In 1996, when BMW introduced the Z3, it was the only premium-brand true roadster available. Before the Mazda Miata dominated the market, and the Z3 introduction took a big chunk out of the Miata’s sales. The Z3 was wildly successful. For some, it was a pure roadster for those twisty back roads, while for others it was a beautiful convertible for those sunny days. Porsche, who introduced the Boxster, a Z3 on steroids, in 1997, was not as successful as the BMW. In late 1998, Mercedes-Benz (now Daimler Chrysler) introduced the SLK, aimed squarely at the Z3, except it came standard with a retractable hard top that gave it the competitive edge it needed to survive. It was just as successful, but since it came late to the game, the Z3 was still ahead. In early 1999, Audi introduced the TT coupe and convertible. There was nothing special about the TT except for its artsy design. By now, BMW was feeling the heat of its competitors, hence the need for a bigger, better, stronger Z3.
In July of 2002, BMW released the first official pictures of the Z3’s successor, the Z4. The new roadster is all it needs to be to reclaim its title. It is larger and stronger to rival the Boxster, yet beautiful enough to contest with the TT. What about the SLK, you ask? The truth is BMW never paid attention to the SLK. The initial pictures created quite a stir among critics, including myself. I was frightened that BMW was losing it, considering the controversial design of the new 7-series. See, the Z4 is the first production BMW to sport a new design method called “flame surfacing,” which is the clay-shaping of the initial design of the car.
As usual, the pictures did no justice for the Z4. The first time I beheld the Z4, I realized what BMW was up to. Sitting in the Z4’s cockpit reminded me of why I am passionate about BMWs. The cars are focused on the driver and are designed to do one thing: to put a big, fat smile on your face when you realize how much fun you can have with their ultimate driving machines.
The materials are unlike any other car I have seen before, making extensive use of brushed aluminum. The sitting position immediately puts you in command with its low and supportive seats. The steering wheel has a small radius and a firm grip, while all the controls are logically placed for convenience. The only illogically placed items in the interior are the cup holders, placed directly beneath the corner vents, preventing ventilation. I suppose you don’t need ventilation in a convertible.
The Z4 is packed with gobs of technology, like DDC (dynamic drive control) which allows you to squeeze every ounce of power out of the engine, DSC (dynamic stability control) and run-flat tires that allow you to drive up to 50mph when flat. There are two engines available, a 192hp, 2.5L and a 231hp, 3.0L, both inline sixes.
The Z4 starts at about $33,000, but can easily climb to $50,000 if you want it done up properly. Quite expensive, but it is one of the ultimate driving machines. Checkout bmwfilms.com to see what the Z4 can do.
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