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"Fahrvergnügen", the BMW motto of the "joy to drive" is something I´ve been experiencing for quite a while: being a longtime Beemer owner - six years spent in a 530i and as of today nine years in the 740iA - I kept close watch on everything that left Bavarian factories with the distinct blue and white propeller logo.
Years back I used to switch my Volkswagen Golf and Scirocco GTIs every three years, the 530i had already been driven for six years and the 740iA will probably survive me with its still mint condition.
So what is all the fuss about getting a second car that I do not really need as my loving wife constantly keeps reminding me? Well, for a member of the +50 age group life is beginning to change priorities, hedonism demands for lifestyle toys such as the new Z4 roadster, doesn´t it? ;-)
My first encounter last October was a virtual one on the website www.bmwusa.com, (this model is being assembled in Spartanburg, S.C.), during a trip to Honolulu around X-mas I got a chance to sit in a showroom car, in February there was a pre-presentation to valid customers in Vienna and one of these fine spring days I booked a 3.0 model for a 222 km test drive through the Vienna Woods.
Back on delivery day of the 740i it took a whole hour of instruction to get acquainted with the different gadgets of the large limousine, while with the Z4 it took just two minutes to figure out the button for the automatic soft top and the small “Sport” button (Dynamic Drive Control) to the left of the 6-speed transmission.
Just bare 10 seconds and the blue sky was mine, no fussing with tonneau covers and such, power mirrors and comfortable leather seats (VERY near to the ground) adjusted, six cylinders with 231 HP go to work when I realize that the years of getting spoiled with automatic transmissions have taken their toll, it takes a couple of minutes until I´m comfortable with clutch and gearbox. It is a whole new feel and a joy to shift the smooth and precise gears of the Z4, but I will probably opt for the 6 speed SMG (sequential manual gearbox), that allows F 1 like ultra quick shifts via steering wheel paddles.
On my way into the woods I need to cross the Danube river and passing through tunnels I regret very soon riding with the top down, it is the dreadful cacophony from the big lorries that hurts my ears badly, so I floor the accelerator and the tremendous torque of 300 Newtonmeters pull me ahead of both noise and Diesel fumes in an instant - by the way: both the sprint from 0 to 100 kmh and acceleration from 80 to 120 kmh take less than six seconds…
For decades I have taken my would-be acquisitions to a special section of road leading into the Vienna Woods, the “Höhenstraße”, built by hand with granite cobble stones in the thirties of the last century. It is a steep and winding road best suited to test suspension, cornering, roadholding and the overall driving comfort. To sum it up right away: it was the most fantastic ride I´ve experienced in years reminding me of juvenile go-cart adventures in the Vienna Prater! Very soon I got pretty bold pressing the “Sport” button thus removing all electronic driver aids except ALB. Never before I´ve had more fun cornering near the limit with sort of little power slides on this rugged surface.
Critics of the Z4 claim that the stiff optional sport suspension requires good disk condition in the vertebral column, I can only tell that I “survived” without any tangible problems. Even further road obstacles like tram tracks or lateral concrete joints didn´t come through to an unpleasant extent.
Chris Bangle, the designer of all the last new Beemers (new 7 and 5 series) has almost been crucified by conservative buyers for the styling of the big limousine and first reactions after the release of factory fotos of the Z4 likewise were not too friendly for the “shark face”, the “duck butt” and certain convex and concave lines intersecting at odd angles. For me this roadster stands out of the crowd like the Porsche Boxster which happens to be its immediate competitor but separated by a remarkable price gap of at least € 17000 (base models).
The Z4 3.0 starts at € 44000 in Austria but indispensable optional goodies like 18” cast alloy wheels, bi-xenon headlights, automatic climate control, the SMG and a navigation system take it well over the 50k barrier. With the current €/$ exchange rate I might even consider picking it up in Spartanburg, put a halfset in the small trunk and cruise around Pinehurst golf courses before shipping it to the old continent…
Meanwhile I have taken another 800 kilometers of test drives with the automatic version as well as the smaller 2.5 litre model. During one 3-day BMW event weekend I took the Z4 "through the bushes" - Lower Austrian backcountry with narrow, winding roads and wooded, hilly landscape. Perfect weather and driving conditions allowed to leave the power top down all the time and made this trip at 60 to 80kmh a lively experience. Back on the freeway for a short distance you might go as fast as our speed limit of 130 - the only drawback being the then unpleasant airflow and noise.
Even the smaller version of the Z4 2.5 is equal in road holding and breaking and a good choice for people who do not need the 6 second mark with the acceleration and do not mind to handle the top manually.
Recent road tests of one German motor magazine (Autobild) revealed the Z4s competitiveness against the Porsche Boxster with slightly better marks for breaking and acceleration and equal ones for roadholding, but the more impressive fact is that it costs some € 10000 less than its counterpart from Stuttgart.
Well, the € is on the decline but the real reason I´m not going to buy in the U.S. is the fact, that - considering all hidden costs such as handling & shipping to Europe and red tape with Austrian customs - I would actually have to pay more than at home, the price quote of one Oregon BMW dealer was US$ 49000 and this is before Austrian vehicle taxes and VAT of another 32%!
Complete technical data are available at the different local websites that are linked on www.bmw.com, the virtual car configurator lets you pick your personal Z 4, “mine” will have black sapphire metallic paint, red leather , brushed aluminum interior trim, a 16:9 TFT navigational computer display, rain sensors and some more of the options mentioned just above.