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Long-term Intro: 2003 BMW Z4 2.5i

Day of the Dolphin

Sherri Collins
Sep 20, 2003 SHARE

The advertisements call it a land shark. As someone old enough to have watched the original episodes of "Saturday Night Live," I can't help but link "land shark" with "candygram" (and Chevy Chase and Lorraine Newman). The association is probably unintended--I'm guessing the ad developers were in diapers back then--but actually quite apropos. The recent delivery of european car's new long-term Z4 2.5i was the best kind of candygram anyone could receive. And when you combine the roadster's looks with its driving characteristics, the land shark moniker becomes readily apparent.

The Z4's styling is very different from its predecessor, the Z3. Where the Z3 was all flowing curves and arcs, the Z4 is intersecting planes and angles (think bottle-nosed dolphin versus Mako shark). The Z3 purposefully called to mind the classic 507; the Z4 pays very little homage to the past--well, maybe to the Z1. It is truly a very forward-looking vehicle--a look that has had many a propeller-head crying out in anger and agony. Really people, get over it. At first glance, the Z4 does startle when you compare it to the Z3. But taken on its own, it is a very dynamic-looking car. I now actually like the way it looks; it has an undeniable presence that demands attention. In just the few short weeks that we've had the Z4, dozens of passers-by have exclaimed how much they like it.

Besides, what's not to like, especially once you get behind the wheel. Our Z4 is powered by BMW's proven 2.5-liter six-cylinder engine, outputting 184 bhp at 6000 rpm and 175 lb-ft of torque at 3500 rpm. While that's not an enormous amount of power for a 2,976-lb car, it is more than sufficient when powering up onramps, passing slow-moving minivans and/or showing up overweight Mustangs. Aggressive driving not only comes naturally to the 2.5, it is very easy to do. The inline six is also aurally enjoyable; it emits a delightfully growly tone and the exhaust note burbles deeply when shifting or letting off of the gas quickly.

The transmission on our long-termer is the optional SMG--Sequential Manual Gearbox. Introduced last year as an option on the M3, the SMG has been modified (and simplified) for the Z4. There is only one automated mode, D3 instead of the M3's five; in manual mode there are two shift programs--Normal and Sport--versus six for the M3; and the neutral position is labeled N instead of 03. To engage the Sport mode, you depress the Sport button on the center divider. BMW refers to this button as the Dynamic Drive Control (DDC); once activated it alters the shift points and firms up the steering effort (less power assist from the new speed-sensitive, electric power steering system) for more spirited driving.

Shifting is done by either the shift lever--back for upshifts; forward for downshifts--or the shift paddles on the steering wheel, which are pressed toward you for upshifts and away for downshifts. The center section of the instrument cluster tells you which gear you're in. Based on a few weeks of driving, the automatic mode is a thing to be avoided--it is slow, jerky and most annoying. Normal manual mode works best in heavy, stop-and-go freeway traffic, and the Sport mode lets you wind out the gears in a most pleasing manner. It took several days (okay, more like a week and a half) to get used to the SMG's shift patterns. Fortunately, once I had the rpm shift points nailed down, the gearbox's initial awkwardness was gone and its flexibility came into play.

Flexibility, however, is not a word you would use to describe the Z4's chassis. This has to be one of the stiffest road-going cars I've ever driven. BMW engineers purposefully designed a rigid chassis to create an athletic-handling roadster, and they succeeded. ec's long-termer came equipped with the Sport Package, which includes a sport suspension setup. (It also includes the aforementioned Dynamic Drive Control, 8x17-in.Turbine wheels wrapped in 225/45R17 runflat tires , foglamps, heated outside mirrors and heated windshield washer jets.) The sport suspension changes the Z4's standard setup--similar to the Z3's up front but with forged aluminum lower arms and hollow strut rods up and a multi-link concept at the rear, Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Traction Control--by using shorter, stiffer springs, stiffer tuned shock absorbers and auxiliary springs. Ride height is also lowered by 0.6 in. The result is a tight car made even tighter. This sport-equipped Z4 is the near equivalent of a Formula Neon with a better looking body and a more comfortable interior.

The interior, as you've probably already noted, isn't your standard staid BMW color. Black leather is a bad color for a convertible's seats, and beige or light gray gets dirty too easily. So, we opted for the Dream Red leather; it's a subtle red that goes nicely with the dark-gray interior and the optional brushed aluminum trim. The trim is part of the Premium Package, which includes a fully automatic soft top with rear glass window, power seats with driver memory, cruise control and leather upholstery. The cabin is a comfortable fit for a person of my height (5 ft 7 in.); taller staffers (up to 6 ft. 4 in.) will give their opinions in future issues. The only thing missing is a rear wind deflector--an option that doesn't exist on the bmwusa.com Web site. There really isn't any place to mount/place a fixed screen, but a wind deflecting net--such as the one on the M-B SLK--would be greatly appreciated as the wind turbulence in the cabin is significant.

Our long-termer also came with the Convenience Package: auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, storage package (nets behind the seats and in the passenger footwell), rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic headlight control, automatic climate control and a four-function on-board computer. The add-on list continues with heated front seats, bi-xenon headlights, navigation system, premium sound system with DSP. The base price for the Z4 2.5i is $33,100. Ours totals out at $45,995 (see box below for pricing), which is a bit steep for a 184-bhp roadster--it's the myriad options that jack the price up $12,200. Most buyers would probably stop at around $40k.

The price aside, the Z4 is a great car. Is it a land shark? I think so. But whether it's a leopard shark, a great white or a breed somewhere in between is something european car's staff will have to determine during the next year. We'll keep you posted...by candygram, of course.

{{{2003 BMW Z4}}} 2.5i
MSRP $33,100
Titanium Silver Metallic Paint $475
Convenience Program $1,050
Premium Program $2,{{{900}}}
Sport Package $1,500
SMG $1,500
Heated Front Seats $500
Bi-xenon Headlights $700
Navigation System $1,800
Premium Sound System w/DSP $875
Destination Charge $695
Total $45,995
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By Sherri Collins
39 Articles

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