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M Roadster and M Coupe to Debut During 2006

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Story by Tony Whitney

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Enthusiasts who love BMW sports cars, and that surely means everyone with the least interest in fine performance machinery, are in for double treat as the year 2006 unfolds. Not only is BMW launching an M version of its popular Z4 Roadster, but it’s following that up with a new M Coupe based on the same model. BMW doesn’t put that legendary M badge on just any old warmed-over model, so the new sportsters promise to be something very special indeed.

The M Roadster has been expected for some time, but the M Coupe was one of the surprises of recent auto shows in Europe, North America and Asia. First shown as a concept, it attracted so much favourable comment from media and public alike that the decision was taken by the BMW board to build the car. Despite its preeminence in the field of sports sedans, BMW has more experience in the compact sports coupe field than most people imagine. Several years ago, I was visiting a BMW design facility near Munich and was shown a mockup of a BMW coupe, engineered around the much praised (but never sold here) 1988 Z1 roadster.

BMW never did build a coupe based on the Z1, but the concept was an indicator of what lay ahead and the automaker eventually did market a sportster in that configuration developed from the old Z3, predecessor to the current Z4. The first M Coupe was an fascinatingly controversial piece of styling, a stubby hatchback that auto fans either loved or hated. What was never in doubt was the car’s astonishing handling and performance.

Even for a BMW, it won endless praise for the way it could be tossed through the tightest curve and exit with power levels that would bring a contented smile to the face of a race car driver. The new M Coupe, which will appear later this year as a 2007 model, is based, as one might expect, on the excellent Z4 platform. This time around, the car will prompt less argument with regard to styling it looks outstandingly well-balanced from every angle and its performance promises to exceed even that of the earlier version. Although closely related to the M Roadster, BMW points out that the car “goes its own way with design and styling.”

There’s a purposeful-looking front air dam and other subtle body modifications. Overall, this a very impressive-looking sports coupe with performance to match the promise of its aggressive lines. Power comes from a 3.2-litre inline six-cylinder similar to the one used in BMW’s M3 model. It’s a potent and torquey unit, putting out an impressive 343-horsepower—a substantial amount of performance for what is a fairly light automobile.

With an output per litre of close to 106 horsepower, this is a solid achievement from the M engineers who seem to be able to upstage themselves every time a new performance model comes along. Not surprisingly, off-the-mark prowess is exhilarating to say the least. 100 km/h comes up on the stylish speedometer in just five seconds and the top speed would be well beyond 250 km/h if an electronic limiter system didn’t deny the driver even faster progress.

I’ve always noted when driving M BMWs on unlimited Autobahns that even at 250 km/h, the cars seem safe and stable with no feeling what so ever of “impending disaster.” Even if you never plan to drive anywhere near those levels, it’s nice to know that your BMW has vast reserves of performance and safety. The huge ABS disc brakes unfailingly match

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performance with these M cars and I’m always impressed by the way they can be brought gently and confidently down to a leisurely pace, even from the highest speeds. Transmission for the M Coupe is a six-speed manual with well chosen ratios to get the best from the engine’s considerable torque. The transmission is designed with very short throws for effortless shifting. Not too many sports car enthusiasts—even those who own rival products— can deny that BMW produces the best manual transmissions out there. Suspension is similar to that of the M Roadster, but it’s been “tweaked” to better serve the dynamics of the closed car. BMW

points out that when a group of its test drivers took an M Coupe, an M Roadster and an M3 to the big Nurburgring circuit for a comparison test, it was the Coupe that recorded the best lap times. Of course, for many diehard fans of sports models, “coupes are for wimps” and there’s no substitute for a roadster and the joys of wind-in the-hair motoring. For them, BMW will be shipping the new Z4 M Roadster this spring and it promises to be an extraordinarily good car. Adding the M powerplant to an already exciting roadster like the Z4 should make for a highly desirable automobile by any standards.

Like its Coupe stablemate, the M Roadster is powered by one of those wonderful BMW straight sixes and has similar ratings of 343 horsepower and the same five second dash to 100 km/h, probably even more exciting in an open car. The design of the Z4 Roadster has been freshened for 2006 and the M version, of course, benefits from these subtle upgrades. Both cars offer a highly driver-oriented interior, aimed at providing ease of access to all controls even when engaged in fast runs on roads demanding full concentration. The seats are hip-hugging and even keep the shoulders in place when really tight bends present themselves.

Materials for the cockpit were chosen with great care and there’s not a trace the kind of cost-cutting cheapness that can often be found even in quite expensive automobiles. Thanks to thoughtful design and meticulous assembly standards, the cockpit of a BMW Z4 M Roadster or M Coupe is a pleasure to operate or ride in. The Roadster’s top is very snug when up and wind noise is surprisingly low, even at high speed. Taken down, it tucks neatly out of sight with no hump to mar rear vision. BMW M cars don’t come along that often; they’re very intensively developed and that process takes time, so having two to choose from in a single model year is a special treat.

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