///M. The single letter that sets an ordinary Bavarian Motor apart from something special. And the BMW Z4M is something special indeed.
That is why; I’m guessing the thing came lathered in ///M Badges. On each wing, the boot lid, the gear knob, the steering wheel, the wheels themselves and under the bonnet for good measure. And speaking of the bonnet, it sits above an aggressive front end, with a muscle bulge to set it apart from the somewhat tamer standard Z4. Just in case anyone should make the mistake that your roadster was the run of the mill 2.5 steptronic variant. But the Z4M is more than simply badges and tailpipes.
Priced at $180k on release and yours for circa $60k now, the Z4M came packing 340 bhp courtesy of a 3.2 litre straight 6 power plant lifted straight from the infamous e46 M3 CSL. That means that with a kerb weight of 1,450 kg, the Z4M reaches 100kph in a shade under 5 seconds. In fact when we put it to the test we mustered a 4.8.
The Z4 was renowned for it’s somewhat controversial but growing looks. An
gular panels, with an elegant flare. It has the typical muscle roadster proportions, a huge, sweeping bonnet, seats almost over the rear seats and a growling naturally aspirated heart. The dash in this model features the pop-up screen, which folds away into the soft-touch dash which is fronted by a faux carbon fibre facia. The SatNav operates on the same principle as the newer i-drive interface. Rotate to scroll through menus, push to select. It is loaded with the 6cd changer in the centre-rear cubby space, as well as a/v input, parking sensors, iPod interface and phone cradle. Bluetooth can be tricky to pair on the phone, requiring split second timing.
My favourite feature is in the somewhat long key. Click the unlock button three times and hold; and the roof and windows drop. Quite the party trick.
Pour into the cockpit and you’ll find it snug but well laid out. The electronic roof drops away in under 5 seconds, and the speedo and tachometer are cowled towards the driver. A thick, chunky steering wheel sits at the centre of the action; some complain it is too thick but for my stubby fingered chunky man hands it is a perfect fit. Turn the key and the exhaust note is quite subdued at idle. Blip the throttle and you get a little burble as you ease off.
Foot down and she screams to life. The first gear whilst long, is subject to a lot of criticism for feeling ‘loose’ as you hunt for second. She’s fickle; pulling away without bunny-hopping is an acquired skill in itself. The situation worsens should you hit the ‘sport’ button. Many will tell you that the button does nothing but I couldn’t disagree more. It sharpens up the throttle response by means of adjusting the amount that the fly-by-wire system opens the throttle at any given pedal position. I.E. where a throttle might be at 10% with sports mode off, it will be at 15% in the same position with it on. What does this mean in the real world? It means that faster shifts and getting your throttle on as you come out of the apex happens that split second more quickly. The M has a heavy clutch which adds to the sheer drama of the thing.
The layout of the car means that I you flick the traction control off, she will be tail-happy/ With the high rev limit, you can tip into a corner and ride a wave of tyre smoke sideways through the apex. The suspension, whilst firm is known to be a little crashy, getting unsettled should you hit a bump mid turn. It does however provide good stability. This isn’t a car that you try to navigate with precision through corners in the same way that you would a 911 or a Cayman. You take a deep breath, pick a gear, flick the wheel and unleash a throttle full of fury until you emerge, giggling nervously.
The mechanical roar climaxes as you race from 5k to the XXXXXXXXX redline and in this example, the roar is deepened by the AFE intake which pivots heads like owls from 20 meters away with a wide open gas pedal. Turn after turn with extreme use, the brakes if used over-enthusiastically do flutter a hint of fade, however the CSL’s stoppers are plenty man enough for road and light track duties.
We had the pleasure of piloting this example bone-stock and with a few bits of garnish. On the standard 18” wheels wrapped in Yokohama I certainly could feel a hint of understeer and a slightly dulled turn-in which is cured by adding a load of oversteer. Whereas after modification – lightweight 19” wheels from the M3 CSL coated in Michelin Super Sport wheels (at a staggering $3,200 a set for 245/ 235 width stance), and a Weicher’s front brace, turn in was sharper, responsive and honed what was already a thrilling experience. The electronic steering of the normal Z4 is thrown away for a hydraulic setup purely because it was the M Department’s preference, offering more modulated control and feedback.
The Z4M gained criticism for not being as sharp as the M3 which it was effectively cousin to; nor as sharp its competition aka the Porsche Boxster. But having gained an almost cult following, it is often viewed as an underrated gem. The German TVR some will say. Some say the gearbox lacks feel in the shift from one to two which I can certainly see – it always feels like an uncertain affair. There are no real reliability quirks, the recipe is simple. A well-sized motor, linked to a simple, non-complicated gearbox, bolted to the rear wheels via an LSD. There are no SMG hydraulics to fail. The usual M3 Vanos quirks remain, which simply means that you will have to keep to a maintenance schedule. The great thing is that cars like this attract an almost cult following of dedicated and friendly enthusiasts who grow to know the car inside and out who create great communities online and at events.
In standard form, the M is an exhilarating hoot of a machine. With a bit of fettling, the Z4M is definitely cemented as something special. The Coupe generally gets praise for being sharper, stiffer, more composed. The car that the roadster wasn’t. Which is exactly why I would reach for the keys to the drop to every time. The point of a car that feels this alive, is to have the wind ruffle your air, to feel like you’re amongst the elements and very much involved with the drama. Prices have steadied and even started to rise and perhaps this future classic candidate has potential in its residuals.