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Old 04-03-2006, 12:32 PM   #1
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SD987's Z4M Review (Long)

As long-time visitors to this site will know, I often have a good amount of time to kill during the workday, and I turn over cars pretty regularly, so I thought it would be a good time to go check out the new Z4M. I went to BMW of San Diego which is the dealer of choice in SD County.

They had 4 in stock, including the seal-gray look-alike in the show-room, an Estoril Blue (which is OK, but not as nice as my Midnight Blue IMNSHO) and a red one which was out of the question since I have a red 3 series convertible as a beater (what if I was really hung-over and took the Z4M when I should have been beating?). The fourth one?…I dunno.


Here’s the skinny on the pricing. Yeah, they’re listing at $51,300 but in a brazen bait and switch, BMW is packaging the initial run of 06s the same way, as follows:

$51,300 base price
$500 heated front seats
$475 metallic paint
$1800 navigation system
$695 destination charge
$1000 gas guzzler charge (so you know this one’s gonna make the 987 seem like a hybrid)
$2500 premium package
- Power seats/memory
- Auto dimming mirrors
- Storage package
- Cruise control
- Premium sound

Standard Kit includes:
- 3.2 L engine from the e46 M3 (DOHC, 24v I6 with double-VANOS)
- 18” M Double-spoke alloys
- Dual front airbags and Side impact airbags
- Auto-leveling Xenons
- Rain sensing wipers
- Climate control
- Anti-theft
- One-touch windows
- Heated power mirrors
- 4 function OBC

(Note: If you can’t drive stick you’re screwed, as there isn’t a SMG or other auto-option.)


The only variations are leather and -more leather and all four cars were within 500 bucks of each other.

Options and interior

M-dials are attractive in a “busy” way but aren’t for the dull-sighted and I think the Porsche dial layout looks nicer. The M5/6 gets the new heads up display, and the Z4M could really benefit from it as I was having a hard time picking up my speed with a quick glance down, as there’s no digital speedo. It was kind of like a civilian looking at a Breitling Navitimer for the first time and trying to figure out WTF is going on, let alone what time it is. The digital redline indicator on the tach which starts lower and goes up as the car warms up is a nice touch, although of course, not new for this latest M.

Sport steering wheel is standard. It felt like the V3FX for Playstation with a few less buttons, but if you like sport-steering wheels you’ll probably like this one (as hula-hoop enthusiasts view the “M” wheels with high regard).

The NAV system pops up out of the dash and has a pretty good display. I-drive isn’t available on the Z4M, but my 2 minute perusal of the dumbed-down system still made me want to say f*ck-it after about 30 seconds.

Aluminum look interior trim is standard and was vaguely aluminumish. My overall impression of the interior controls was that they seemed to be better spread out than the 987 and not focused on an 8” by 8”inch section of the center console.

Sound system didn’t sound too premium, even by CD-24 standards. It has ten speakers in case you’re counting.

Top is fast and fully automatic, no-change from the z4, and I don’t believe it goes up and down when moving. Despite that caveat, my impression was that the top is better engineered than the 987s.

Sport seats come standard and are extremely comfortable. They’re definitely better than the standard 987 (which we know has great seats). They were awesome for this 5 11 165 lb guy, but if you eat a lot of Krispy Kremes I think you’re going to have trouble. Seats are fully power-adjustable instead of the 987s train-brake handle crap.

All in all I’d give the interior a 8 out of 10, but with the top up it really feels claustrophobic (though obviously quieter than the Box). When I drove the 987 hours later, it felt like a Maybach 62.


They did a nice job jazzing up the standard sheet metal which you either love or hate (I went from hate to “not bad”.) Front and back gets reworked with different tail lights. The 4 chromed tail pipes look good, (I guess about 4x as good as the 987) and look like they’ll stay shiny for longer than 45 minutes. They don’t badge it Z4M, they just put the M badge on and let you figure the rest out. Although blingey, I like the way the propeller logo has been integrated with the side-markers (on all z4s). Xenon headlights are standard (but bluer than I’d anticipated) and they have the requisite “angel eye” running lights that are beloved by many (including me).

The trunk was about the same size as the SLK350s which is about the same size as the 987s which is about the same size as the…I was comforted by the familiar sight of the tire goo container (you don’t put run-flats on high-performance babies – unless you’re GM).

Driving impressions

The exhaust note is slightly more subdued than the standard e46 M3, which surprised me. But I suspect that driving my Boxster top-up may have caused hearing loss. The noises that come out of an M3 on its way to the redline are suspect at best, controversial at worse but overall I didn’t consider the Z4M’s aural delights to be much of a plus.

Of interest to San Diegans, I took Convoy - 52E to that exit just before Brokeback Mountain and back to Convoy, so it wasn’t like a 3-hour tour but long enough to get some good impressions.

Yeah, the car’s fast for sure. BMWs of recent vintage have a different feeling pedal setup than the old ones so it took a few shifts to get my bearings, but it honestly didn’t feel any faster than the Cayman S I drove a month ago, which was my most-recent test-drive (although it’s obviously faster, 0-60 in 4.9). As caveats, although I was pushing it pretty hard, the redline was telling me that the car still wasn’t fully warmed up and there’s a limited amount of fun to be had on So Cal roads at 3pm.

Handling is no comparison. As we all know, the mid-engine design just can’t be beaten with electronic gizmos (the Z4M also has the hydraulic steering from the M3). I tried to pull a high-speed left hand turn that the Box would have done with ease and the tail drifted in the Z4, which was fun, although I don’t think Dealer Dave felt the joy. My understanding is that a pro would throttle-steer the Z4M through corners but to this average-Joe on a test-drive, the car just didn’t feel particularly well-balanced, despite its classic BMW weight distribution (in case you were wondering, the Z4M did an 8:15 around the Nurburgring compared to the 987S published time of 8:18).

The brakes are stupendous, about on par with the 987S/Cayman S. The Z4M borrows the brakes from the M3 CSL and I was actually more impressed with the 60-0, then the 0-60.

Sport mode is of course a button away but, under the conditions of the drive, it didn’t make much sense to give it a whirl.

Before driving down to the dealer, I was fully prepared to let them twist my arm into buying one in the next 48 hours as it’s month-end, but after driving it I really wasn’t all-in with that idea. If I was just starting from scratch in the roadster segment, hadn’t lived with the 987 for a year, and could only pick one roadster, I would probably get the Z4M. The car is clearly “fun” and you can get a well-optioned Z4M that’s faster than a similarly equipped 987S for less money, so it’s a good value. Another huge plus is the 4yr/50K Full maintenance which covers everything except tire replacements (I think BMW is gonna make-out huge with this program).

I would imagine that the Z4M will appeal to those who find the Boxster’s relative lack of power is not offset enough by its handling prowess and from what I read, there are a number of folks with this mindset. There is a certain charm to straight-line acceleration and 0-60 worshippers will love the Z4M. However, if you were to buy the Z4M you might perform better than in a 987 but I can guarantee you wouldn’t have nearly as much fun doing it, and that’s the kicker. After my pre-purchase test-drive of the 987 and 987S I said “wow”. After test-driving the Z4M I said “meh…”.

So now I’m left waiting, as before, for that 300hp Porsche 987. I don’t drink from the Porsche kool-aid fountain and would have had few regrets about turning in the Porsche crest for ‘M’ badging, but there is definitely something that sets the 987 apart even in base mode. If anything, driving the Z4M made me appreciate what I already drive which should last me for a couple of months or so.


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05 987 5-speed - Sold
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Last edited by SD987; 04-03-2006 at 01:58 PM.
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Old 04-03-2006, 01:45 PM   #2
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Great review! I am sure there is a BMW for everyone out there, but for me when it comes down to it, Porsches are just more fun.
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Old 04-03-2006, 01:57 PM   #3
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BMW of San Diego is the dealer of choice? I didn't know that. Back when I was shopping for cars, I went there to try to talk to them about Z4s and three-series. I was dressed respectably, wandered their entire lot staring into cars, pulling on door handles, examining window stickers... I mean, I couldn't have looked more interested in talking to a salesman unless maybe I'd starting licking the badges.

No one talked to me, they were all just standing around, gabbing with other customers or with their fellow salespeople. It reinforced the negative image I've always had of BMW and I walked away.

Maybe I'll pop by again and see how they act. Showing up in the 987 might get a different response but frankly, that'd bother me as I feel it was the fact that I didn't look like I was old enough to have the ability to buy an Almighty Beemur that they decided to ignore me.
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Old 04-03-2006, 02:15 PM   #4
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I'm a huge BMW fan, I have always loved their cars. I even like the new Bangle styling for the 3 and 5 series. The extra power in the z4M versus the Boxster definately gets my attention, but I am in the 'hate it' camp when it comes to the styling on this one. Even with my affection for BMW, I just don't like the look of this car at all. Pretty much have to say it's ugly. Can take it off my list of potential Boxster replacement. Hopefully the result of the power difference will encourage Porsche to up the ante in coming years.
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Old 04-03-2006, 02:36 PM   #5
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Great review! I am a BMW M roadster convert.. My last two cars were M Roadsters. I have to say that BMW still offers alot for the money as far as options and hp etc. A comparably equipped Boxster is in 911 territory as far as price. Performance is generally excellent in the acceleration catagory but the handling and total package makes the Boxster more of a driving enthusiasts car. I am not surprised how traditionally the M roadster handles with the drift etc. I do miss some things about my M roadster... mostly the shifting action... havent found a better shifter feel yet. On a daily basis, I will take the Boxster S for the 2 trunks, the styling, the handling and brakes... althought the M roadsters were dead even. Resale on an M car is probably better than a Boxster S... I traded my 2000 M roadster with 40k miles for 22500.00 not bad! All in all, I am happier in the Box and am glad that I bought one. I will probably look for another newer one after I am tired of the 2001 S that I have.
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Old 04-03-2006, 03:02 PM   #6
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Dinan offers a supercharger for the M Roadster (Z3) version. I have driven one of those bad boys and it screams.

I will likely own one some day when I get bored.

I still don't like the looks of the z4.
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Old 04-03-2006, 03:05 PM   #7
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Great review - just how I like them - detailed...

I've come to the conclusion today that Porsche doesn't put out uber-high-horsepower cars all the time because they don't have to! Other car makes are 'making up for' the lack of the true ultimate experience behind the wheel by putting more hp in and making it faster in a straight line. Sure the Boxster could use more power, but honestly, who is complaining? There are 450hp Cayenne turbos and 996 turbos out there that are immediately modified to 500-600hp because all that hp is great, but more just HAS to be better, right? Porsche doesn't need to put in 300hp in the Boxster because nobody has been able to match it in driveability and finesse, period.

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Old 04-03-2006, 03:13 PM   #8
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Back in 2001 I was soooo close to pulling the trigger

on an '01 M Roadster before ever driving a Porsche. I had a abolute blast on the test drive -- it was fast, to be sure. Felt like a rocket sled. "M" was so cool. Only down side was I didn't think much of the interior and the trunk space was smaller than my Miata's at the time. I blew that small stuff off.

Decided I had to drive the Boxster to round out the field (S2000, TT etc.--they weren't contenders), and slipped into Momentum in Houston just before they closed one evening. Salesman gave me the keys, and the wife and I never looked back. After about 20 minutes, got back, did some piss-poor negotiating (being a tough guy while you're drooling really doesn't work), and bought it that night. The feel was so different from the BMW, there was no comparison. I knew it wasn't a match for the M's speed, but surprisingly (to me) I could not have cared less. I now believe that the guys at C&D may not be making it up when they weight their comparisons relatively heavily based on a "fun to drive" category.

That night, I called my brother to tell him. He wasn't surprised--he reminded me that since I was about 15 I'd sworn I'd have a Porsche by the time I was 30. (That's the C&D "gotta have it" category.) Anyway, I was 31, but that didn't wipe the grin off my face.

BTW, great post SD987.
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Old 04-03-2006, 06:51 PM   #9
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I test drove a 02 M roadster before purchasing my S. The engine's power is truly impressive especially considering it has the same displacement as the S. However, as noted earlier the exhaust/intake note left much to be desired, the trunk space sucked, the 5 speed shifter felt rough and crappy and the handling and brakes where no where near boxster S territory. The accleration and awesome engine wasn't enough to sway me away from the Porsche.
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Old 08-02-2006, 03:35 PM   #10
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I thought this was quite a surprise, considering how few of them there are on the roads..

"The 2001 BMW M Roadster received the dubious honor of being listed as the most stolen vehicle of 2005, according to the most recent stolen vehicle report from CCC Information Services Inc. (CCC). CCC is a technology provider to the automotive claims and repair industry. "

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We've heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true. - Robert Wilensky
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Old 08-02-2006, 03:53 PM   #11
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a white Z4 was on my radar and I looke at the values and was surprised that resale is NOTHING like Porsche, well at least in my area. I autocross with the local BMW club and I find it interesting how easily my lesser powered BoxsterS can beat just about anything from BMW short of an M5.
The new M6 is in European Car Magazine and I don't think I have ever seen a better badder meaner looking car in Black.
interesting about the brakes I've never been impressed with any of the brakes in any BMW. the only thing worse is the throttle pedal on an SL 500 who drives like that???
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Old 08-02-2006, 04:23 PM   #12
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My neighbor has a red Z4M. He had a red M3 cab but had to have the new M. Before the M3 he had an M roadster. He is a BMW freak, lol. He's a cardiologist so I guess he can do what he wants, I told him to get the M6, but he wanted a convertable. It is cool, but handling is not up with us boxster owners.
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Old 08-03-2006, 06:27 PM   #13
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Z4 suspension

How did you find the suspension in comparison to the Boxster?

My friend has a standard z4 3.0. my first ride in it on the freeway and my kidneys/back felt like they were getting a beating. i thought, oh it's a sportscar, it's supposed to be stiff..

until i got the Boxster. even more of a dedicated sportscar, yet the suspension wasn't punishing. just perfect.

i can only imagine the M would be even stiffer than the base Z.

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