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Car reviews - BMW - Z4 - M Coupe

Our Opinion

We like
Beefy body rigidity, M engine performance, fuel consumption, brilliant brakes, value for money
Room for improvement
Crook electric steering (3.0si), ride quality on run-flats (3.0si), no interior grabrails, some wind and cabin noise, too-fat M steering wheel

13 Oct 2006

COUPES have always been the bodystyle of choice for purist driving enthusiasts and one drive in the Z4 Coupe is all it takes to see why.

Going one step further up the selfish scale than the two-door 3 Series Coupe by offering seating for just two in a more compact, 75kg-lighter package than the iconic M3, the helmeted Z4 exudes a feeling of solidity that its convertible cousin just can’t match.

Powered by the same brilliant inline M-built six, it’s no surprise then that the Z4 is quicker than its coveted stablemate. As with the M3, there’s a wall of addictive torque available from almost any engine speed – and a rush of top-end power that doesn’t let up until 8000rpm.

The M six is now as grunty in the bottom half of its rev range as the 335i coupe’s new twin-turbo direct-injection six, but it makes up for this with a level of throttle response, an ability to spin almost 2000rpm harder and that unmistakable cacophony of metallic, gravely engine notes that identify this as one highly-strung, painstakingly engineered six-cylinder.

Combined with a much sweeter-shifting, shorter-throw six-speed Getrag manual transmission that the five-speed item its predecessor offered, and the latest M engine propels this M Coupe to significantly loftier heights than its Z3-based forebear. And that’s without hitting the throttle pedal travel-shortening Sport button.

But that’s certainly not all that sets apart the newest BMW coupe, which is far less polarising than its Z3-based M Cupe predecessor in terms of design.

Eschewing the Z3’s age-old Z-axle rear suspension for the Z4’s more sophisticated independent rear-end, the M Coupe throws in a good measure of lightweight CSL components to maximise the potential of the super-stiff hardtop bodyshell.

While it’s far more controlled, compliant and forgiving than the twitchy Z3-M ever was, there’s no escaping the fact its short wheelbase, super-quick steering ratio and relatively lightweight body and blistering engine performance make the latest M Coupe a firecracker of a car to drive.

Like Cayman, both Z4 coupes understeer at the limit, but the ease with which both BMW’s light up their traction control warning lights under hard acceleration makes one wary to explore its potential in less-than-perfect conditions. In contrast, the Cayman S feels more neutral, better balanced and ever ready to be driven at its more progressive limits. Unlike the BMW, it’s a car we’re not scared to turn of the stability control in.

That said, the stiffer, smarter chassis mean the new M Coupe is never quite the handful the taily Z3 M Coupe was, and a demanding 600km launch drive that took many of west Tasmania’s Targa roads proved its successor can be hustled with confidence, with DSC switched on, over all manner of lumpy, pot-holed bitumen.

The same cannot be said for the base 3.0si, whose lower-profile run-flat tyres don’t offer the same ride quality as the conventionally-shod M car – despite the fact it employs lower, firmer M suspension as standard. As with many wide-tyred European cars, road roar can be overwhelming on coarse-chip surfaces.

Far more serious, however, is the behaviour of the 3.0-litre variant’s electric steering system, which is lifted from the 2.5si and 3.0si Z4 Roadster. Like them, it falls well short of confidence-inspiring as it fidgets violently over road camber changes and requires constant attention and correction just to maintain a straight line – even on a smooth surface.

Its unpredictability makes steering the 3.0si strictly a two-handed affair on bumpy roads. The M Coupe’s hydraulically-assisted steering is worlds ahead in terms of response and feedback, but even it is not up to Porsche/Cayman standards.

At least the 3.0si affords its driver a tighter turning circle and doesn’t afflict him or her with one of the most ludicrously fat steering wheel rims you’ll ever grasp. The Z4-M’s mega-performance also brings a level of drivetrain snatch that requires carefully considered pedal work to avoid.

Inside both variants it’s all Z4, which means more elbow and stretching room than in the Z3, a reasonably classy swathe of aluminium dash trim and very little in the way of storage spaces – though at least Americans will love the king-size cup-holders for both occupants.

Unlike Cayman, which features a load of extra luggage space up front, the Z4 Coupe’s rear cargo compartment is not accessible from the cockpit. Nor does it provide the aural sensations of a flat six mounted within the cabin, fed by a large air intake right over the driver’s shoulder.

The M loses significant boot space to accommodate a puncture repair kit for its conventional tyres and the Sepang Bronze example we drove revealed a creaky driver’s seat and a persistent buzz from the centre console plastics at around 3000rpm. Similarly, our silver 3.0si allowed excessive wind noise through the driver’s window even at sedan speeds.

If anything, the coupe’s headroom is better than the roadster’s (of course, no sunroof is available), and should comfortably accommodate passengers up to about 190cm tall.

Backed up by the latest DSC stability control system, comprising a brake pad wear compensation function, brakes in both 3.0 and 3.2-litre cars is outstanding, time after time.

There’s no doubt both Z4 Coupe variants represent outstanding value for money - compared to both their Roadster donor variants and most of their rivals. Also indisputable is the fact the M Coupe is more powerful, quicker and possibly even more rewarding to tame than the Cayman S.

At $3300 less than the Z4 M Roadster and $12,800 less than the M3, the Z4 M Coupe is an undeniable bargain at $3300.

But more forgiving, confidence-inspiring handling, a more intoxicating aural experience, a sexier and slipperier shape, lower fuel consumption, greater luggage capacity and more communicative steering make Cayman S the more complete package. With a Porsche badge.

Whether all that’s worth the extra $21,300, only you can decide.

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