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MOTORNET: BMW Z4 - Roadster Wrangles

BMW Z4 - Roadster Wrangles

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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The open road, the wind in your hair, great music blaring and the sun glinting off your cooler than cool sounds like the makings of a Hollywood movie, the kind that starts with a long sweeping shot across the Nevada desert as the hero heads to Vegas in a great looking convertible to take on the system and win.

But hold that thought. The roadster phenomenon is alive and well and you don't need a US setting to enjoy one. BMW, Mazda, Nissan, Honda, Mercedes and Porsche, all offer roadster models right here in New Zealand. There's even a very affordable Daihatsu on the market for those who can't quite stretch to more exotic motoring fare. The kind of car that with the roof down peels back the years and makes even the world weary feel young again.

Why then, after such a short stint behind the wheel, was BMW's superlative looking Z4 making me feel old?

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You expect a roadster to be different, to be serious, not soft, and the Z4 doesn't disappoint in that department. The long nose, the now familiar 'flame surfacing' courtesy on BMW's Chris Bangle, the flared nostrils and the truncated rear end make for a distinctive package. It is, quite simply, a great looking car. And while it may not be to everyone's taste, there's no denying that it makes a statement. Who wants to drive a roadster if it doesn't say something about its personality by the way it looks?

On the inside, the theme continues. You sit low behind a nicely retro three spoke steering wheel. The seating position is racing style, legs and arms fully extended ready for action. The brushed aluminium of the cabin is cool to the touch and on the eye. It's juxtaposed nicely against the bright red leather of the test car. Dials and instruments are finely detailed, while secondary controls are minimalist yet straightforward. There's not a computer screen to be seen...

Start the engine and the sound of BMW's in-line 2.2 litre six cylinder comes to life. It's not quite as melodious as the 3.0 litre version but it still aurally excites. It sounds exactly as you would expect it to. While it develops a fairly modest 125kw, it certainly puts them to good use and with a healthy 210Nm of torque at a very accessible 3500rpm it makes for a fine power plant. It's also an engine that likes to be worked, and revs happily past the 5500rpm mark accompanied by an equally desirable exhaust note. The 3.0 litre BMW six certainly delivers more power, but when you consider the weight - not to mention the price - advantage the 2.2 should not be overlooked. After all, a 0-100km/h time of around 7.5 seconds is hardly to be sneezed at, though is clearly not quite as quick as some of its contemporaries. It's also pretty frugal in the fuel department.

So far so good. Which is why I was so disappointed with the first few hundred metres in the Z4. The ride quality is more than firm it's downright hard. At low speeds, the 16" wheels thump through pot holes, tramline easily on uneven tarmac, and generally transmit every nuance to the driver. It's bone jarring. No doubt, the situation is made all the worse with the use of run-flat tyres, their very stiff sidewalls adding to the firmness of the ride. Of course, no one expects to be molly-coddled in a roadster. Heck, if that was the case, they would head straight for a 'boulevard cruiser' showroom, but neither do they expect to jar fillings loose in the ride into the office...

Find the right road though, and the BMW begins to make sense. It's finely tuned chassis with all its stiffness ensures a very sophisticated handling package. Punt it through the corners and even the most hardened of souls will feel a grin start to spread across the dial. It's not quite seat of the pants stuff - BMW's sophisticated traction control and array of electronic gadgetry put paid to that, all in the name of safety - but it's still good fun, and that's what counts.

Unfortunately, the five-speed manual transmission is only average. The clutch is well weighted and the gearstick shifts well enough, I was just expecting it to be a bit slicker and snick-snick between gears. It's a tad too notchy for my liking. Best to avoid having to find reverse in a hurry - especially with a truck bearing down on you during a difficult three point turn. It takes a bit of wrestling the box to find it. In fairness to BMW, the Z4 in question had done a good number of kilometres at the hands of fairly demanding motor noters and it may not have quite been at its peak.

In just about every respect, the BMW is a classy package - as you would expect of a vehicle with a list price of $78,900. The fully lined roof is quiet and well-insulated, and is – BMW claim – the fastest fully-electric roof in the world. It certainly is quick. Top quality materials, cleverly designed storage spaces, a great stereo, a useful sized boot and excellent levels of safety all add to the impression that this BMW is something special. But could I live with the ride quality? Let's just say that I can't help be a little wistful when thinking about those long, flat straights in the Nevada desert and the wind blowing in my hair. It’s conclusive, I really am getting old…

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