2006 BMW Z4 Coupe

Barry Hayden

It's been a very long time since BMW came up with a show car that caused any of us to gasp with pleasure, to make us say, "Gotta have it!" X Coupe? Nah. CS1? Not really. xActivity? Thanks, but no thanks. This year at the Frankfurt show, however, almost out of the blue, BMW unwrapped a car that gets ten out of ten on the desirability scale.

Two days after the show closed, we had a date with the new Z4 coupe concept. (Sure, it's a concept-except that it looks virtually identical to the car that will go into production next July.) 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. In the huge architectural echo chamber, part-throttle was the stuff goose bumps are made of, and giving it stick almost instantly separated the mortar from the bricks. 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.

Unlike the oddly shaped roadster, the coupe has a rare beauty. In fixed-roof form, the Z4's proportions are spot-on rather than ho-hum, its solid stance substantially im-proved by the self-conscious nineteen-inch wheels and tires. The paint, which lacks gloss and shimmer, emphasizes the dazzling contours rather than the controversial cutlines. The unusual matte finish isn't the only thing that catches your eyes-the car's surfaces actually feel as though they were sculpted from a solid piece.

"The response at Frankfurt was overwhelmingly positive," says chief brand de-signer Adrian van Hooydonk, smiling broadly. "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."

Word is that the M division is contemplating a limited choice of matte paint jobs as part of a future trademark look, but we don't know exactly when this option will become available or how much it will cost.

From the nose to the A-pillars, the coupe and the roadster are identical. But the roof and the rear end are completely different. While one model has a rudimentary canvas top, the other displays a stylish version of the classic double-bubble roof. 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 Z3 coupe was loved by some and disliked by others," says van Hooydonk. "With the new model, we didn't want to polarize opinion. That's why a wagon-style rear end was never on the agenda. Instead, we opted for a quite sharp-edged fastback, because we felt it would go best with the basic proportions of the Z4."

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