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New BMW Z4 Prototype Driven: German brother of Supra

Car and Driver

The death of some cars has us in full mourning suit and delivery of tearful compliments, sometimes even spilling liquor on a sidewalk. But the passing of others triggers nothing more than recognition nodding to a distant acquaintance. This was demonstrated by the previous generation of the BMW Z4, with many of us struggling to remember when it was the last time it went on sale in the United States. (That was the 2016 model year, for the record). It was a car that always felt more like a lifestyle accessory than as a driving device, a roadster with a retractable rigid lid that added weight and volume in what was exactly the wrong places. We would assume it was a poorly attended funeral.

Creating something better, or at least more memorable, does not seem to be a particularly burdensome task. However, the development team behind the new Z4 has been working on it for five years and reports that it effectively has nothing in common with its lackluster predecessor. The pride that the company's engineers have in the car was clearly evident when we drove the nearly finished prototype on the BMW Miramas test track and the surrounding roads. The team also seemed happy to have worked in a suitable sports car, an increasingly marginal activity within BMW as the company expands its offer of SUVs and crossovers boosting its growth.

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Only getting the approved Z4 project took some policies from high level. The segment's declining sales meant that BMW could not justify the considerable expense of manufacturing a completely new car by itself, which is why an agreement was reached with Toyota. In return for access to the hybrid technology of the Japanese giant, BMW has developed a platform that will also support the next Supra, with both cars assembled to be assembled by the contract constructor Magna Steyr in Austria. Although it was previously reported as a co-development, all the basic engineering comes from BMW, the big differentiator being the harness: the Supra is a coupe, and the Z4 is a roadster with a fabric roof.

A concept The likeness

The cars we got to drive were hard-hitting development mules wearing defiantly dazzling lens camouflage. The finished car was also shown to us, although we were not allowed to take pictures of it. It does not matter, between last year's Z4 Concept and disguised prototypes you can see all the important details. The production version adheres to the stacking headlamp arrangement of the show car – this is the first four-wheel BMW in recent history to have no twin elements side by side – and inside the grilles there is a mesh finish instead of the traditional bars.

Seen from the front or rear, or from a narrow acute angle at each end, the Z4 looks appropriately low and muscular. However, in the profile view, the ungainly length of the front overhang can not be hidden; was dictated by the need to comply with pedestrian impact standards without making the hood too high. The total length has grown 3.2 inches over the second generation of Z4x, to 170.1 inches, but the wheelbase of 97.2 inches is one inch shorter than before. The car without dissimulation also revealed the presence of a large and inelegant flap on the right side.

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No negative surprises in the cabin, where everything It is as expected. The Z4 has the latest generation of BMW switchgear and information, including a large touch-sensitive control screen and digital instruments. The seat position feels adequately low and offers a good range of adjustment, and taller drivers will find enough free space with the fabric roof in place. The upper engines go up and down in about 10 seconds and are kept neatly behind the seats; It can be operated at speeds of up to 30 mph.

Excitement in the hiding place

We were sent to learn the driving track in Miramas in a BMW M2. That was a brave decision given the enthusiasm of the rorty coupe for the high lateral loads offered by the selection of curves of the circuit and the fun battle for the rear wheels to find traction. After such a spicy start, there was a risk that the Z4 seemed more like a cleanser than a decent entrance.

It's not that the Z that lacks rank lacks firepower. When the car launches next year, you can choose between an M40i four-cylinder 30i and a six-cylinder, the latter sharing the same turbocharged engine as the M240i. This was the car we had to drive in France, although in its lower European tone, apparently the presence of a gasoline particulate filter limits production to 335 horsepower, while in the United States it should produce 382 horses, according to the BMW engineers. Both versions produce the same 369 lb-ft of torque. There will not be a manual gearbox, since engineering costs were too high given the likely low pickup rate, so the only transmission option will be an eight-speed automatic with ZF source. The Z4 M40i will receive an electronically controlled limited slip differential as standard. BMW's provisional numbers say it should run the Euro-spec benchmark from zero to 62 mph in 4.4 seconds.

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With an engineer chaperone in the passenger seat , our first laps were done in Comfort mode, which means the softest setting for the adaptive dampers of the M40i and the smoother maps for the engine, gearbox and power steering. As such, the Z4 felt predictably flexible, even when asked to digest pieces of the circuit's striped curvature, with clean reactions at the front end and a clear-feel direction. But there was also a noticeable front thrust in the slower turns. Even with the roof raised, the engine sounded good, with a scratch on the exhaust note that contrasts sharply with the sometimes flatulent noises produced by the Porsche 718 Boxster four-cylinder. But, in the first impressions, emotion was lacking.

It turned out that he was just hiding. Once we switched to the Sport configuration, the Z4 was transformed into something much more interesting. The direction gained weight, but not for the simple fact of adding weight, there was still a good impression of what the Super Sports Michelin Pilot did for the front axle. The shock absorbers were remarkably reaffirmed, and the Z4 felt better tied and more direct in its responses, while the accelerator pedal lost the elasticity of Comfort and obtained an almost surgical precision.

But the spinach can busted was electronically controlled limited. differential slip, which used the switch for Sport to declare its own personal war on understeer. Heading to the corners he kept open, the Z4's individual rear brakes pinching on the rear axle to apply a torque vector effort to help the car spin. When we got on the accelerator, the differential was blocked aggressively, which maximized traction and propelled the car to a squat position at the edge of oversteer. He felt funny and with the right amount of crude, in a way that does not have Z4 since he has the E46 M4 Z4 M.

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It is unlikely that many Z4 live on the track, so driving on some of the local roads surrounding the test track was more revealing. In the real world, the aggressive differential made its presence felt only in tight turns or in sprints particularly far from intersections, but the quick responses of the engine and the happy ability of the transmission to be on the right team almost all the time continued to impress .

The rougher surfaces also gave the opportunity to evaluate how the damping faced real roads, the response was without too much slope in Comfort and without too much hardness in the sport. Even the roughest pavement we could find did not reveal any hint of shaking the hood. We are told that this Z4 is 20 percent more rigid to the torsion than the previous one and that it is the most rigid open road car that the company has built. The refinement with the ceiling also impressed; there is less wind noise than we remember when passing through the rigid roof that can be saved from the Z4. At higher speeds with the top down there is a good amount of bumps, however, even with a wind deflector between the seats.

Will it be better than before enough?

The final verdict will have to wait until we can have the opportunity to drive finished cars, but even on the basis of a short turn almost a full year before sales in the US. UU., We can already predict with confidence that this Z4 is going to be a lot better than the previous one. Sales of the 30i four-cylinder will begin in March 2019, with the M40i arriving in April. There is no official word on prices, but we are told to expect the 30i to be in the low range of $ 50,000 and the M40i in the middle of the $ 60K, in the heart of its heavily fought side. market. We eagerly await the opportunity to unite the entire segment to determine whether the new BMW leans more towards the involved end of the spectrum occupied by the 718 Boxster.

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