The BMW Z4 Coupe Concept--which is making its North American debut after bowing at last fall's Frankfurt show--is really not a concept at all: it's a production car we'll see in June of 2006. As the name implies, it's a Z4 roadster with a stationary roof. The fixed top makes it stiffer and lighter, so it should be a better driver and a viable track toy, a use hinted at by roof bulges perhaps intended to accommodate helmet-wearing occupants.
We have criticized the Z4 roadster, which debuted in 2003, for its disjointed exterior and interior design. It was the second production BMW to show off the highly abstract "Bangled" design style brought to us by Adrian Von Hooydonk and his boss Chris Bangle. From the nose to the A-pillars, the coupe and the roadster are identical. The coupe loses the roadster's ungainly tiny trunk in favor of an attractive hatchback that, from the rear, evokes recent Ferraris. The cutline management is ingenious. Despite its size, weight, and complexity, the liftgate treatment makes you wonder whether the Z4 started off with a metal top and the roadster was developed later. While the neatly integrated rear window has no wiper, the rear hatch eschews any obvious aerodynamic aids. However, the tail does have some faults: three-quarter rear visibility is poor, the loading lip is too high, the trunk is shallow, and the badge-style latch is bound to get dirty and wet in no time at all. The side profile is fast and sleek, not unlike the Lotus Exige. Never has a hardtop looked so much better than a convertible.
The Z4 Concept's paint, which lacks gloss and shimmer, emphasizes the dazzling contours. The unusual matte finish isn't the only thing that catches your eyes--the car's surfaces actually seem as though they were sculpted from a solid piece. "The response at Frankfurt was overwhelmingly positive," according to chief brand designer Adrian van Hooydonk. "Everybody loved the paint, so we will do what we can to get it into production as soon as possible. BMW already uses a similar application for its motorcycles, but automobiles are something else--just think about stone chips or automatic car washes."
Two days after last fall's Frankfurt show closed, we had a date with the new Z4 coupe concept. After spending half a day with the compact crowd-stopper in a derelict factory complex on the outskirts of Munich, we can report that this thing is not only a gorgeous looker, it also plays one of the catchiest street-legal sound tracks. Our "test track" was long enough to grab the attention of every alpha male in the building but not quite what we needed to write a proper road test, unfortunately.
While piloting the concept, we also nabbed a closer look at the cabin. The interior materials in particular are stunning. Everything you touch feels expensive and very well made: soft nubuck leather instead of coarse plastic, anodized and lacquered aluminum instead of brushed steel, and neatly detailed knobs, switches, and buttons rather than look-alike items from the bottom of the parts bin. Our only quibble with this stunningly beautiful driver's environment is the instrumentation, which features tiny X3 gauges that sit in deep holes, making them even harder to read.
We are not worried about the way the production car will drive, because it should be stiffer than the regular Z4, which already handles sweetly enough. The show car is equipped with the latest iteration of the magical 3.0-liter in-line six that makes 255 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque, and the production version will be equipped with the same engine. Governed at 155 mph, the glacier silver showpiece can reportedly accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in 5.7 seconds. The M coupe, which should get a 370-hp engine, will have Porsche 911 speed. If the regular Z4 coupe is enough to get our mouths watering, then the forthcoming M coupe has us outright salivating.