"We're thinking about it," is BMW R&D chief Burkhard Goschel's laconic answer every time someone mentions a replacement for the short-lived Z8. In fact, BMW has looked at three different proposals. A mid-engine Z10 lost out because the market for ultraexpensive supercars like the Mercedes-McLaren SLR and the Porsche Carrera GT is so thin. An ultralight Z6 was deemed too close to the next-generation Z4 and too hard-core to yield 15,000 annual sales. The leading contender is a new Z8-a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, two-seater with a retractable hard top-aimed squarely at the Mercedes-Benz SL.
Unlike the original Z8, the follow-up model skips aluminum construction in favor of a conventional unibody, sharing its front inner structure with the next Z4. Visual similarities between the two, however, would be negligible, as the Z8's wheelbase would be a foot longer. Part of the extra space is needed to accommodate the folding top, which may use variochromatic glass like that in the Ferrari Superamerica. With the top down, the low windshield and the snug cabin are shaped to provide a more intimate roadster sensation than in the SL, and the trunk will hold the requisite two golf bags.
We expect the core engine for the Z8 to be a new 4.4-liter turbo V-8 good for about 400 hp. The 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbo six also is an easy fit, as is the 500-hp, 5.0-liter V-10, which would make a compelling M version. If BMW wanted an SL600 rival, it could drop in its upcoming 6.3-liter V-12, which should make 600 hp. A dual-clutch gearbox will be the primary transmission for the flagship roadster. The provisional list of features includes active steering, active springs and dampers, active roll compensation, and adaptive cruise control. Also under consideration are a power-operated wind deflector and a neck warmer similar to the Air Scarf in the Mercedes-Benz SLK.
The board should make a final decision before the end of the year. If approved, the Z8 would go on sale in 2010, priced between $100,000 and $125,000.