We were reading Top Gear’s look back at the almost classic BMW Z4 M Roadster yesterday when we remembered our own review of the Z4 M Coupe from over 13 years ago. At the time the Z4 M Coupe seemed to be perfect blend of M3 performance in a more focused (and lighter) package. While the conclusions we reached were a bit more complicated we came away with a serious case of lust for the Z4 M Coupe. But 13 years later does it still hold up?
When we tested the Z4 M Coupe over 13 years ago we were immediately smitten with the design, performance and overall packaging. Replacing the funky Z3 M Coupe with more elegant lines, the Z4 M Coupe has aged gracefully and yet remained entirely unique as both an M car and sports car. Here was our first take:
On paper the M Coupe (as it’s referred to by many) has it all. The E46 M3’s sensuous inline six churning out 330 hp combined with M3 CSL brakes all in a lighter package (3230lbs). Finally a driver focused cabin and steering wheel that puts the E46 M3’s to shame.
The M Coupe immediately feels more focused and raw than the E46 M3. Upon entering the cabin you realize that this car is focused on one thing – driving and driver enjoyment. You sit relative low in the seats with the center tunnel higher than what is found in cars like the M3. The cabin fit my 6’2″ frame like a well formed glove, my hands falling at the controls as if the car silently configured itself around me. The shifter’s throws (no auto or semi-auto is available) reinforce the driver ‘s car feel and the hot-knife through butter actuation is what you ‘d expect from an M car. But it’s the steering wheel that steals the show. Thick, soft and perfect in every curve and stitch, it says driver’s car like few things can.
As you release the clutch and give it gas, you realize (with the sport button on) that this car doesn’t do subtle. It is simply a beast. And while the acceleration fantastic, it ‘s the sound the engine makes at high revs that is truly addicting. I ‘ve always loved the sound of this engine in the M3 but it still seemed a bit muted in the cabin. The M Coupe doesn’t do muted. You can hear the double Vanos in all it ‘s glory as it sings through the rev range all the way up to 8000 rpms.
Braking is equally impressive. The CSL sourced set-up scrubs off speed without drama. And the DSC (yes I did have it on once or twice) is calibrated to intercede only at the last possible moment. And then only subtle enough to make you believe, just maybe, you’re that good.
Of course with the DSC off, creating oversteer is as easy as twitching your right foot around a corner. And (like all BMWs) the M Coupe is set-up to allow for easy control of power oversteer with its near perfect (50.2/49.8) weight distribution.
The BMW Z4 M Coupe is a rare car that appeals to only a small segment of the population. It’s a singular focused car that trades off space and usability for ultimate performance. Yet it’s these visceral thrills and the packaging trade-offs that give this car a personality that is hard to find in modern automobiles. Z4 M Coupe is a throw back in all the right ways. It’s civil enough to be used a daily driver yet it has a soul that belies the hard and cold numbers we so often use to measure cars.
Back to 2021 it’s easy to see the Z4 M Coupe for what it was and is – a unicorn. Never again will we see a car from BMW at such a low price-point ($50k) with for such a niche market. And now in the age of Bring a Trailer the E86 Z4 M Coupe has gotten even more interesting. For years the market saw these cars right around $30k. While there is plenty of variation, good examples are now starting to inch upward a bit. And supply is part of that. Production began on 4 April 2006 and ended in 2008 when the E85/E86 Z4 was replaced by the E89 Z4. A total of 1,815 M Coupes and 3,042 M Roadsters were built for North America with a global output of 4,275 M Coupes and 5,070 M Roadsters.
The immediate torque, the insane speed and the predictive technology that we see on modern M cars is hard to argue with. But rowing through the gears of an S54 powered small two seater is impossible to replicate – especially in 2021. And that is why the Z4 M Coupe will only become more sacred as the years go by.