BMW's Z4 Zooms into a Class of Its Own

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Physician's Money Digest, March15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 5

Forget Ferrari. As auto journalists,we drive over 150 modelsof new cars and trucks eachyear. We get to toy with the height ofhuman technology in modern automobiles.The new Z4 is a strikinglydifferent style than we've seen before,yet its form is distinctly BMW. The2003 Z4 isn't an improved Z3. It's acompletely different design in mostevery way. Improvements from the 7-year-old Z3 style are tremendous.

A VERY STYLISH CAR

The Z4 comes with a 2.5- or 3-liter in-line 6-cylinder. With an overalllength of 161 inches and a width ofjust over 70 inches, there is actually agreat deal of room for comfort. Thewheelbase is lengthy, at 98 inches.Both engines have double-overheadcams and 24 valves with their uniqueVANOS engine breathing system thataids in control, combustion, and exhaust.Both engines are harmonicand quick to respond. The 2.5s haveplenty of power, with 184 horses, butthere are a few drivers that must havethe 3-liter with 225 horses.

This convertible BMW, with itschoice of manual- or power-top, is amust-see vehicle. A few styling tricksand curves are finely executed, and anumber of lighting features are justterrific. Additionally, on the side ofthe car behind the front wheels,ahead of the doors, is a large BMWcircular logo on each side, representingthe Bavarian flag. The turn signaland side marker light up for 360degrees around the protruding circularlogo. The bi-xenon headlights usethe same bulb for high and lowbeams, using a device somewhat likea camera shutter to change thebeams' intensity and direction.

BMW has employed considerableintelligence to create a firm structure.The suspension is calibrated like noother BMW, and the ride quality—particularly on the 2.5i—is pleasantenough for a daily driver, eventhough run-flat tires are standard. Allmodels of the Z4 are designed to beon run-flat tires, and the structure issuch that the suspension can bemade to compensate for the impressivelypowerful sidewalls that yourcar would ride on should all pressurizedair escape. You can drive for 90miles at 50 mph when you have a flat,with a visual and auditory warning,and safety is not a problem.

SMOOTH CAR BUYING

When you go for a test drive, youprobably won't find a pushy dealer;more likely, you'll find an educatedsalesperson. Have them show you thefront-end independent suspension,which you'll enjoy when you getbehind the wheel. Before you testdrive, decide what your needs are. Ifyou're looking for a daily driver forcommute traffic with stop and go, getthe automatic. You might as well gofor the 2.5-liter with the 16-inch tiresand wheels that are great for suburbanand urban potholes. The automaticallows for manual-type shifting.

If you really want to own the classic,go with the 3-liter, sport package,and 18-inch, low aspect ratio W-ratedtires. Some other things to considerare the sports suspension that lowersthe height of the car about a half-inch,fog lights, heated washer jets,and outside mirrors. The dynamicdriver control or sport button, locatedin the lower part of the front centerconsole, changes the character of thecar immediately. You get reducedpower-steering assistance, a quickerthrottle response, and a different shiftpattern if you get an automatic.

We recently drove 2 different typesof disappointing sequential manualgearboxes (SMG), ones that workwith typical gears like a manual transmissionwith a shift lever that has itsclutch removed. After a time driving,they both interfered with drivingenjoyment. While the new Z4 willsoon offer an optional SMG, testdrive one before you consider orderingit. You will enjoy the control of amanual better, or the shear sexinessof the responsive regular automatictransmission. So the 3 new transmissionsare 6-speed manual, 5-speedautomatic, and 6-speed SMG.

If you decide you'd like to stepinto this cockpit's beautiful interior,complete with silver-accented dashand center console, the Z4 roadster2.5i starts at $33,705, and for themost fun, the 3.0i comes nicelyequipped for $40,945.

Jean Swenson and Ashly Knapp, one of the

nation's longest-running husband and wife

auto-writing teams, are principals of Auto

Advisor.com, the oldest consumer information

and car buyer's service in the United States.

For more information, call 800-326-1976 or

visit www.autoadvisor.com.