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2003 New Car Review: BMW Z4

2003 BMW Z4

2003 BMW Z4

SEE ALSO: BMW Buyer's Guide

Z Cubed

The All New BMW Z4 is the Ultimate, Ultimate Driving Machine

by Marc J. Rauch, Exec. Vice President & Co-Publisher

Timing is everything. Well, it’s not really, but you hear that expression a lot, particularly when it helps to editorialize on a specific point. And as I have a line of reasoning to make, pardon me while I use the expression to illustrate the importance of my point.

You see I just got back home from South Carolina where I had the pleasure of test-driving BMW’s next generation of their tremendously successful roadster. As timing would have it, as soon as I left baggage claim at the airport there was a brand new Honda S2000 waiting for me (the S2000 is identified as one of the Z4’s top competitors). It was a startling reminder of how much I loved driving the Z4.

I’ve never liked the S2000. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of Honda vehicles, but not the S2000. It’s too small. I’m a small guy, but it’s even too tight and uncomfortable for me. It’s also way, way too torquee. Nah, in the list of potential roadsters to buy, the S2000 would be at the bottom of my list, especially after driving the Z4. Like I said, timing is everything. Incidentally, according to BMW, their list of Z4 competitors includes the Audi TT, MB SLK, Toyota MR2, Boxster, and Miata.

If a BMW (in general) is the ultimate driving machine, the Z4 is the ultimate, ultimate driving machine. With room for just driver, passenger and two golf bags, it’s virtually nothing more than a driving machine. Fortunately it’s not meant to be anything else. BMW set out to improve on near-perfect two-seater, the Z3, and they accomplished their goal in high style. It’s a handsomely sculpted, finely tuned precision-crafted automobile. The old Z3 was good, the 4 is progressively much better.

I always felt that the Z3 played a tremendously important role in male-female relations. When Mazda introduced the Miata, women had a unique vehicle to call their own. Yeah, yeah, I know that some men also buy and drive Miatas, but it was and is a chick-car. I was jealous, and mostly I was jealous because I really enjoyed driving a Miata at every opportunity. But I could never see myself owning one because of how feminine it looks. Moreover, I certainly couldn’t bring myself to recommend the Miata to any guy that asked me about buying one (although under the guise of advising it for a guy’s girlfriend, I did tout it often). Ford Motor Company came along and tried to rectify the gender imbalance with their Capri (or perhaps just to jump on the feminine Miata bandwagon). However, they apparently weren’t able to “edsell” enough of them, so Ford de-Capri-itated the Australian import from their line-up.

Therefore the challenge to re-instill a manly quality to the decisively masculine roadster class was left to some other car company. The gauntlet was taken up by BMW, and as sales history has shown, they did us guys proud with the Z3, which went on to become the best selling vehicle in its category (men and women can could be satisfied owning a Z3). In fact, almost as if they just wanted to show-off their superior male-targeted designing prowess, BMW belted out the Z8. You could almost imagine the designers grabbing their crotches and shouting, “You want a roadster? We got your roadsters right here!”

Both Zs exuded powerful good looks that matched their superb performance capabilities. And unlike the S2000, the Z3 was eminently drivable. I always looked forward to getting back into the BMW; I looked for excuses to do so.

Well, the new Z4 is even more enticing and more fun to drive.

Sharing piloting duties with a fellow journalist, we drove a 3-liter 225 horsepower model about 300 miles from Charleston to Greenville. The car frickin’ flies. I know that’s not the most elegant commentary that you’ve ever read, but next to “wow” and “hot-damn,” it’s probably the most concisely accurate.

Almost everything about the Z4 is effortless and smooth, from its high-speed convertible power top (opens or closes completely in less than 10 seconds), to its acceleration and confident braking, which has been upgraded from the previous Z. It’s like flying on a windless, cloudless day. Like cruising on a glassy lake at dawn. Even the steering has been made easier and smoother because the new electric power steering system is assisted by an electric servomotor rather than a conventional hydraulic pump. New structural features add considerable rigidity to the car’s body and chassis that translates to an enhanced feeling of safety and security, for when you do encounter those inevitable ripples along the way.

Furthermore, to limit life’s little annoyances, like flat tires, the Z4 comes standard with BMW’s Run-Flat Combination (RFC) wheel-tire system. The system consists of self-supporting tires, special wheel rims and a Flat Tire Monitor. The tires have special sidewalls that include specific inserts and highly heat-resistant rubber compounds. These features allow a deflated tire to maintain its essential shape and guidance characteristics for up to 90 miles at speeds up to 50 mph until reaching a safe and/or convenient place to have the tire repaired or replaced. Thanks to specially developed Extended Hump wheel rims, the tire stays on rim.

The Z4 also includes all of BMW’s familiar state-of-the-art Dynamic Stability Control functions, such as all-speed traction control, electronic brake-force proportioning, antilock braking, cornering brake control (which modifies braking action to enhance stability when the brakes are applied while cornering), dynamic brake control (which reinforces the driver’s pedal effort under emergency braking conditions), and cornering and avoidance stabilization.

The Z4 is available with two different motors, although both are in-line six cylinder. There’s the 3-liter version that I test drove, and the 2.5-liter with 184 horsepower. In addition, you can get a manual top instead of the automatic one I mentioned above, and there are three transmission options: manual, sequential manual gearbox borrowed from the M3, and a 5-speed automatic with Steptronic.

Needless to say, the Z4 has a wide variety of interior and creature comfort options. But the selling point of the Z4, or I should say the buying-reason for the Z4 is not that you can get it with a premium sound system (which you can) or that there are several different upholstery and trim combinations. Ultimately, you will want this machine because of how it looks, rides, and drives. Dollar for dollar, it is the ultimate, ultimate driving machine. Best of all, it’s available right now!

The 3-liter version is priced around $40,000 and the 2.5-liter model starts at around $33,000.