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Building a hardtop version of a roadster seems counterintuitive, as people like convertibles, but BMW consistently places engineering over popularity. With the 2007 BMW Z4 M Coupe, BMW relies on people to appreciate the performance of the car rather than whether you can get a suntan in it. And the M Coupe performs fantastically, with an engine that sounds angry when the rpms get significant.
But this isn't a stripped-down speed machine--the M Coupe gets a full raft of cabin tech to make the car a helpful partner in everyday driving. Our test car shipped with a pop-up navigation screen, Bluetooth cell phone integration, and a thumping stereo system that handles MP3 CDs.
The M Coupe gave us an adrenaline-filled week, but it's not without drawbacks. The rudimentary interface for the cabin gadgets makes it seem like the engineers, in a fit of pique over all the bad press about iDrive, only put about five minutes of work into it. And you can have much more fun with the M Coupe by turning off the overly aggressive traction control, which doesn't let you get away with anything. The suspension also felt a little rubbery where we expected a rigid sports car feel.
Test the tech: Old versus new
BMW produced a coupe version of its old Z3 roadster in limited numbers from 1999 to 2002, the inspiration for the new coupe based on the Z4. As one of our staff editors owns a 1999 Z3 Coupe, we compared the old and the new, driving them over the same twisty mountain roads and taking stock of their available equipment. Unfortunately, the 1999 Z3 Coupe is not the M version, so our M Coupe test car is much more powerful.
Z3 Coupes were better equipped than the Z3 roadsters as standard, complete with a nine speaker Harman-Kardon stereo system. The stereo was a single-CD player in the dash, with an optional six-disc changer mounted in the cargo area. The Z3 Coupe had a tweeter and mid in each door, plus a tweeter and mid mounted to the ceiling over the cargo area, one set on both sides. There was also a subwoofer mounted in the cargo area.
The Z4 M Coupe sits back-to-back with a 1999 Z3 Coupe.
The Z4 M Coupe has the same arrangement in the doors, plus speakers mounted behind the seats and a subwoofer in its cargo area. The audio quality in the newer car is stronger, with heavier bass, but the older car has better clarity. The Z4 M Coupe has a single-CD player, too, but it handles MP3 CDs, and also has an auxiliary audio input. But then the newer car blows away the older one by also offering a navigation system and Bluetooth cell phone integration, beating it out on the cabin gadgets.
Both cars handle exceptionally well, but the steering wheel on the Z4 M Coupe is smaller and thicker, with more oversteer. We took both cars on our three favorite local roads: Tunitas Creek and Alpine in the Santa Cruz mountains, and Fairfax-Bolinas Road in Marin. We quickly found that the more modern and aggressive traction control on the Z4 M Coupe kept the rear from stepping out at all, whereas the older car could practically turn on a dime on hairpins by pushing its back tires out. When we turned off traction control in the Z4 M Coupe, we got much the same effect.
Our old Z3 Coupe uses a 2.8-liter straight six, while the new Z4 M Coupe has a 3.2-liter straight six with BMW's Double-VANOS system of variable valve timing. The slightly bigger engine produces about 140 more horsepower, a huge gain. The newer car also gets six gears over the Z3's five, but both manual transmissions had a similar shift feel. On our twisty roads, though, only second and third count. In second at 5,000rpm, the Z4 M Coupe's engine makes a very angry noise, while the Z3 Coupe has a more tenable sound.
Cargo space under the M Coupe's hatchback is compromised.
Finally, the suspension feel of the Z4 M Coupe had a rubbery feel, where the Z3 Coupe's was sports car rigid. There is also more available cargo area in the Z3 Coupe than in the Z4 M Coupe. Some people will also prefer the more outlandish style of the older car. As a tech car, the Z4 M Coupe far outstrips the Z3 Coupe, bringing technology not generally available in cars from 1999. And the newer car will knock the older out on the straighter roads, but they run close together on the twisties.
In the cabin
The cabin of the M Coupe is appropriately tight for a two-seat sports car, but the seats have a good range of power adjustment, including vertical. The three spoke steering wheel has a thick rim, making it easy to grip. Buttons for the stereo, telephone, and voice command are mounted on the lateral spokes. The voice command system controls only the hands-free phone system, although we had significant trouble getting it to recognize our commands.
For the navigation option, BMW mounts an LCD in the dashboard that pops up when in use. This position permits a lot of glare on sunny days, making the screen difficult to read, especially through sunglasses. When you hit the menu button, the screen shows an interface that looks unfinished. It gives you options for navigation, telephone, trip information, audio settings, and system settings. This screen could use a graphic treatment. And, strangely, you can't access the stereo from this interface.
The main interface in the M Coupe looks like it's still in beta.
Instead of iDrive, which we last saw on the BMW 535, this system uses a menu button and combination knob-push-button. These buttons, combined with the onscreen interface, were not at all intuitive to use. But during our week with the car we managed to figure out how everything worked and grew to appreciate its simplicity. The system needs some serious refinement and better feedback onscreen.
The navigation system worked well enough, but it had some frustrating quirks. To get into the destination entry screen, you have to push the control knob in, then figure out what the various menu options mean. For example, Information takes you to the points-of-interest database and a page about Navteq, the map provider. In the Systems setting menu, you can choose full- or split-screen displays, but with full-screen enabled, route guidance won't show graphics indicating upcoming turns. We also found that, once we had arrived at a destination, the system seemed to keep computing how to get there as we drove on, albeit without voice prompts on how to get there. The system also paints the roads on your route white, which can be difficult to see on the beige background.
We generally like BMW's implementation of Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration. The M Coupe performed like other BMWs we've used, giving us access to the phone's phone book. The only drawback we found with this system, what we thought was a glitch in other BMWs we've tried, is that it got stuck on a phone number, redialing it every time we activated the system.
An auxiliary audio input under the dash lets you hook up an iPod.
Our test car came with the Premium package, which includes a premium sound system certified by THX. We found the THX audio quality in the Lincoln MKZ stunning, but we weren't quite as impressed with the quality in the Z4 M Coupe. This system pumps 430 watts through 10 speakers, including two subwoofers. The result is a very bass-heavy sound, without the clear highs we would expect from THX. The system produced a very strong sound, and we consider it excellent, but it didn't seem as sublime as what we heard in the Lincoln.
It's possible we could have tweaked the audio quality more to our liking, as the Z4 M Coupe has a seven-band graphic equalizer as part of its digital sound processing. But, as with other interfaces in this car, the equalizer's seemed unfinished, with buttons labeled "Demo" and "Memo."
The single-CD player handled MP3 CDs, and we liked how it displayed full track information on the screen. HD radio is an option, though not present on our car. Neither satellite radio, a disc changer, nor an iPod adapter seem to be available on this car. It does have a standard auxiliary audio jack hidden underneath the dashboard.
Under the hood
The Z4 M Coupe produces an exhilarating driving experience, with very fast acceleration. Its 3.2-liter, straight six engine delivers 330 horsepower way up at 7,900rpm and 262 lb-ft. of torque at 4,900rpm. That translates to a 0 to 60mph time of 4.9 seconds, according to BMW. The car displays a variable redline with indicator lights on the tachometer.
The Sport button sharpens the throttle response dramatically.
Anyone interested in the M Coupe will immediately hit the Sport button sitting next to the shifter. Sport mode sharpens the throttle response dramatically, making the car difficult to control in traffic. We spent quite a bit of time in Sport mode, as it works great for getting the immediate acceleration you need while coming through a hairpin turn.
The six-speed manual shifter has a slight ratchety feel going into gear, not as smooth as we would expect. But we would have liked a less smooth suspension feel. In our tortuous mountain driving, we noted the car's rubbery suspension feel, as if BMW went more for comfort then sports car handling. As mentioned above, we liked the handling better during sport driving with traction control turned off. With it on, we saw the traction control indicator continually lighting up as we pushed the car around hard turns.
Indicator lights on the tachometer show redline.
Although we note a few criticisms above, we really enjoyed putting the Z4 M Coupe through its paces. It was fun and challenging to drive it on particular twisty roads, well-mannered and fast on bigger roads with broader corners, but a little frustrating in city traffic.
The EPA rates the Z4 M Coupe at 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. In our combined city, highway, and freeway driving, we saw an average of 20.1 mpg, on the high side of the EPA figures, but we also saw a downward trend during extensive city driving. The M Coupe meets California's minimum LEV emission standard.
Our 2007 BMW Z4 M Coupe had a base price of $50,100. The option list included Interlagos blue metallic paint ($475), the Premium package ($2,850), heated seats ($500), and navigation ($1,800). The M Coupe is also subject to a $1,000 gas-guzzler charge along with its $775 destination charge, bringing the total for our test car to $57,500, a steep price for a two-seater.
The cabin tech in the M Coupe is functional, but the interface needs some serious refinement. We like that BMW packs all this tech into a small sports car. With its equalizer, we can imagine audiophiles will spend a lot of time tweaking the sound quality of the THX audio system.
But with the rpms running high, the engine will drown out the stereo. This is the kind of car you will want to bring to track days and spend weekends ripping around country roads. For some serious competition in the turns, though, consider the slightly less expensive Audi TT 3.2, which has all-wheel-drive.