The BMW Z8 and 323i Sport Wagon Make Their North American Debuts
7 January 2000The BMW Z8 and 323i Sport Wagon Make Their North American Debuts At the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 6 -- BMW unveiled two new models today at the Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. The Z8 super sports car and the 323i sport wagon, the first 3 Series wagon to be offered in the U.S., were shown for the first time in North America. THE BMW Z8: A 2-SEATER SPORTS CAR WITH CLASSIC DESIGN AND FUTURISTIC TECHNOLOGY An exotic V8-powered 2-seater sports car at the highest level of contemporary engineering and technology, the Z8 has already been hailed by expert media as "ready to spearhead the company's charge into the new millennium" (AutoWeek, August 2, 1999) and "a bold Bavarian supercar" (Road & Track, May '99) ...all of which begins to sound like understatement when one learns what the Z8's voluptuous shape is, and what it conceals. What the shape is: A contemporary sports-car design that recalls the glorious BMW 507 roadster of 1956-59, the Z8's design forms the outer skin of an innovative new aluminum space frame construction. Combining a robust aluminum "skeleton" with structural body panels into an amazingly rigid, yet relatively light unit, the Z8's body/chassis structure is a wave of the future that radiates the romance and excitement of classic design. What the shape conceals: First and foremost, under the classically long hood, the very 5-liter, 394-hp V8 engine that also powers the new M5 sport sedan. Here, driving through the same 6-speed manual transmission but carrying some 470 pounds less weight, the V8 powers the Z8 to a 0-60-mph time well below 5 seconds -- and of course does so with thundering sonority to match the Z8's compelling looks. This engine is by no means all the Z8's technological appeal. BMW has developed an all-new front suspension system, naturally made of aluminum and steered by a razor-sharp rack-and-pinion steering system; at the rear BMW's proven Integral Link suspension also appears in aluminum. Contact with the road is maintained by hefty 18-in. alloy wheels with W-rated performance tires of differentiated front/rear sizes and run-flat capability. Active safety is further enhanced by BMW's Dynamic Stability Control. The fortunate driver of this top-caliber sports car commands its performance from a leather-lined cockpit for two. Here, too, design details recall a glorious era; real aluminum trim, centrally located instruments and distinctive color coordination are among the notable elements. Ultimate sportiness does not preclude lavish luxury: A reference-quality audio system, GPS Navigation, portable hands-free phone, CD changer, heated seats, fully automatic softtop and a removable hardtop are all standard. Fewer than 500 units will be produced for the U.S. during 2000 in a dedicated area of BMW's Munich, Germany facility. The Z8 had its "pre-debut" as the Z07 concept car at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show, and the production version's world debut at Germany's Frankfurt Automobile Show in September 1999. Many will see the Z8 in motion for the first time at the movie theater, as it plays the role of 007's ride in The World Is Not Enough. First deliveries of Z8s to retail customers are expected to begin in April. The Z8's base price is $128,570 including destination charge. 323i SPORT WAGON: FIRST 3 SERIES WAGON FOR THE U.S. MARKET Over the two generations that BMW has offered sport wagons in North America, they have found a unique niche in the U.S. market as vehicles that retain typical BMW character while adding cargo space and versatility. BMW's achievement of this goal is confirmed in, for example, Car and Driver's June 1999 comparison of five upscale wagons, which the 528i sport wagon won decisively: "An adept, carefully crafted driving machine that can pull wagon double-duty" is how the magazine characterized it. AutoWeek (September 20, 1999) saw the V8-powered 540i sport wagon in much the same terms: "sedan- handling, wagon-room." Considering the comfort and space of the current 3 Series, BMW planners believed the time was right to add the new 3 Series sport wagon to the U.S. model line. In its relation to the 323i sedan, the 323i sport wagon exactly parallels the corresponding 528i model: Within the same basic platform dimensions as the sedan, the sport wagon adds a spacious, versatile cargo area behind the rear seats. Also, to ensure a harmonious design and unlike some competitors, BMW gives its sport wagons a wholly different body shell and doors from the B- pillar rearward. The driving qualities that have made the 323i sedan the leading sport sedan in its class -- "It sticks to the road as if it were on runners," wrote AutoWeek on February 1, 1999 -- are maintained in the wagon; in fact, Car and Driver has already driven it and reported that "the wagon handles every bit as brilliantly as the sedan." The difference, of course, is behind the B-pillar, and it consists of -- -- Slightly lower (0.2 in.) overall height, not including the standard roof rails -- Slightly greater (0.3 in.) overall length -- Greater (0.8 in.) rear leg room -- Standard split folding rear seats (sedans: optional), including three 3-point safety belts and head restraints, pass-though, fold-down armrest, storage compartment and cupholders -- Carpeted cargo area with retractable cover, light and strong honeycomb floor, elastic hold-down straps on floor, tie-down hooks at side, and accessory power outlet -- Concealed underfloor storage space -- Upward-opening tailgate with power release (from interior or remote) and separately opening rear window, top spoiler and wiper/washer. BMW IN AMERICA BMW entered the U.S. market in 1975. Since then, the company has grown to include marketing, sales and financial service organizations in the United States; a South Carolina manufacturing operation; a design firm in California; a technology office in Palo Alto and various other operations throughout the country. BMW is represented in the U.S. through a network of 340 automobile and 160 motorcycle retailers. BMW US Holding Corp., the Group's headquarters for North, Central and South America, is located in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Information about BMW products is available to consumers via the World Wide Web on the BMW homepage. The address is: http://www.bmwusa.com.