Monday, January 3, 2011

Test Drive: BMW Z4 3.0 iS: It made us sad

The Z4 is gorgeous and technically competent, but it broke down after a bit of hard driving

A BMW Roadster is a joy, especially if it is a Z4 with a three litre straight-six under the bonnet and sports suspension taking care of the handling.

On the face of it, the Z4 is one of the most attractive open top roadster in the market right now, the designers in Munich has learnt to love flame surfacing and evolved it into a coherent and elegant vehicle that is the second generation Z4.

The long bonnet is accentuated by feature creases and subtle power bulge while the shoulder line marches towards the rear with great confidence in a slight downward trajectory before bending upwards to meet the rear wheel arch.

The kidney grille has grown in prominence and now frames turbine-blade sections that guide airflow into the engine bay.

BMW’s play with concave and convex surface is visible everywhere and on the Z4 they really come together to create a muscular and athletic appearance.

If there is anything that deserves a second look, it’s the wheels, which are too tame for the rest of the vehicle. 

If it had slimmer and more spokes that also twist like turbine blades, the Z4 would be the perfect interpretation of flame surfacing.

The cabin is typical BMW, each passenger gets a cocoon of leather and quality polymers with most of the controls angled ever so slightly towards the driver.

The steering is perfectly sized and with reach and rake adjustability works together with the electrically adjustable seats to create the perfect driving environment.

All the instruments are clearly marked and easily visible with no major problems with the top of the steering wheel obstructing the dials.

The foldable hardtop roof stows away neatly and tucks itself away in just 20 seconds to transform the Z4 into an attractive topless model.

We took the car on the usual Empangan Batu-Ulu Yam –Goh Tong Jaya route and on the first half it behaved impeccably.

The engine barked in perfect pitch to the accompaniment of wind in our hair and greenery zooming past.

All the while the steering chatted happily about road surface, tyre grip levels, weight transfer and torque transmission with the verbosity and fluency, if not always the elegance of a cunning linguist.

Stab the throttle and the engine would summon an immediate wash of torque to sling the car past any slow moving traffic or empty, snaking corner.

Dab on the brakes and you will be impressed with its linearity and sensitivity, allowing the driver to adjust his entry speed with finesse.

Just before the turn in, flick the paddle shifter twice and hear in a blink two lower ratios are engaged and the engine has blipped itself to perfectly match crank speed to transmission revolution.

Judge the apex, turn in and adjust the car’s attitude with the throttle and feel every component work as one.

Even at the firmest setting the suspension has enough give to absorb severe road imperfections and prevent your spine from snapping.

This went on for a good half hour and as the air chilled to match the greenery and topography, the drive became even more intoxicating.

Towards the end, the road becomes a series of tightening radius corners which really allowed us to test the limits of the chassis at reasonably safe speeds and the Z4 proves its willingness to stick to the intended line as long as the driver is gentle but firm.

In fact the Z4 is quite willing to be wrestled into corners with quick steering input, a slight rear slip and balance the whole thing on the throttle. In Sport+ Mode the car will allow you to peer over the edge of danger, pulling you back at the very last minute.

Sport + is not for the hesitant, hamfisted or weak hearted.

Then it all went south.

The instrument panel lit up the engine-fault warning and suddenly the car had no power.

We limped the last few kilometers up to our photo shoot location, hoping that it was too much excitement that agitated the warning light.

After half an hour, we continued and things looked good, the warning light had switched itself off.

We drove gently to allow the engine to warm up slowly but after a few minutes it came on again.

A few stop-start session later, the light insisted on keeping us company for the rest of the drive.

This annoyed us no end and a call to BMW did not help us source the problem and in the end we enjoyed the super twisty and narrow old Genting-Gombak road at half-speed.

With the warning light spoiling the drive, we simply cannot recommend the Z4 whole heartedly. We don’t know what went wrong and that was a huge cloud of uncertainty that simply could not be puffed away.

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