2006 BMW Z4 Coupe

Barry Hayden

Strangely, the Z4 coupe that was shown at Frankfurt doesn't address the planned face-lift for the whole range that is only months away. BMW says that "it's all part of a carefully staggered process." This is how that process will unfold. BMW will present the new M roadster-with a more powerful version of the 333-hp, in-line six currently used in the M3-at the Detroit auto show. At Geneva in 2006, the company will present the M coupe, the face-lifted Z4 roadster, and the accordingly modified Z4 coupe. The key changes are revised bumpers that are more elegant for the mainstream models and more aggressive for the M derivatives, restyled rear lights, and an upgraded interior.

In more ways than one, the show car leads the way for the production vehicle. 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. Has BMW finally remembered the importance of high-quality interiors-or will this lovely cabin disappear in the transition from one-off to mass-made?

"Some of these things are quite expensive," van Hooydonk admits. "But others are surprisingly affordable. Things like the two-tone cabin treatment are absolutely cost neutral. Truly exclusive options like full-leather dashboard trim or a bespoke color scheme could be offered through the Individual division, however, which is in charge of made-to-measure solutions." 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.

For anyone who's tall, however, the packaging is on the bonsai side of ridiculous. The roadster is a tight fit to start with, but the coupe makes this six-foot, seven-inch-tall driver feel like a woodpecker trying to occupy a knothole sized for a nuthatch. The main culprit is the bulky rear fire wall that acts both as reinforcement and as home for the flexible cargo cover. Wedged between fuel tank and floorpan, this barrier seriously limits seat travel and recline angle. The steeply raked roof doesn't help much, either, and the bottom half of the instrument panel curves down in such a way that you need an extra joint between knee and ankle. Even the 95th-percentile van Hooydonk needs a shoehorn to get in and out. His explanation: "The coupe is a handmade prototype built for display purposes and by no means the definitive vehicle." We sincerely hope the production engineers agree.

At this point, no one is prepared to talk about the nitty-gritty of weight, drag coefficients, or price. Van Hooydonk elaborates: "The Z4 coupe is kind of a back-to-the-roots car. What looks like metal actually is metal, not coated plastic. What looks like leather and has seams to hold it in place is real leather, not fake. This is the real thing, in appearance and driving pleasure."

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 261 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque. 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 M coupe has us outright salivating.

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