Splash out on the BMW Z4 Coupé

Ya godda be consistent. If you play it by the rules, you’ll avoid debt, buy boring family cars and then, when you’re middle-aged and can finally afford the Harley or sports car you always wanted, people will accuse you of going through a mid-life crisis.

My way is, you borrow as much as the bank will lend you while you’re still young enough to enjoy life, you take 25% of the borrowed loot and buy a safe, practical, economical small car for the family, and spend the balance on toys. That way you can spoil yourself for the rest of your life without anybody questioning your virility. Your maturity may, of course, still be an issue.

Which takes us to the R457 000 BMW Z4 Coupé 3.0si. To buy this, most of us would need to exhibit a certain low cunning. Tell your loved one that you have your heart set on the “M” version that costs almost R100 000 more. That way, when you lower your sights you can have the car you really wanted, with R98 000 left over for her (or him) and the kids. For that, they can choose between a Ford Ka, a Toyota Yaris T1, a Fiat Panda, a Hyundai i10 or any other of the 45 or so cars that currently retail for less than R100 000. How’s that for compromise? If they still put up a fight, tell them the BMW’s an “investment”, and ask if they’ve ever considered how sexy they will look in an expensive German two-seater.

The BMW Z4 Coupé is not a convertible, which is what I particularly like about it. If I want fresh air, I ride a motorcycle. Our warm and sunny climate isn’t really suited to al fresco motoring — leave that to the Poms, who feel the need to celebrate their three sunny days a year by doing something daft, like taking the roof down. Besides which, the soft-top Roadster version of the three-litre Z4 costs a whopping R69 500 more than the coupé, which could leave the rest of the family dependent on a R30 000 second-hand Toyota Tazz for transport.

The BMW three-litre faces a fair bit of competition in its price range. For about R13 000 less you can latch on to a Nissan 350Z Coupé, a mighty fine coupé that offers 35kW and 43Nm more than the Z4’s 195kW and 315Nm, while an Audi TT Coupe 3,2 Quattro will give you 11kW less power and 5Nm more torque than the more affordable Beemer for about R30 000 more. That extra money also brings you all-wheel-drive in the Audi, while the Nissan 350Z, offering performance close to the Z4 M for considerably less money, may appeal to those who prefer bare-knuckle fighting to the velvet glove approach of the 3.0si.

I covered a fair distance in both the Z4 Coupé 3.0si and the M version, which uses the 252kW, six-cylinder, 3,2-litre engine of the old M3 rather than the brutal 309kW, four-litre V8 of the current version. The next-generation Z4 due to be launched next year will apparently have room for the V8 up front in the M incarnation, and the convertible models will use tin rather than soft tops.

Both these improvements are likely to have a significant effect on price. The current 3.0si, although outclassed by both the 3,2-litre and four-litre M versions, is far from being a pussycat — if you want one of those, you can save yourself a shedful of money and buy the 110kW, two-litre Z4 Roadster.

The three-litre coupé reaches the benchmark 100km/h 7,1 seconds after launch, and top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h. For the extra money, the current M version will get to 100km/h almost two seconds quicker, while top speed, being governed, is roughly the same. That’s seriously quick — only fractionally slower than the V8 M3 sedan — but the car lacks some of the brutal feel of the bigger engine.

Anybody who hasn’t driven the M is unlikely to feel short-changed by the 3.0si.

The long bonnet is a constant reminder that this is a traditional sports car, with a longitudinally mounted six-cylinder engine driving the rear wheels. The muscular, bulging wheel-arches send you the same message every time you glance in the mirrors and, should none of these pointers be enough, the gorgeous BMW six-cylinder wail will drive the point home forcefully every time you hoof the gas pedal and spin the crankshaft up to 7 000rpm. That’s not always necessary, though; the BMW pulls strongly, even when short-shifted through the gears.

The Z4 Coupé is a fun car to drive, whether you settle for the three-litre version or splash out on the 3,2 M model. They both handle superbly on the road, and the six-speed manual gearbox they share is a joy to use. For those who prefer self-shifters, a six-speed Steptronic is an option (with the three-litre only) for R14 000 more.

Anybody planning on buying a Z4 had better get a move on, because the last of the current model’s 200 000 production run rolled out of the Spartanburg, South Carolina, factory at the end of August. The new model, which will be bigger and stronger than the current car, is to be built in Germany, while the American plant will produce X3 and X6 SUVs, both better sellers in the United States.

The new Z4 models launched some time next year will almost certainly cost significantly more than the old, and to me the only real problem with the outgoing model lies in the Roadster’s fabric top, which will be replaced with a folding tin-top in 2009. BMW South Africa has a couple of Z4s still on the water, and a fair number in stock, so if you want to own one of the current Z4 three-litre Coupés, this might be a good time to start negotiating with your dealer.

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