18 September 2007
How Do You Say Overrated In German? (aka MF Drives The 2007 BMW Z4 Roadster)
Uberschätzt. In case you were wondering. At least that's what the computer spit out.
I had the opportunity to take a Z4 3.0 convertible out for an extended spin a couple of weeks ago, and came away unimpressed. To say the least.
Walking into a BMW dealership always hints at the surreal- at least it always has in my experience. The combination of smugness, holier than thou attitude, and Teutonic coolness has always made it seem like you're not buying a car as much as you're buying a high end piece of electronic equipment. Or furniture. Or checking into an expensive hotel. Which is ironic really, since BMW owners are generally the first people to spout such invective at owners of 'inferior' brands (read: Lexus, MB, etc.) that fall on the luxury side of the sport-luxury equation. Luckily on this particular trip into my local BMW, I encountered a salesperson who seemed to be a tad more civilized than most- genial even. Unfortunately, no M Roadster were available for a drive, so a 3.0 would suffice. A set of keys and a dealer plate later, and I was away in a black 3.0- on my own without the dealer.
The first thing you'll notice about the Z4 is that it looks like the retarded chromosonal combination of a catfish and a tadpole. Yes, Chris Bangle is an oft-imitated designer, and yes, his influence and ideas have made a mark on the world of automotive design, but to these eyes, the Z4 is unpalatable from nearly every angle. The long hood and short rear deck are pleasing to the eye, but the lidded headlights and excessive surfacing, especially on the sides, is not. Inside, things get simpler, but not much prettier. Although the interior doesn't scream 'cheap', it also doesn't seem like BMW spent much more than they had to in order to get the interior up to par. Meaning, it looks sparse, and it feels sparse, even in the fairly loaded configuration I was driving. Fortunately, the driving controls are everything that the rest of the interior is not- that is, substantial and placed in such a way that you now someone spent a lot of time figuring them out. The shifter is readily at hand, the thick steering wheel is grippy, and pedal placement is perfect.
Starting the engine unleashes a subdued growl that actually sounds a tad raspy- something I did not expect from the 3.0. With the top down, I found the stereo (heck, EVERYTHING) was overpowered by engine note- if that's your thing, you might be in heaven, however I found it distracting after 10 minutes of it. Luckily, the noise is backed up by copious amount of power- let it run up to redline through the gear box and you'll quickly reach highly illegal speeds in a highly illegal manner. Unlike the Boxster, which feels planted and balanced no matter what you're doing, punch the throttle in the Z4 and you can feel it hunker down on its haunches and spring forward. There is lots of grip in back end, but if you're not careful with your throttle modulation, this bad boy will oversteer like a true drifter. The gearbox is a pleasure to use- short throws, well defined , and smooth as silk- all amplified by the wonderful placement of the shifter. The clutch is surprisingly light at first, but quickly becomes second nature after 5 minutes.
Handling? As mentioned above, I found the Z4 was quite fond of oversteering. The steering itself was very heavy- especially on center- if you want to turn in the Z4, you're going to have to turn- not just nudge. However, it responded quickly to inputs, and despite the heaviness, felt very good in the twisties. The suspension handled most of the road imperfections with ease around town, but I found it a big wriggly at speed and in sweeping turns- again, it felt as though the back end wanted to swap places with the front end. Overall, the experience was fun, but not as reassuring as a Boxster, or even a Z Roadster- both vehicles that I also tested on the same route.
All in all, the Z4 3.0 Roadster is a fine little car. Since looks are subjective, I can't dock too many points for looking the way it does. At 45k Canadian, it would be quite the ride for somebody looking for a sporty convertible that has the flexibility to actually haul some stuff (the trunk space actually isn't that bad). However, it's nowhere near 45k. In fact, it's near 70k Canadian for a Z4 3.0 Roadster. That my friends, is grand larceny. What does that 70k buy you? Well, for one, it will buy you a Porsche Boxster. No, it won't be an S, but the base Boxster walks all over the BMW- it's more balanced, has similar power and speed, and just feels better. It will also buy you a Mercedes SLK with a 3.5 liter engine, much better looks, and a more solid feel. Move downmarket, and you can get a 350Z, which will lack the cachet of the Germans, but costs 55k Canadian, and although not as agile as the BMW, is a worthy contender while being 15k cheaper.
And that's why the Z4 is overrated. It is not worth 70k in any way, shape or form. It's a competent roadster with a nice engine. There are LOTS of those out there nowadays. But very few of them cost as much as this. And it will continue to sell because of badge. But such is life.