engine that can develop this sort of power yet return a combined fuel figure of 31.7mpg has to be something rather special. Part of the answer lies in the BMW's light weight. At 1,395kg, the 3.0-litre car is refreshingly flab free, making the 1,545kg Nissan 350Z appear positively obese. This means that, despite packing less power than the Japanese car, the BMW is quicker to 60mph - reaching the benchmark in 5.4 seconds before surging on to an electronically-limited 155mph. Emissions are pegged at an almost unbelievable 213g/km. To put that figure into perspective, it's about the same as a 2.0-litre 2006 Hyundai Coupe.
Need to go even faster? You'll want the Z4 M Coupe, in its day, the most focused car in BMW's entire line up. Here you get 338bhp to play with. The top speed is still limited to 155mph but you'll zip to 60mph in 4.7 seconds. Most would finger this car as an M Roadster with a punchier chassis thanks to the metal roof. While it's true that the Coupe is twice as torsionally stiff as the Roadster, there's more to its dynamic repertoire than mere rigidity. BMW quietly changed almost everything that could be changed with the suspension, including stiffer springs, revalved shock absorbers and meatier anti roll bars. The steering rack is quicker and the differential was altered to sharpen up the Coupe's reflexes still further.
The reasons for this aren't hard to fathom. The M Coupe appeals to an even more hardcore market who will want to drive it on a race track to get the most out of it and will also delight in testing its trick M-diff to the max with some serious tyre-smoking sideways antics. This is not the car for the neat and tidy, technically perfect driver. If you're a purist, buy a Porsche Cayman. Adrenaline junkies will prefer the muscular BMW and will put up with its foibles. A set of R-specification sticky tyres would make this thing a devastating trackday weapon.
There's a small but enthusiastic audience for cars like the BMW Z4 Coupe in this country. Although a Porsche Cayman of similar age is probably the better all-round car, the BMW offers a bigger buzz and has the more macho reputation amongst hardcore petrolheads.