Tempt­ing two-seat sports cars have been a BMW tra­di­tion for more than 80 years, one that’s con­tin­ued by the new Z4

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - JOHN CAREY

Mu­nich’s drop-top driv­ers’ car is back to con­tinue a long line

SPORTS CARS MAY be a dy­ing breed, but the Z4 is a lively re­minder of why they must be saved from ex­tinc­tion. This low, lithe two-seat soft-top is im­pres­sively ag­ile and im­mensely en­ter­tain­ing. Pur­pose­built for pure driver plea­sure, it’s every­thing an SUV is not, and can never be.

In­sa­tiable de­mand for SUVS threat­ens the sur­vival of the sports car. Man­u­fac­tur­ers know that adding SUVS will add to their prof­its. Mean­while, the global au­di­ence for sports cars is di­min­ish­ing. And this makes it ever more dif­fi­cult to create a sound busi­ness case for them.

We can thank Toy­ota for the new Z4, and BMW for the new Supra. Both com­pa­nies in­sist their car would not ex­ist with­out the other part­ner to a col­lab­o­ra­tion deal inked back in 2012.

Dis­en­tan­gling the fine de­tail of the Z4/supra project is dif­fi­cult, with BMW and Toy­ota man­agers some­times giv­ing dif­fer­ent an­swers to the same ques­tion... to be later con­tra­dicted by some more se­nior exec.

Still, it’s clear that BMW de­serves credit for de­sign­ing most of the shared hard­ware. Mu­nich also pro­vides the Supra with an off-the-shelf in-line turbo six, some­thing Toy­ota says was key to their coupe re­vival con­cept.

Chas­sis de­sign was “100 per­cent BMW” says driv­ing dy­nam­ics exec Jos van As. The ge­nial Dutch­man says the plat­form shares most, but not all, its com­po­nents with the new 3 Se­ries. The changes en­dow the sports cars with more suitable caster and cam­ber an­gles for the strut front and multi-link rear sus­pen­sions. While brake sys­tems are bor­rowed from the M3/M4, the elec­tri­cally as­sisted vari­able steer­ing sys­tem is spe­cific to the car, says van As.

The new Z4 is longer and wider over­all than the sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion Z4, which stopped rolling off BMW’S Re­gens­burg pro­duc­tion line back in 2016. The new­comer’s front and rear tracks are wider, but the wheel­base is frac­tion­ally shorter.

BMW bought only the top M40i ver­sion of the Z4 to its in­ter­na­tional me­dia launch in Por­tu­gal. This model’s 250kw, 500Nm 3.0-litre turbo six, teamed with an eight-speed auto and driv­ing the rear wheels, is ba­si­cally the same as in the Supra.

And it’s a lovely thing in the Z4; smooth and re­spon­sive, with oo­dles of boosted torque from low in the rev range, along with a will­ing­ness to rev. It’s pretty close to petrol-burn­ing per­fec­tion.

BMW’S engi­neers have done a great job, too, with cal­i­bra­tion of the auto. It’s re­laxed yet alert in cruisy Com­fort mode, and a snappy shifter in Sport or Sport +, modes which also un­cork the muf­flers to re­lease a just-right amount of crackle and pop. Alone in the Z4 range, the M40i’s trans­mis­sion has spe­cific M Sport con­trol soft­ware.

Two 2.0-litre turbo fours – 20i (145kw and 320Nm) and 30i (190kw and 400Nm) – will com­plete the Z4 launch line-up. They also have eight-speed au­tos, but with stan­dard BMW soft­ware cal­i­bra­tions. All vari­ants will go on sale in Aus­tralia around March 2019, around five months af­ter Eu­ro­pean de­liv­er­ies be­gin.

The more mus­cu­lar en­gine in the M40i makes the Z4’s chas­sis work harder, but the ex­tra urge

didn’t re­veal any glar­ing flaws dur­ing a half-day test drive in and around Lis­bon.

Even in Com­fort mode, the adap­tive M Sport sus­pen­sion stan­dard in the M40i de­liv­ers a ride that’s firm and tightly dis­ci­plined. M Sport brakes and dif­fer­en­tial are also stan­dard on the M40i, along with M Sport ex­te­rior pack­age.

Se­lect­ing Sport mode makes the sus­pen­sion firmer, and brings a pal­pa­ble lift in smooth-road cor­ner­ing abil­ity. The ef­fect of Sport+ on throt­tle re­sponse and trans­mis­sion shift­ing makes the M40i feel like it’s been dosed with am­phet­a­mines. It’s too manic for pub­lic road use.

On poor qual­ity Aus­tralian roads, leav­ing the car in Com­fort mode but nudg­ing the stumpy shift lever side­ways for shift­ing sporti­ness, and per­haps us­ing the pad­dles, is likely to be the best recipe for driver plea­sure.

It sure worked for me on the nar­row clifftop road over­look­ing the At­lantic Ocean that was the high­light of BMW’S drive loop. The Z4 has a real depth of chas­sis tal­ent. This is a sports car with great in­her­ent poise and bal­ance, yet su­per sharp re­ac­tions to con­trol in­puts. The sniper-ri­fle ac­cu­rate steer­ing is a par­tic­u­lar high­light, though the too-thick leather-cov­ered rim of the M40i’s steer­ing wheel di­lutes the ef­fect.

Chubby-feel­ing steer­ing wheel aside, there’s lit­tle to com­plain about in the Z4 M40i’s cock­pit. The seats are ex­cel­lent, the driv­ing po­si­tion fine, and the in­stru­ment panel art­fully blends clar­ity and qual­ity. Pretty much all of BMW’S lat­est driver-as­sist and in­fo­tain­ment tech­nol­ogy will be avail­able in the sports car, ei­ther stan­dard or as op­tions.

The Z4’s roof takes only 10 sec­onds to raise or lower, at any speed up to 50km/h. It looks good when erect, and does a good job of in­su­lat­ing the in­te­rior from noise. It does im­pede over-the-shoul­der vi­sion more than a lit­tle.

The new Z4 has a much big­ger cargo com­part­ment than be­fore. It’s 281 litres roof open or closed, an in­crease of 50 per­cent over the pre­vi­ous model with its space-in­va­sive fold­ing hard­top. There’s room in the Z4’s boot for a very well-dressed week­end away.

The ex­te­rior of the Z4 is the work of young Aus­tralian Calvin Luk. The Z4 is his third de­sign, fol­low­ing the X1 and X3 SUVS. He can’t dis­guise the fact that he en­joyed work­ing on the new Z4 more than his ear­lier projects.

“This one’s ex­tremely emo­tional, be­cause there’s such a per­sonal con­nec­tion,” he says. BMW’S two-seaters were al­ways cars that fas­ci­nated him. “I loved the road­sters the most.”

Luk drove his own car to an event that marked the start of de­sign­ing the new Z4. “To kick off the project we ac­tu­ally had a re­ally fun day driv­ing old Z cars. We drove the Z1 around, Z3, Z8. I drove my Z4, as well, to the meet-up.”

But BMW’S brief to its de­sign­ers wasn’t to look back­wards. “There

is a sub­tle nod to past Z cars,” says Luk of the new Z4, “but the over­all push was to look for­ward.”

“This car is re­ally div­ing to the front. It’s re­ally sort of at­tack­ing the road.” It’s an ef­fect that springs from the sub­tly twist­ing lines emerg­ing from the air breather aft of the front whee­larch. This “drives the whole sculp­ture” ac­cord­ing to Luk, at the same time as giv­ing the new Z4 a vis­ual iden­tity that’s dis­tinct from ear­lier mod­els.

Still, Luk says there’s a lit­tle of BMW’S 2000 Z8 in the new Z4. “On the front end you see that the lights are pretty high up, and the kid­ney grilles are low and wide,” he ex­plains, hold­ing up a model of the Z8 to il­lus­trate the point, then switch­ing to a sketch of the Z4.

He also ad­mits that the mesh grille of the pre-ww2 328 Mille Miglia racer pro­vided in­spi­ra­tion for the three-di­men­sional hon­ey­comb grille-fill of the Z4.

Through­out the video call in­ter­view with Luk, the young Aussie bub­bles with en­thu­si­asm. Sports cars are like that. De­sign­ing them, driv­ing them, dream­ing about them makes life more, well, lively...


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