2007 BMW Z4 M Coupe

Charlie Magee

But it's more than just the engine that makes the M Coupe as wired as the pale guy in the corner at the party who never takes off his sunglasses. The steering is very quick off-center, and that, combined with a stiff, busy ride, made this a nervous car to push quickly--oh, so quickly--along the mottled two-lanes around Elkhart Lake. On smooth freeways, though, you do adjust to making smaller inputs, and the hydraulic assist delivers far more natural effort levels than the electric power steering that's such a bummer in the Z4. The six-speed manual gearbox is the only transmission offered (no SMG!), and it has short, positive throws.

On the four-mile Road America race course--soaked by a passing downpour--the M Coupe was sometimes a handful. This is a car that wants, and needs, traction and stability control. BMW boasts of the M Coupe's 50/50 weight distribution, but this is still a car that wears its rear-wheel drive on its sleeve, and anything more than very gentle throttle movements had us calling in the electronic helpers. At lower speeds, though, the M Coupe is primarily an understeerer. The brakes are upgraded to cross-drilled, ventilated rotors (13.7 inches in diameter in front and 12.9 inches at the rear), but they groan in protest at hard stops from high speeds.

In calmer moments, we had a chance to take stock of the driver's cave, and it's largely a pleasant one, except for some ergonomic oddities. Typical of BMWs, the seating position is superb, and the pedals are perfectly placed for heel-and-toe downshifting. The seats themselves are firmly and aggressively bolstered enough to hold you in place for anything short of a Joie Chitwood thrill show. Puffed up to the point of absurdity, the kielbasalike steering wheel rim blocks the cruise-control stalk. The materials are a major upgrade over those of the regular Z4 and the controls require no learning curve, but the tiny numbers on the deep-set speedo don't make for a quick read. In the old M Coupe, with its low beltline and tall greenhouse, the panoramic view was one of its charms. In the new car, you gaze over the long, creased hood, which is cool, but you have to peer into the rearview mirror as if you're looking through a mail slot, and you see only what's immediately behind you.

The M Coupe is a much different car than the Z4 roadster from which it sprang. A high-strung, hard-core machine, it's not as fluid as a Porsche Boxster S or Cayman, but it's more intense. Although its $50,995 base price is right on top of the $49,400 Porsche will ask for the upcoming, 245-hp base Cayman, Porsche's wallet-emptying options pricing undoubtedly will make the BMW far cheaper on the showroom floor. Fast and furious, the M Coupe wants a buyer who prizes speed over finesse. If you're really hard-core, you'll make it your only car.

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