Could this finally be the sports car that BMW al­ways promised us? We take a close look at the thrillingly bold Con­cept Z4


A new Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GT is on its way (above), and it’s a BMW dou­ble-whammy with a 4WD M5 and a con­cept Z4

‘WE WANTED TO MAKE THE car very ag­ile, to de­sign a car that was The Ul­ti­mate Driv­ing Ma­chine, with true BMW ge­net­ics – an ul­ti­mate, no-com­pro­mise, al­most ex­tro­verted de­sign.’ BMW’S head of con­cept de­sign, Marc Gi­rard, is talk­ing us through the think­ing be­hind the Con­cept Z4. Sit­ting un­der the lights of a stu­dio on the out­skirts of Mu­nich, it cer­tainly ap­pears com­pact and ag­gres­sive. It also closely re­flects how the pro­duc­tion ver­sion will look when it makes its de­but next year. What we have here is, ac­cord­ing to Gi­rard, 80 per cent of the even­tual pro­duc­tion car. It’s also the first fruit of BMW’S col­lab­o­ra­tion with Toy­ota, the Ja­panese firm us­ing this plat­form to re­launch the Supra.

The Z4 is a model that’s of­ten suf­fered with an iden­tity prob­lem – the orig­i­nal was touted as a Boxster-baiter but didn’t quite pull it off, while the out­go­ing ver­sion was a far softer ma­chine that cited the Mercedes SLK and Audi TT as its main rivals. So will we see a real driv­ers’ Z4 with the next gen­er­a­tion (in­ter­nal code num­ber G29) when it even­tu­ally hits the streets? ‘What we wanted to con­vey with the car’s pro­por­tions is per­for­mance,’ con­tin­ues Gi­rard. ‘It’s a driv­ers’ car, a sports car; it’s su­per-ag­ile, it’s light, it’s light-footed – and ex­tremely dy­namic.’ While he might be talk­ing pri­mar­ily about the way the Con­cept Z4 looks, Gi­rard has an in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm that makes you be­lieve this will be trans­lated into dy­namic abil­ity, too.

With two BMW con­cepts see­ing the light of day in such rapid suc­ces­sion – the other be­ing the Con­cept 8-se­ries ( evo 237) – it should come as no sur­prise that there are sim­i­lar­i­ties, but the 8-se­ries’ lux­ury GT fo­cus and the Z4’s sportier dy­namic means they’re very dif­fer­ent in style, even if their com­bined look does give us a strong in­di­ca­tion as to the di­rec­tion BMW styling will be tak­ing. With the Z4, Gi­rard has taken in­spi­ra­tion from pre­vi­ous BMW de­sign icons and rein­ter­preted them. ‘We def­i­nitely want to rein­vent ev­ery­thing,’ he says. ‘We’re not do­ing retro though, we al­ways rein­ter­pret key cues, such as the kid­ney grilles.’

And that’s cer­tainly true of the Z4’s grilles, for not only are they sig­nif­i­cantly wider than we’ve be­come used to, but they’re also miss­ing the tra­di­tional slats, re­placed with a mesh de­sign that re­ally ac­cen­tu­ates the rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of the clas­sic ‘shark-nosed’ styling of BMW icons from the ’70s and ’80s. The width of the grilles means the head­lights have been pushed fur­ther to the ex­trem­i­ties and are now stag­gered, one above the other, for a unique, Bmw-es­que look. ‘ The icons are still there – the kid­neys and the grilles, those boxes are ticked – but newly trans­lated, keep­ing them alive, keep­ing the thread, but rein­ter­pret­ing them,’ ob­serves Gi­rard. ‘It’s a very tight ex­er­cise be­cause you could lose the thread if you go too far.’

The bon­net is a wide clamshell, with two sim­ple but ef­fec­tive strakes on ei­ther side to aid cool­ing. Where its ex­trem­i­ties meet the car’s flanks, it starts a strong swage-line that rises up the car as it trav­els from front to rear be­fore meet­ing the del­i­cate ( but still recog­nis­ably BMW) LED rear light clus­ters. Along the Z4’s flanks, scal­loped lines rise up from the large vent aft of the front wheels, en­hanc­ing the car’s stance and giv­ing the Z4 some mus­cle. The car

sits on 20-inch al­loys, an­other rein­ter­pre­ta­tion, this time of the clas­sic BMW twin-spoke de­sign. At the rear, there’s a neat duck­tail spoiler in­te­grated into the bootlid, while dra­matic ducts and a car­bon rear dif­fuser com­plete the look.

A ma­jor talk­ing point are the alu­minium and car­bon fair­ings be­hind the head­rests, in­cor­po­rat­ing rollover pro­tec­tion, but Gi­rard won’t be drawn on whether they’ll fea­ture on the pro­duc­tion ver­sion. We hope they do but, given the Con­cept doesn’t fea­ture a work­ing hood, there’s a strong chance that they’ll be dropped for the pro­duc­tion car. What we do know is that the new Z4 will have a fabric roof, which it’s said will help it come in 150kg lighter than the old Z4 (which weighed around 1500kg in 35i M Sport form) with ob­vi­ous dy­namic ben­e­fits. With the doors open, you can see high and wide sills that should en­sure ex­cel­lent struc­tural in­tegrity, while in pro­file you can see a short­ened wheel­base, which puts the driver in the cen­tre of the car rather than to­wards the rear, as has been the case with pre­vi­ous Z4s.

In­side, the con­cept’s En­er­getic Or­ange Matt paint­work is echoed on the pas­sen­ger side, while the driver’s im­me­di­ate en­vi­ron­ment is trimmed in black, adding to the air of pur­pose. As with the Con­cept 8-se­ries, the mi­nor con­trols have been pared back slightly and are grouped in ‘is­lands’, so those de­voted to the driv­ing dy­nam­ics are all sited around the gear­lever, the heat­ing con­trols around the vents and so on. The dash-pod and idrive mon­i­tor now blend into each other in a clear in­di­ca­tion of how fu­ture BMW dash de­sign will look, with a flow of in­for­ma­tion run­ning from one to the other. Within the dash-pod, the in­stru­men­ta­tion will no longer fea­ture tra­di­tional round di­als, mov­ing to a look more akin to the car’s LED head­lights.

While it’s too early to say ex­actly what to ex­pect in terms of the driv­e­train, it doesn’t take a huge leap to sug­gest that we’re likely to see four- and six-cylin­der en­gines from BMW’S lat­est mod­u­lar range. So ex­pect tur­bocharged four-pots in the 20i and 30i, plus a 40i model as the range-top­per pow­ered by the fa­mil­iar tur­bocharged 3-litre straight-six. We wouldn’t bet against a hy­brid 40e model, ei­ther. Will there be a head­lin­ing M model, though? It’s a mouth­wa­ter­ing prospect, as the twin-turbo six from the M3 and M4 would def­i­nitely fit un­der the new Z4’s some­what trun­cated bon­net, but there wasn’t an M ver­sion of the out­go­ing Z4, and, even with the orig­i­nal Z4, the M model was a late ad­di­tion to the line-up that wasn’t orig­i­nally in BMW’S prod­uct plan­ning.

Per­haps more likely is an M Per­for­mance Z4 us­ing a blend of M240i run­ning gear, and that has the po­ten­tial to be a tan­ta­lis­ingly good evo-style ma­chine. If Gi­rard’s prom­ise of agility and dy­namism trans­late to the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as well as the de­sign, we could be in for a real treat.

‘Will there be a head­lin­ing M model? It’s a mouth-wa­ter­ing prospect…’

Pho­tog­ra­phy by ANTONY FRASER

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