There She Goes: BMW Z4 3.0i (2003)

May 05,2003

A wind blew, slightly comforting the tired individuals from the biting heat of Cavite’s mid-morning summer. As they stretched their bodies after an hour and a half’s driving, another gentle breeze sent a quiet whisper through the air. A woman’s voice. They gazed around, searching. Where could this beautiful voice be coming from? Looking around, she was easy to find.

She sat there, alone. Waiting. Beckoning. In the middle of the tarmac, her svelte curves invited a closer inspection. Her elegant form was a temptation to examine her further from all angles despite the increasingly prickling heat. Her complex, silvery skin was a soothing coolness, a relief from the blinding sunlight. Such is her draw, her magic. Such a car is the BMW Z4.

Despite what others may say, this woman strikes us as unique, and above all, beautiful. Her lines are classic—echoing BMW roadsters that have come to pass: the 507, Z1, Z3 and the Z8. She shares a dash of retro character from these four with her long bow, a wide track, a low and squat appearance and short overhangs extending from the proportionally long wheelbase. The seemingly polar convex and concave surfaces blend together, almost seamlessly, forming styling details that make it a modern automotive work of art. It is easy to adore how the door crease forms the letter ‘Z’ punctuated by the Bavarian propeller logo and the ‘3.0i’ badge. Then there’s how the double trunk lines integrate to form a rear spoiler, while still being reminiscent of 1930s sports cars’ bulbous rear-ends.

Inside her complex clothing, she shows off an interior that’s straight-forward and efficient—no doubting what her intentions are, then. The relatively simple cockpit features standard Oregon leather seats and brushed aluminum all over. Thankfully moving away from the Z8’s center-mounted gauges, the Z4’s instrumentation binnacle is positioned high, right in front of the driver—all meters just a glance away. Despite the relatively small print, everything here is easy to read and decipher.

Breaking away from her ancestor’s awkward button-fest center console, BMW designers have finally scattered the controls throughout the cabin. The Z4’s windows switches are located conveniently on the door paneling, while other controls such as the hazard and central locking are located just below the automatic shifter. Meanwhile, soft top operation and traction system controls are located above it. The automatic climate control system makes use of easy-to-master rotary dials—something lifted from the flagship 7-series super sedan.

Occupants sit low inside her excellently finished cabin. The standard leather seats gives the impression that she likes to hug, but thanks to generous elbow and knee room, it doesn’t feel even a bit claustrophobic inside. The three-spoke steering wheel, adjustable for both reach and height, is downright attractive and friendly with just the right rim thickness. Ergonomics is spot-on sporty thanks to highly flexible seating adjustments and a closely positioned shifter and handbrake.

She’s more than prepared for a short, unexpected drizzle, thanks to a soft canvas top that has been redesigned to work faster—taking only six seconds to open and close. Those keen to closely inspect her mechanism would note that the Z4 features a ‘Z-configuration’ roof. The big advantage of this design is that it takes up very little space, and the front section of the roof can be placed like a cover on top of the fabric, closing flush with the body of the car, removing the need for a separate tonneau cover or lid. Weekend getaways are no problems for her with a wider, deeper trunk with improved openings and reach-in depth. However, golf bags may still have to be sent separately.

Riding on a heavily modified E46 platform (the current 3-series), the Z4 addresses all the complaints thrown at her next older sister, the Z3. The younger sibling benefits from MacPherson Struts with forged aluminum control arms at front and independent multi-link with upper and lower lateral links and a curved longitudinal arm at the back. Aside from what’s underneath, more visible improvements include a 48 mm longer wheelbase and a wider track (61 mm at the front, 30 mm at the rear). Despite being two and a half times torsionally stiffer and more rigid than the Z3, she weighs just a fraction more, thanks to the use of high-strength steel throughout as well as an aluminum bonnet.

In no time at all, we discovered that she’s a beauty to drive, as well. At her heart is the M54-series, 3.0-liter double overhead cam 24-valve inline-6. Listening to her breathe is an aural feast in itself; the burble is the best this side of an M3. All 231 horses and 300 Nm of torque seems to be standing at attention, ready and waiting for someone to press down the right pedal. Mash on the throttle and she pushes back, entering warp speed in absolutely no time.

Responding quickly and eagerly off the line, she has more than adequate thrust from as low as 2000 rpm. However, her urgency is best felt as the needle hits 3500 rpm and then all the way up through the engine’s power band. The 3.0i is equipped with a special acoustic system, further enhancing the powerplant’s character—it mates the deep bass on the low range with the hard, creamy howl at the top end. Lift the throttle at high speed, and listen to her exhaust pop and bang, just like a racing engine.

The ZF-five-speed automatic matches excellently with the engine’s sporty demeanor. In her current form, the BMW Z4 3.0i does 0-100 km/h in just 6.2 seconds and can undoubtedly reach her 244 km/h top speed. Though the car was equipped with Steptronic, BMW’s version of a manual override for the automatic box, on the tight, twisty Carmona Race Track, we thought it best to let the computer shift, and instead concentrate on the steering.

Speaking of which, she’s the first BMW passenger car to be equipped with EPS or Electric Power Steering. Boiling down all the technical talk, EPS simply means that the Z4 can vary the steering effort from a light feel during carpark maneuvering to a properly weighted response during high speed bends. This feature is further enhanced with the 3.0i’s standard Dynamic Drive Control or DCC. Along with a more sporty throttle response, the DCC reduces the level of power assistance to the steering, imparting a very direct feel and immediate response.

Cocooning the driver is the latest BMW electronic wizardry : Dynamic Stability Control, a system that incorporates Dynamic Traction Control. This system, which allows a degree of wheel spin before engaging means that although she’s running on rails on the tight and complex FIA-certified kart track, the Z4 still manages to provoke a smile with the occasional tire smoke. There’s no lag either when you throw her about. Her almost perfect front-rear weight distribution along with 225/45 W-rated 17-inch Bridgestone RE050A run-flat rubbers assures immediate turn-in, neutral handling and bag loads of grip.

Like all in her house, the Z4 3.0i stops without fuss and almost no noticeable brake fade thanks to the use of vented calipers all around (300 mm at the front, 294 mm at the back). On the start-finish straight, she showed her balance when stepping on the brake pedal produces no squabble or tug on the steering wheel. She stops straight, with black tire markings from the Bridgestones as the only evidence. Warning those with lesser brakes is the active brake light system. The harder you brake, the brighter they light up.

Inside and out, Teutonic levels of build quality are present. Despite this, however, all of the world’s Z4 production will come from the Spartanburg Plant in South Carolina, USA, where 4,000 associates will be putting her together alongside the X5 Sport Activity Vehicle.

Despite the absence of a hotted-up M version or a more practical coupe, the Z4 represents a bold new direction for BMW’s roadster line. Her classic lines married with twenty-first century detailing, and a powerplant and drivetrain to die for, means that she’s well on her way to the top of her game. Although it’s still too early to say if success will strike twice for BMW, she’s the company’s definitive statement of automotive art and engineering. ‘Z’ is the last letter of the alphabet, and with that, the Z4 couldn’t be better named. At this point in time, she’s the definitive statement of what a luxury roadster should be.

By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang

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