2009 BMW Z4

#BMW, #Z4

I have long defended Chris Bangle and BMW design, believing it necessary to break the classic mold that had prevailed for too long, an opinion validated by ever-increasing BMW sales. But the fact that I approved that stylistic rupture with the too-comfortable past didn't mean I actually liked the disruptive designs. However interesting they may have been, some were really awful. Particularly distressing was the 2000 Z8, which completely missed its attempt to recapture the essence of 1950s sports cars, something Alfa Romeo's 8C Competizione does perfectly. And the grotesque sagging curves of the Z3 and the 2002 Z4 turned me off completely.

Now, suddenly, the most beautiful BMW roadster since the Albrecht Goertz-designed 507 arrives, embodying almost every shocking Bangle-era design cue but subsumed into a cohesive, coherent shape that is at once beautiful and elegant, expressing power and performance. That this second-edition Z4, with its folding hard top, luxurious interior, and classic long-nose/short-deck proportions, is biased more toward boulevards than racetracks doesn't detract from its charm at all. Such "semisoft" sports cars have enormous appeal, as Jaguar has shown for more than seventy years, from the 1935 SS 90 to today's XK, and indeed as Ferrari demonstrated with the 250GT California and the 365GTS/4 Daytona Spider.

To create such cars is a delicate matter. Consider the Lexus SC430, an excellent car much loved by ladies and gentlemen in Newport Beach and other such wealthy enclaves. True car enthusiasts tend to disdain it because, visually, it has no automotive testosterone whatsoever. Of course, some designs have entirely too much (choose your own examples), whereas this BMW and those Jags and Ferraris have exactly the right amount.

Quite apart from the hormonal aspect of its design, the new Z4 has been masterfully sculpted by a bold yet delicately refined hand. Surface development conflicts that marred previous BMW Zs have been perfectly resolved. I was entranced by the rear corners, where concave and convex surfaces, flowing lines, and changes of color and materials converge without a single clash. Perhaps to fully appreciate what BMW's designers achieved, one needs to have dealt with problems similar to those encountered and surmounted here, but anyone can enjoy a master class in automotive sculpture just by closing his or her eyes and running a hand over the multiple subtle intersections.

Final praise: the tight top tucks into the trunk without the whole car having the fat posterior that spoils the look of almost every other hardtop convertible on the market today. It's a lot better to be able to use words like "lithe" and "svelte" than "pudgy" and "plump." Is the Z4 perfect? Of course not. But when it's surpassed, I will not be at all surprised if the work is done by the brilliant, hard-working team that achieved this result.

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