The Z4: This Time, BMW Got It Right

The BMW Z4 roadster either has athletic lines and gorgeous proportions befitting a European two-seat convertible -- or the bold new look crafted by BMW chief designer Chris Bangle is just plain goofy. That debate raged among car buffs when the sporty Z4 first came to market last September as a replacement for the Z3.

But the Z4 quickly impressed drivers enough that even critics of the styling decided the real sex appeal is behind the wheel. I am personally torn by its looks. I don't like the lines and creases styled into the doors. If you look closely, they form a Z. Otherwise, the Z4 -- with its long, flowing hood, short front, and rear bumpers -- resembles a classic European sports car.

It drives like one as well. I stepped down into the cockpit, which is an awkward squeeze, to find myself practically sitting on the street. When I fired up the engine, the exhaust system growled out some throaty notes. The sound is more raw than anything I would expect from BMW.

It has power to match. The new in-line 6-cylinder engine gets 225 horsepower, which is plenty of punch for the roadster's lean 3,000-pound weight. Even better, with the Z4's six-speed manual transmission, you can push each gear to the max. And when it comes to cornering, it's a superb machine. The suspension keeps the car in place even under aggressive driving conditions. I didn't have to fight the steering wheel to cut a 90-degree corner at high speeds.

Inside, the Z4 offers a refreshing break from most other cars. So many auto makers have started using brushed metal that it has become a cliché on instrument panels and consoles in everything from a Honda Accord to a Road Explorer sport-utility vehicle. BMW lined the console of my test car with a $200 optional low-gloss wood that looks modern and rich.

While the Z3 was just an expensive rival to Mazda's Miata, the Z4 is a lot more. It costs $42,000 with the bigger engine, $35,000 with a 184-horsepower motor. Even if you're not crazy about the styling, the Z4 gives you plenty of reasons to like it.

By David Welch

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