BMW’s next big thing is the 1-Series coupe and convertible. Propellerheads are positively dizzy at the prospect of a new, small-ish, rear wheel-drive BMW offering a modicum of practicality, brand-faithful weight distribution and one of the company’s legendary in-line six-cylinder engines. Why it’s the 2002 reborn! Hello? Has the entire enthusiast community been neuralized? They seem to have forgotten the fact that BMW already sells a model answering to this description: the Z4 Coupe. Or, in fact, doesn’t, much. And for good reason: the Z4 is a rolling condemnation of BMW’s evolutionary commitment to ultimate driving, a four-wheeled cautionary tale for anyone blinded by the BMW badge.
If you think the new BMW 1-Series is a bit awkward looking, behold the Z4 Coupe. What's with that droopy line across the car’s doors? Perhaps the designer fell asleep at the table whilst his pencil trailed off into eternity. The diagonal slashes across the Z4’s flanks and face are positively maniacal. At the back, the coupe’s sloping roofline hits the Banglized trunk lid at the same place the rear haunches finish their… haunching. It's hard to say what happened here, but it's not good. It reminds me of the time I asked my four-year old cousin to get ready for bed and discovered him wearing his PJ pants as a shirt.
Mssrs. Style and Panache are MIA. The Z4’s front fascia looks as though a regular front end was mercilessly stretched over the frame. The headlights and grille are so far swept back they seem moments away from bursting, with the rest of the car popping out from behind. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s taking the phallic design shtick a little too far.
That said, BMW nailed the layout and proportions: ginormous hood, cabin out back and a rear deck so small it's a fast back. We’re talking classic sports car shape, in the great tradition of the Jaguar E-Type and Mercedes Gullwing. But so much of the Z4’s exterior is so wrong you wonder how in the world BMW managed to snatch hideousness from the jaws of classicism.
Things get better indoors. Ish. The Z4 offers a narrow, confining cockpit with all the space of a Manhattan condo. Build upwards! The Z4’s extremely comfortable, bolstered seats are screwed so close to the floorboards you wonder if Bimmer’s ergonomic engineers were anticipating the return of the fedora. This average Joe also found reaching the dash knobs a bit of a stretch. Not that you feel any aesthetic or tactile compulsion to do so…
Contemplating the Z4’s monolithic, any-color-as-long-as-it’s black dashboard is like setting your claustrophobia on broil. The obligatory aluminum or strangely colored wood accents lighten the cabin’s atmosphere about as effectively as a drug store flashlight in a darkened amphitheater. Rear visibility is conspicuous by its absence.
Nor do the details delight. The Z4’s component radio header is plopped into an abyss of plastic and sheets of metal/lumber, looking a bit like the face of the Jetsons’ robotic maid. Your hands will be thrilled though, for the Z4’s the steering wheel is the appropriate size, shape and diameter for what lies ahead.
The Z4’s inline six delivers exactly the sort of performance you'd expect from an engine with a well-stocked trophy case. The 3.0-liter engine is neither peaky (a la Honda) nor rpm challenged (as in GM's 3.6). In fact, it's as smooth as Marvin Gaye on a glass stage. Spinning the mill with the Z4's six-speed manual provides genuine joy, while the Steptronic auto (sourced from GM, thank you) is snappy and slick enough to tempt purists to try the commuter solution. Either way, you're playing with 255 horsepower– enough oomph to propel the 3108lbs. two-door from rest to 60mph in a hair under six seconds.
The Z4’s handling dynamics are the car's Achilles' heel, calf and thigh. The car is completely hamstrung by wide, overly stiff run-flat tires and needlessly-aggressive chassis tuning. Like the ill-fated Pontiac Solstice, grip exceeds power to the point of pointlessness. The Bimmer is so completely buttoned down you can practically hear it crying out for catharsis. The Si variant adds welcome feedback and the Z4M adds obscene power, but the standard car lacks any of the low speed or on-the-limit fun enjoyed by Mazda Miata drivers– never mind Boxster bashers.
Considering the Z4’s fundamentals– rear wheel drive, two seats, straight six– this car should be, at the least, a grand grand touring car. The engine and transmission are up to the job, but the car’s tires and suspension are stuck in egg-beater mode. Even worse, the Z4 is even uglier now than it was when the tennis shoe design first tempted sports car lovers. Rather than fix the Z4, BMW has opted to go back to square 1. I have no doubt the new 1-Series will be the better driver’s car, but a moment of silence please for a bold Bimmer that deserved better.