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2006-05-17 15:20

BMW's Z4 M sizzler is here at last!

John Oxley

BMW was determined there'd be nothing boring about our introduction to the Z4 M - including deleting the long drive to get to the six mountain passes pegged for our test session.

So first up we flew in a twin-engine Beech 1900C from Cape Town airport to Robertson, in the Western Cape interior, a short 20 minute hop which cut out about an hour's schlep through traffic and highways.

And then we were right in the midst of it, able to explore the 252 kW power house which is the heart of the Z4 M, to exploit the car's totally-balanced handling, to use those massive 345 mm double cross-drilled and ventilated compound disc brakes (stolen from the M3 CSL super-coupe) to haul down into tight-tight bends while controlling the cute tail on the featherlight throttle.

With just two fingers on each of the upper segments of the fat steering wheel instead of a white-knuckle of fist you can feel the suspension kicking and fighting against the uneven road surface, yet ensuring not a mm of tyre lifts from its leach-like grip on the road surface.

Positive steering

The steering is light and positive - hydraulic instead of the electro-hydraulic of the "cooking" Z4 - and if you switch off the DSC traction and stability control, the variable, speed-sensing M differential lock (carried over from the M3), allows you maximum power to the wheels and gives you the ability to drive with the tail out in true rear-wheel drive fashion.


So what is this BMW Z4 M - and what makes it special?

Simplistically, BMW has taken the ordinary Z4, which features a particularly strong and rigid bodyshell in even its mildest 2-litre form, and transplanted the best six-cylinder heart in the world, the six-times award-winning 3.2-litre unit from the BMW M3.

The suspension has been dropped by 10 mm, the brakes up-graded, a new six-speed close ratio gearbox bolted onto the back of that superb engine, and new five spoke double-spoke M wheels fitted, 8 inches wide in front, 9 inches at the back, shod with high-performance tyres of, respectively, 225/45 ZR18 and 255/40 ZR18.

Of course, you can't do all that and leave the body looking the same as the rest of the Z4 range, so BMW has changed the front end, adding a deeper front air dam under the bumper area, split into three components.

Brake cooling

On the outside are vents for brake cooling air, then, joining these outer vents together but separated by oblique risers, a gaping maw of a "mouth" with an aerodynamic wing built-in at the bottom.

To accommodate the M engine the bonnet bulge is slightly bigger, with twin strakes to give visual relief.

There wasn't much work to be done along the side - indeed, any changes would undoubtedly mar the Bangle flame effect - but just to make sure you know what you're up against when you arrive beside one at the lights there's a subtle M badge between the front wheel and the door.

Then, at the back, there's a new diffuser, coupled to underfloor air routing changes, to channel air smoothly from front to rear while at the same time extracting heat built-up in the engine and especially the rear differential.

The final touch - four exhaust pipes, 2 x 2, emitting the most delicious sounds which range from a deep growl at low speeds to a sexy scream as the rev counter climbs to its 8 000 r/min limit.

Naturally the inside has come in for some changes, too, though these are, again, subtle.

Low seats

Both the driver and passenger enjoy very low seats in the BMW Z4 M Roadster, positioned far back behind the car's centre of gravity and rotation.

This gives them a direct "feel" for the car's movements, while BMW M sports seats offer excellent side support, plus perfect adjustment in virtually every direction, supplemented by a steering column adjustable for reach and angle.

This means you feel really comfortable once you've made all the adjustments - and feel that way hour after hour.

The Z4 is an open-top roadster in the classic tradition, and the interior makes no bones about it.

There are two leather trim version, standard giving soft nappa leather on the seats, door panels and armrests, while you can also opt for hide coverings on the entire door, the windscreen frame (including the sun visors) the rollbars as well as the centre console including the rear storage box.


The broad sweeping dashboard has three trim options - walnut, carbon-fibre look, and aluminium - while the instrument binnacle is directly in front of the driver, just like other Z4s.


However where the Z4 M differs is in having what BMW calls a "dynamic speed band" in the rev counter, a yellow pre-warning field and the red warning field suggesting the currently permissible engine speed as a function of current engine oil temperature.

At first the yellow band is quite low down the rev range, but gets higher as the engine warms up to warn the driver (though not limiting him/her) that high revs could cause damage on cold oil.

The liquid crystal display of the on-board computer is integrated in the speedometer, while the fuel gauge and engine oil temperature display are both housed in the rev counter.

The heating and air conditioning are controlled by three rotary knobs in the instrument panel just above the centre console and are finished in pearl gloss chrome.

Directly above is the control area for the radio or hi-fi system.

There's a thick-rimmed M leather steering wheel with multifunction buttons to control the telephone or radio. When specified, the 'phone is fitted in a between-seats console box/armrest.

Nicknacks space

Interior space features a glove compartment, two built-in door pockets and a large box in the rear bulkhead between the seats offering approximately 10 litres capacity - or, on the Exclusive version, giving stowage for the CD shuttle.

The cover on the storage box is locked together with the central locking.

The roof is electrically-operated and opens and closes in about 10 seconds, and interior space can be extended from 200 to 220 litres at the flick of two knobs - but if you do this you have to ride with the roof up.

Other features include climate control air-con, a front-loader CD/radio with BMW Carver technology, bi-xenon headlights, two-stage adaptive brake lights, and the choice of two navigation systems with DVD memory as an option.

The Business navigation system integrated in the dashboard uses data provided by a DVD with a high-density memory.

The Professional navigation system (on the Exclusive) comes with a retractable colour monitor in the middle of the instrument panel.

Heated seats are also standard in the Exclusive.

Safety features include ABSand DSC, and there are front and side airbags.

On the road

Yes, I've kept the best 'till last.

The car starts with the push of a button, and even at tickover it sounds great.

You ease away from the kerb, and immediately you can feel the pent-up power.

Yet it's easy to drive at low speeds, with no "boy racer" feel to the car at all - this one is sophisticated, and can wait until you're ready to unleach the power.

When you finally get to an open road, though, and plant your foot hard on the throttle, it's as if the car has changed from Dr jekyll to Mr Hyde.

The nose lifts slightly, the rear end squats, and in just 5 seconds from rest your'e already doing 100 km/h, faster than an M3 (and most other cars on the road) and on to an elelctronically limited 250 km/h.

And you get to illegal speeds VERY quickly, so ensure you have your wits about you when you press the "loud" pedal!

Handling - well, I think you've got the message already. With almost 50/50 front/rear weight distribution the car is very forgiving, yet responds superbly to precise inputs.


In other words you can be a sloppy driver and it will still forgive you - especially if you leave the DSC on, which is best most of the time - but it will doubly reward you if you drive neatly and pay attention to what's happening around you.

A word here about ride quality.

Naturally the suspension is stiffer than you'll find in a VW Polo, and ride quality is, therefore, on the firm side.

But BMW has opted NOT to fit runflat tyres on this one, instead preferring the high performance tyres mentioned above, plus a tyre monitor guage, a puncture fix kit and compressor, and wheels which ensure the tyre can't come off the rim.

So that's a plus on the ride quality front.

Steering is light at low speeds, gets firmer as you go faster to ensure road "feel", and driving quickly on country roads you are left under no misapprehensions about your speed as the wheel kicks and fights beneath your hands.

The engine, which pushes out 252 kW at 7 900 r/min and gives 365 Nm of torque at 4 900 r/min, is, as mentioned, a sophisticated unit, and gentle driving will, therefore, reward you at the pumps.

Steady cruising at the limits will give under 9 litres/100 km, but this can double in town and when you're planting that throttle.

Fuel tank capacity is 55 litres.


You can have a Porsche, and you'll pay more. You can get a Mercedes SLK 55, and you'll pay more.

But the one thing you won't get from either is MORE FUN.

The BMW Z4 M offers great performance, great handling, and more "bang for the buck" than any other roadster around.


  • BMW Z4 M R547 000

  • BMW Z4 M Exclusive R578 000.

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