- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

A pleasure to view, a pleasure to drive — and what a pleasure it would be to own BMW’s all-new Z4 roadster.

I spent a week behind the wheel of the top-of-the-line Z4 3.0i. To say I was impressed is putting it mildly.

With the Z4, BMW is squarely in the field of sophisticated, full-featured sports roadsters. Both the base 2.5i and 3.0i models are powered by inline six-cylinder engines and offer buyers a choice of four transmissions.

The Z4 replaces the Z3 in BMW’s lineup. It is more than just a successor as it takes the roadster segment to a higher level.

Admittedly, when I first saw photos of the new model its styling didn’t impress. When it arrived on my driveway I became an instant believer. The Z4 provides the traditional roadster proportions with an ultracontemporary design. The use of two beltlines sets it apart from other roadsters.

Every time I approached the Z4, its styling looked better. Its proportions define a roadster with its long hood and seats low and far rearward, close to the rear wheels.

BMW’s designers have overcome some of the difficulties of providing efficient aerodynamics in an open-air car. With its softtop in place the Z4 has an aerodynamic drag coefficient (Cd) of just 0.35. Development work has minimized drafts around the faces and upper bodies of occupants when the top is down.

Nothing could be simpler than lowering or raising the top. Just unlock the top and push the correct buttons.

It is in the driving that the Z4 comes into its own. Not only did I drive it around town and on several out-of-town trips, but I did three runs over my favorite back roads for testing sports vehicles. The Z4 made the toughest turns and grades look like straightaways.

It proved unflappable over a variety of road surfaces and as I pushed the Z4 harder than usual, it stuck to the pavement like it was glued.

The Z4’s suspension is an evolution of the 3 Series’ award-winning concept. The track is wider than the Z3 by 2.4 inches. The front features strut-type suspension and the rear is a multilink concept

Buyers have a choice between two inline six engines. The base engine (2.5I) provides 184 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque. Mated to a smooth five-speed manual transmission it is capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds and has a top speed of 146 mph.

The larger 3.0-liter engine offers 225 horsepower and 214 foot-pounds of torque. It cuts the 0 to 60 mph time to 5.9 seconds with an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. It comes with an ultrasmooth six-speed manual transmission Both engines are available with an optional five-speed Steptronic automatic.

Coming later this year will be an optional sequential manual gearbox for the 3.0i. In its basic operation, the driver shifts gears at will, either by tapping the shift lever or actuating shift “paddles” on the steering wheel. Electronic controls and electrohydraulic action let off the accelerator, declutch, change gears, re-engage the clutch and “step on the gas.” It sounds like fun, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a Z4 equipped with the sequential unit.

I found the 3.0i engine to be quite thrifty with fuel. It has projected EPA mileage ratings of 21 miles per gallon city and 29 on the highway. The test car in combined city/highway driving averaged 26.3 miles per gallon — and I didn’t spare the horses.

Both versions feature disc brakes at all four corners. The base version gets ventilated front and solid rear discs, while the 3.0i is provided with ventilated front and rear discs. Both models are shod with run-flat tires as standard equipment.

The test car was equipped with the Sport Package providing the ultimate in wheel and tire combination. The sporty cast-alloy wheels are sized 18x8.0 front and 18x8.5 rear and carry 225/40R-18 front and 255/35R-18 tires.

Z4s come standard with Dynamic Stability Control with an advanced Dynamic Traction Control function.

The interior is one of the cleanest designs I’ve encountered. It takes just a few seconds to become familiar with the controls,

As expected in a sports car, the seats provide superb support and allow the driver and passenger to remain seated for hours without fatigue.

I attempted to come up with some nits to pick on the Z4 — and the closest I could come was that entering or leaving the car I hit my head on the top frame. I’m just too tall and too clumsy at times.

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