2006 BMW M6 by Conor Twomey (5/21/2006)
A bit too much for the real world.
There’s a reason why the Wisconsin countryside is as lush as it is, and that reason is falling from the sky in copious quantities today. Even in the downpour, our white Z4 M Coupe looks fantastic, all swag lines and creases and pent-up aggression.
Say what you want about Bangle’s influence elsewhere in the BMW range, to me the Z4 Coupe is a triumph of modern design. The rear end is more sophisticated yet more attractive than that of any BMW currently on sale and is easily the best angle to view it from, although it looks rather good in profile also with that long hood, crazy flame-surface bodywork and wonderfully well-executed roofline. Come to think of it, the front end is growing on me too, and with the new M-spec front bumper and sexy 18-inch wheels it certainly has a lot of presence and purpose for such a wee automobile.
Inside, more reasons to rejoice. The steering wheel is so massively thick it’s more like you’re holding one of the tires, while the seats with their one-piece backrests are low on adjustments but still high on comfort and support. The pedals, gear lever, and basic controls are all perfectly placed and simple to use and because it’s unencumbered by iDrive, the Z4 M Coupe takes only a few moments to feel perfectly at home in.
It’s not as cramped as you might think either, thanks to its trendy double-bubble roof and low seating position, while visibility and storage space are more than acceptable, as long as you keep in mind this is a sports car after all. Even the trunk is a reasonable size and is accessible via a wide-opening hatch, which means you can bring more than just a change of well-folded underpants with you when you zip off for the weekend.
The Z4 M’s power output, at 330 hp, is definitely what one might call healthy, comfortably outstripping the likes of the 300-hp Nissan 350Z and the 295-hp Porsche Cayman, although it does weigh a not insubstantial 3230 pounds — slightly lighter than the husky 350Z but well over 200 pounds heavier than the lithe Cayman.
As a consequence, the BMW’s performance is closer to the Porsche’s: 0-60 mph takes just 4.9 seconds compared to the Cayman’s 5.2 seconds, while the pudgy 350Z takes a whole 5.6 seconds for the benchmark sprint. The Nissan, like the BMW, is limited to 155 mph whereas the Cayman is free to run all the way to 170 mph, although this is really an academic figure unless you own your own three-mile stretch of asphalt.
The Z4 M’s engines is the sophisticated 3.2-liter from the M3 coupe, with variable valve timing on both camshafts and six individual throttle bodies to help it achieve its phenomenal 100-plus hp per naturally aspirated liter. It doesn’t offer up its full 330 horses until the needle passes 7900 rpm and its 262 lb-ft of peak torque isn’t available until 4900 rpm, so it’s an engine you really have to thrash mercilessly to get the most from it.
Slight communication problem
Where the Z4 M Coupe really excels is in terms of chassis balance, hardly surprising given so much of the suspension hardware is borrowed from the BMW M3. The Z4 M Coupe is a car that you feel instantly at home in, a car that talks to you all the time and encourages you to play with the rear end whenever conditions allow. The ride is superb; compliant yet informative with all unwanted road-chatter filtered out long before it reaches your tender rump.
Unfortunately, while the steering is machete-sharp and exceptionally well weighted, a little too much of the conversation between the tires and the road has been bleeped out in the name of refinement. There’s still a lot of the Roadster’s damping in the system, methinks, but now that a roof is attached and torsional rigidity is up the slightly strangled steering feel is irksome. The Cayman and the 350Z relate marginally more about how road and car are getting along, and are a smidge more intimate to drive as a consequence, though neither car can match the Z4 M’s astonishing composite and cross-drilled brakes, which can devour kinetic energy with alarming efficiency.
Despite my minor gripes, the Z4 M Coupe remains a hugely engaging and charismatic car as well as being incredibly exploitable and faithful, too.
Even on the scary, high-speed, four-mile-long Road America racetrack, the Z4 M was much easier to thrash than the big, bad M6. It could be held in minutely adjustable four-wheel slides all the way through the treacherously slick corners, putting a huge grin on your face while it squirms around naughtily. It’s arguably the best-handling car BMW currently makes, which is saying something, and that alone makes it worth the $50,000 price of admission.
The considerably cheaper Nissan 350Z might be every bit impressive as the Z4 M to drive, but it’s not as fast, not as prestigious, and doesn’t have the pedigree of the little M Coupe. The Porsche Cayman still has the slightest of edges in terms of driver involvement, but the Z4 M Coupe counters by being more playful and more thrashable, and it’s quite a bit cheaper. I also think it looks a lot better than the Porsche, though I’m sure I’ll regret saying that when I open my inbox tomorrow.
What can’t be argued is that the hardtop Z4 M has easily the most character of the three, feeling raw and racecar-ish when it’s wound out, but remaining relaxed and composed when you’re not in the mood. It puts a smile on my face every time I look at it, every time I sit in it, and every time I fire up that engine and send the tachometer swinging into the red.
It’s a car you simply get or you don’t get and for those that do, there’s no better small sports coupe.
2006 BMW Z4 M Coupe
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Engine: 3.2-liter in-line six, 330 hp/262 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel
Length x width x height: 161.9 x 70.1 x 50.7 in
Wheelbase: 98.3 in
Curb weight: 3230 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 16/24 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags; anti-lock brakes with composite rotors and brake drying; stability control; xenon headlamps
Major standard equipment: Automatic climate control; power windows/locks/mirrors; ten-speaker audio system; sport leather seats; 18-inch alloy wheels
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles