Thursday 6th September 2012


It should be wonderful, Chris Harris thinks it isn't and invites you to put him right

The styling was a bad start, that's all I can say. Its predecessor, the fantastically unexpected Z3 M Coupe was all curves and distended wheelarches and this Z4 M was just so, well, conventional.

Too normal compared with the Z3 M?
Too normal compared with the Z3 M?
Many of you will already be spitting phlegm at the screen because someone has the temerity to categorise a Garching product in PH's democratic Room 101 (not for the first time - Ed.), but I just don't see why you'd buy a Z4 M unless you suffered from chronic agoraphobia and felt an M3 was too big.

There is no single dynamic measurement in which the Z4 M is superior to the E46 M3. Is that a supportable statement? Could be. It was lighter and, on paper, was supposed to be a bit faster, but it never felt that quick to me. But for steering, ride and perhaps most importantly driver confidence, the M3 killed it. And, yes, I know that last point wasn't objective.

Let's agree on this - the engine is fabulous
Let's agree on this - the engine is fabulous
Sum of its parts
So the reason you buy a cramped coupe with potentially severe depreciation is usually quite simple: it's better to drive than the mainstream car with which it shares many components, in this case an engine. Well, I don't think it was as good to drive, which leaves us with the only other reason why you might make such a choice - the way it looks. Which brings me back to the point about the original Z3 M breadvan being cooler than an Eskimo's spuds, and this one appearing rather too conventional.

The case for the defense will suggest that the comparison with the E46 M3 is unfair because the two barely overlapped - when the E86 Z4 M Coupe arrived in 2006, the E46 had months to live, and it might be possible to argue that the Z4 M actually makes a stronger case for itself against the E90 Series V8 M3, and of course it was a much cheaper car to purchase from new.

Rear-set cabin is on the cosy side
Rear-set cabin is on the cosy side
Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me was the gap that existed between the expectation and the reality. On paper, a small coupe body with the sublime S54 straight-six and a chassis by BMW M should have been a recipe that made us forget that the E30 M3 ever existed. But the car just never quite delivered. It reminded me of certain TVRs, in that it matched a slight laziness in its suspension behaviour with an aggressive steering rack. Also, sitting so far back in the car made it hard to judge small steering inputs going fast down narrower roads, but I'm sure regular exposure makes that less of a problem.

On point
Boy was it lively in the wet too. I remember switching the chassis nanny off and being a bit shocked. Not at the immediate oversteer, because that's more easily dealt with. No, what we had here was that pernicious build-up of understeer, the one that claims more victims than any other rear-drive mishap. The front would push and push and then, with half a turn of lock wound in, the rear tyres would say "actually we're going to take the wider line now, thanks" at which point the car became difficult to contain. Amusing, but very spiky.

Fast, sure, but it lacks poise and precision
Fast, sure, but it lacks poise and precision
Drive a Cayman S immediately afterwards, and the Z4 feels a little bit shambolic.

Of course I'm writing about the car the way I received it when it was new, and like so many other vehicles, what once missed the target is now presenting itself as a very accomplished used choice. It's fast, sounds magnificent, is mechanically robust and there isn't really anything else out there quite like it. It's kind of a German TVR Sagaris - a little bit wild and the perfect antidote to a Boxster or Cayman.

I completely accept that, but in light of how much better - to my eyes - the original breadvan looks, and how much better I expected it to drive, the Z4 M still strikes me as a missed opportunity.

Wait there - yep, the Kevlar jacket is now on - please go ahead and tell me why I'm wrong.

3,187cc straight-six
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 343@7,900rpm
Torque (lb ft): 269@4,900rpm
0-62mph: 5.0sec
Top Speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,485kg
MPG: 23.3mpg
C02: 292g/km
Price:£42,950 (new)

Author: Chris Harris