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The BMW Z4 M40i Roadster: A weekend away with my cat Dahlia

It has long been a supposition of mine — and I am known for long, drawn-out presumptions — that BMW’s Z-series has never truly inspired a cult-like following. When one glanced at the old Z1, Z3 or even Z8, they were cute to look at, like the odd husky or poodle, but they never garnered the steady respect like, say, a German Shepard does. Granted, some models fetch healthy prices nowadays, but it lingered on the peripherals of the consumer market and was never really a proper, respected classic.

We — that is, my purring panther and I — were scheduled to test the Z4 2.0i for the weekend. She had been taking strain from the cat-sitter’s visits and my absence on cold winter evenings. She needed a bit of a break from the other intrepid scoundrels in our dainty abode and we decided that a cabriolet would be the ideal outing.

A day before the delivery of the vehicle, we were graciously informed that we would be getting the angrier and more ferocious M40i instead; a 250kW twin turbo, rear wheel, over-steering performance car wearing the guise of an Epicurean chariot.

After consulting with Dahlia, whose only response was to eye the “Vernasca Cognac” leather interior with a look bordering on consternation, we mutually decided that it would be even more entertaining to brave the frigid mountain air and sinewy pathways of Mpumalanga.

After packing her favourite tuna snacks, cat cabin, Mr Wiggles (her fluffy pet, not mine) with my single overnight bag into the trunk, we were both pleasantly surprised at how much room there is in the boot. There is a underlying masculinity to the new Z4 that was absent from its predecessors; it stares back at you with its daring stance and once you realise that it drives on the same tires as the M4 and that the brakes are M-developed, it changes the aspects of its purpose. Dahlia agreed with an absent-minded “meow”. The track of the Z4 M40i is wider than the Eskom bonus to performance gap, and suddenly I realised that the Z4 has enormous potential.

We sauntered onto the freeway. Dahlia grimaced slightly when I engaged Sport Plus mode. It forced her tiny emerald green eyes to squint furiously at me as we ripped through the 100km/h mark in 4.5 seconds. I took pity on her and flicked the Z4 back into comfort. Her body relaxed somewhat and her diamond-cutting claws withdrew. One would think that after so many performance tests she would be used to it. After all, we did an ungodly speed on a bike test just a few weeks earlier.

After linking our Apple car play, I selected Dahlia’s favourite artist, Queen, and after choosing The Great Pretender I took note of the steadiness and surefootedness of the chassis, which was a joint effort with Toyota, which cosied up to BMW to save costs (or perhaps it was the other way around). From that sharing of talent, the hot-blooded Supra was fertilised, which is coming soon to a farm dealership near you.

Staring at the curved rear and suggestive red LED lights of the Z4, I think it alludes to drag-strips and night races, while Dahlia was of the opinion that wider stances and buffer appearances do make for a better approach to grandstanding, and if you know anything about cats, grandstanding is second nature to them.

The straight roads passed with minimum fuss, the M40i showing expressly low consumption at our national speed limit. We hovered at about seven litres per 100km and considering the rampant engine, numbers like that are extremely encouraging.

We surged into Lydenburg and, after a potty break for Dahlia, tackled the treacherously inviting Long Tom Pass. On the last road trip, we realised that quick driving and a cat’s full bladder do not mix. Engaging Sport Plus Mode forces a grin onto your face and keeps you firmly ensconced in the seats as you strive to navigate the sinewy tar. Dahlia grimly gripped the sides of her transport box and hung on, growling slightly.

The suspension and tires with a gentle nudge from the electronics keeps you warm and cuddly while the stiffness of the chassis assures you of grip. It’s stable and predictable, but somewhere, feedback from the steering wheel is lost in translation. The technology of the E-diff allowed us to trickle from corner to corner without much effort; it allowed a playful amount of flexibility, but be warned, it builds thrust faster than losing a toupee in a tornado, so keep an eye on the road. The adaptive dampers on the Z4 add a walloping amount of comfort and stickiness for this pass, which is subject to Tata-consuming potholes or Mahindra-destroying bumps. It keeps the Z4 more predictable than other coupés we have tangoed with here.

We arrived at our accommodation smiling and flexible enough to go for a quick hike. Dahlia often sniffs the butterflies and eats the lavender out in the wild.

It says a lot for the Z4’s long-range flexibility that even after two days of Jo’burg traffic, I was still not needing a Kai Thai not-so-happy ending.

The interior is designed for the Z4 and not wrenched from any of the other models in the brand. With the usual smorgasbord of electronics and gizmos at your disposal, the BMW has all the accoutrements we are used to.

The digital dash dials are strangely myopic for a performance car. The right rev counter spins upwards and to the left, not terribly distinct or helpful under mountainous conditions. It’s harder to read than Chinese Latin, which makes you wonder about the logic behind the design.

We were up early and after a light breakfast, where thankfully the lodge owner realised that the sound issued from the black Dahlia’s throat was not one of friendly encouragement, headed out onto the road for some photos. With the top down in the chilly conditions, the Z4 is casual, weather-friendly and offers enough extravagance to allow it to nudge strongly at the Porsche market at a lesser asking cost. The heated seats with the wind deflector kept both of us toasty and warm, while the wintry sun warmed our chests. Dahlia was purring, which meant it all worked well.

The Z4 M40i is a congruous mix of performance, luxury, value for money and fuel consumption that will keep all of us amused for many days, especially in the power-versus-fuel-consumed category. Dahlia enjoyed the fresh air, bumping Queen soundtracks and places for her catnip to be stored without spilling all over. The Z4 is serious enough to be fast, but bodacious enough to commute or tour with. Its encroaching appearance and acquired front end will either leave you smiling or frowning. Just ask a cat.

Z4 M40i

Price R1 030 500

Engine 3.0-litre Turbocharged Straight 6

Power 250kW

Torque 500Nm

0-100 4.6s

Top Speed 250km/h

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