MOTORING: THE BMW Z4
Thu, 21 June 2012
I’ve often remarked that price doesn’t really matter up at the premium end of the local vehicle market. After all, if you can afford to spend upwards of R10 000 per month just on a car, chances are you’re already living a lavish lifestyle and your priorities fall in a slightly different order compared to other people.
So, what wheels to choose as the stereotypical gay man with a fat wallet and a penchant for wind in the hair? If you’d have asked me a month ago, I’d have blurted out “Merc SLK” before you’d have finished your sentence. But now, after spending a truly glorious week behind the wheel of the latest BMW Z4, I’m singing a very different tune...
Not that the BMW Z4 has ever really evaded my radar but, having never driven one before, I’d never been able to truly experience what that Sheer Driving Pleasure moniker could deliver in a package like this. It was with a big smile then that I greeted this slice of white perfection that is the BMW Z4 sDrive28i. And I say ‘perfection’ because I really couldn’t fault this car’s design – it is true-to-the-bone sports car.
The acres of bonnet, tiny glasshouse, far-back driving position and perky backside; all of it comes together to create something which is not only menacing with a low and wide stance, but also exceptionally beautiful. One thing I kept on saying about this car was how gorgeous it looks with the standard body kit and nothing-fancy wheels, whereas the SLK needs its optional AMG body kit at least to look sexy.
The interior is simple and minimalistic, with the focus on the driver and a cocooning effect once you’re in behind the wheel. With the roof up it feels snug and enveloping, but not claustrophobic or tight. With the roof down however it’s like opening the door to a fountain of happiness as the sun (or indeed the moon) licks your face. And therein lies this car’s addictive nature – once I’d put the roof down I refused to put it up again, despite the temperature falling below five degrees one night and the icy air giving me a slight headache. Once the mesh-style air diffuser was clicked into place, wind intrusion into the cabin was nothing but pleasurable – even when the weather was Arctic-like – with just enough turbulence to ruffle your hair, without needing an emergency stylist after your drive.
Aside from the wind and the sunshine, there was another big reason I refused to drive with the roof up, and if you’re even as remotely a petrolhead as what I am, this will make absolute sense to you: this car’s engine acoustics deserve a Grammy.
Being a turbocharged four cylinder petrol mill you wouldn’t really expect it to stir the soul much, but BMW’s engineers have done something really special with the way this car sounds. With a deep growling intake note low-down mixed with glorious turbo whine, you work up to a shrieking redline and then the most smile-inducing gear change ever (thanks to the dual-clutch eight-speed automatic gearbox, with shifts smoother than silk when in Comfort mode). This car snorts and burps and screams and shouts – all in the name of pure driving fun.
It’s not a case of all show and no go either – producing 180 kW and 350 Nm (yes, from a two-litre!) this little car will get from 0-100 km/h in just 5.7 seconds and top out at an electronically-limited 250 km/h.
Then you have the fuel economy, which in my books, and considering how I drove this car (with gusto of course), was pretty good; I returned 11.7-litres per 100 km overall. Compared to the 15-litres per 100 km I achieved last year in the SLK200 this is much, much better. BMW claims average economy to be 6.8-litres per 100 km which may seem far-fetched compared to my real-world result but, if driven even slightly gentler, I have no doubt a sub-8 figure could be achieved. Better still is that carbon emissions on this model are just 159 g/km – superbly low for a car like this!
Dynamic Driving Control plays a large role in dictating the Z4’s character, and with three modes to choose from and then a further choice of four traction control maps you can really go from boulevard cruiser to backstreet bruiser at the press of a button. I found the most fun lay in Sport Plus mode, which realises the enhanced throttle response and steering feel of Sport mode and brings in extra sporty driving touches, like not shifting automatically when the engine hits the rev limiter.
With full manual gearbox control via two steering wheel-mounted paddles, Sport Plus was oodles of fun, especially with the gorgeous exhausts barking and farting behind my ears the whole time. Traction control is slightly watered down in Sport or Sport Plus modes, allowing for very little oversteer which is difficult to exploit. But a simple push of the traction control button, switching the system into Traction mode, was all that was needed to dial in a good dollop of controllable oversteer which means you can have a ton of fun through tighter bends without accidentally parking the car backwards into a lamp post or oncoming traffic.
Sounds like quite a car this Beemer, but being German there are a few drawbacks, chief of which is the list of optional extras. The car you see in these exclusive photos may look like just an “ordinary” Z4 but even without looking terribly jazzed-up it was laden with quite a few extras, which added around R50 000 to the sticker price of R601 535. What I argue in defence of the BMW though, the same which cannot be done for the SLK, is that this car would be thrilling to drive and look at in its most basic and simplest form. The Merc may be cheaper yes, but its AMG kit alone costs R32 000 and is absolutely necessary, if you ask me.
So, up against its chief rivals of the Mercedes-Benz SLK200 7G-TRONIC (R584 200), Nissan 370Z Roadster auto (R578 800), the age-old and considerably cheaper Audi TT 2.0T S-Tronic (R484 500) and the brand-new Porsche Boxster PDK (R589 000), does the more expensive BMW have what it takes to be crowned the best roadster of them all?
Well, besides the new Boxster which I’ve yet to take for a spin, up against the other three cars I would say yes, definitely. It was so much more engaging than the SLK and despite being so much cheaper the Audi just lacks the fizz and fun which the Beemer throws at you in great bucket loads. Despite the Nissan’s V6 engine at this price level, it lacks a bit of the refinement on offer from the BMW as well (and I honestly adore the 370Z).
I had an absolute ball driving this BMW in the middle of winter and while trying desperately to recover from the flu. If it weren’t for the fact that BMW SA knows where I live I’d probably have kept this car until mass warfare broke out to reclaim the keys from my firm grasp. It was everything a sports roadster should be, and will go down as one of my top ten cars driven this year without question. In short then, if you’re looking for two seats and a folding roof, this is the car to buy!
Our sincere thanks go to The Pivot at Montecasino for the gracious use of their facilities for this exclusive photoshoot.