Clarkson on: the BMW Z4
I thought it might be a good idea to do the... BMW Z4 this month. And when I say do it...
Let's start with what I did like. The styling. Yes, all the details are all wrong in the same way that all the details on Kate Moss are all wrong but the overall balance and shape of the thing is as right as, well, Kate Moss actually. It really is an absolute honey. So, that's that out of the way...
Car companies make a huge deal of their satellite navigation systems these days: BMW makes £1,755 from this one. A lot of money, especially for something which simply Does Not Work. It didn't even know the M40 goes to London, for crying out loud.
During my week with the car I went to Derby, Nottingham, Manchester, Oxford, London, Chichester, and Milton Keynes and not once, not ever, did the satnav find a remotely sensible route. I can only assume it was designed by a man who never found his way to work in a morning.
Time and time again, I'd arrive at the next location hours after the film crew, who'd used a road map, the director who'd used his nous and the researcher who'd used the stars.
If I asked it to take me on the fastest route from A to B, it came up with a 25,000-mile trek via French Polynesia. If I asked for the shortest route, it took me on roads last used by King Harold. And believe me, the last place you want to be in a Z4 is on a bumpy mediaeval back road.
On holiday in Corsica recently, I tried body surfing down the rapids in a mountain river. Others in my party emerged with bruised buttocks and skinned knees, saying it was the most uncomfortable experience of their lives, but that's because they'd never driven a Z4. I have and let me tell you, the ride is not sporty or firm or exciting. It is totally and absolutely unacceptable.
What fascinated me was the little ‘sport' button on the centre console. I couldn't believe it. The idea that someone might voluntarily choose to make his or her Z4 even harder and less forgiving. Really. They have to be joking.
In normal mode, it reminded me of a Corvette which adheres to the American principal that sports cars should have no suspension at all. So I rang the BMW press office and asked if, perhaps, the Z4 was made with the American market in mind. They denied it, but rather too quickly.
Let's examine the evidence. It is made in America. It was styled by an American. It beeps at you if you don't put your seatbelt on (a feature that's unnecessary in Europe where people are bright) and the cupholders are designed for huge styrofoam buckets of coffee beloved by cops on stake-outs. If you put a normal can of cola in one, it falls over and you get a sticky knee.
The leather that lines the doors is ruched so that it resembles the furniture one sees in US living rooms and there's an all pervading sense in the cabin of WIN! FREE!! SAVE!!! cheapness. The glovebox lid, for example, has all the robustness of a Route 66 motel shower curtain.
There's no doubt in my mind that the Z4 was designed almost exclusively for Houston dentists. Which is why BMW must have been especially galled by a recent road test in a America where it was killed and eaten by both the Porsche Boxster and the Honda S2000.
About the only part of this car which does not feel American is the price. The three-litre model I drove costs £31,000 plus £310 for metallic paint, £230 for seat heaters, £170 for cruise control, £275 for a CD changer and £1,755 for the useless satnav. In other words, this is a £34,000 car and that's £10,000 more than it should be.
"In normal mode, it reminded me of a Corvette which adheres to the American principal that sports cars should have no suspension at all"
One of the things I hate most in the world - more than being ripped off, more than going to America even - is filling up with petrol. It's such a monumental waste of time, standing there with a cricked back while catching cancer. But you'd better get used to it with a Z4 which comes with a fuel tank the size of a hotel shampoo bottle. Whenever the needle dropped below a quarter, the car kangarooed down the road like it was being run on alphabet soup.
And so it was that I found myself in yet another garage on my nationwide tour chatting to some bloke who works for a BMW dealership. "You think that's bad," he said. "You should try one with an SMG (flappy paddle) gearbox."
Frankly, though, worrying about the gearbox on this car has is like wondering whether Stalin would have been better without a moustache.
So what about the roof? BMW is saying this is the fastest convertible in the world, with a canvas top that slides electrically into the boot in less than 10 seconds. Not in my car it didn't. It was broken and wouldn't move at all.
Other things I didn't like? Well the seats offer no lateral support, which means that on every right-handed bend, you will end up on your passenger's lap. That's OK if it's Cameron Diaz. Not so good if it's Rolf Harris. Then there's the steering which is too aggressive and the clutch which is too sharp.
I simply never stall cars. But in the Z4, it happened twice. This was annoying.
I also don't do moods. Being ‘down' is even more of a waste of time than filling up with petrol but I must confess that on Friday night, I left Milton Keynes at the end of a horrid week with a horrid car in a temper that Richter would class at 8, Beaufort at 9 and Dudley Moore at 10.
And you know what? The Z4 came alive. It seemed to relish every jammed through gearchange and every bounce off the rev limiter. It liked the way I hurled it into bends and braked far too late for roundabouts. This behaviour is almost psychopathic. Driving you to the edge of madness then revelling in the havoc and mayhem that results. But that's what it did.
I always enjoy leaving Milton Keynes but in the Z4, with my trousers on fire and my blood boiling, the pleasure was visceral and raw and wonderful. Finally, on my last chance power drive, I found the heart and soul of a BMW.
But it wasn't enough, and it was far too late.