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by Steve Siler

2003 BMW Z4
There has been no car company in recent history to cause so much controversy as the vaunted luxury brand BMW. First came the new 7-Series which sent luxury car buyers into a snit over its unusual styling and radical control interface. Now comes the Z4 roadster, which replaces the retro Z3 with a decidedly modern and groundbreaking design that's getting even more attention than the 7. And fortunately for BMW, it's earning considerably more praise.

That's not to say that everyone loves the Z4. In fact, many don't. But we at RTM generally like its long, powerful nose, its sexy wheel designs and the excitement of its unpredictable contours and cutlines. The rear end gives it to us with its upkicked tail and bulging taillamps. It is a design that is as dynamic, extreme and unafraid. Just like a proper sports car should be.

And the Z4 is, if nothing else, a proper sports car. It comes with a choice of two fabulously smooth engines mated to some of the most precise and slick transmissions on the planet (five- or six-speed manuals, or a five-speed manu-matic). The base 2.5 (184 hp) has adequate power for most drivers, while the 3.0 (225-hp) takes things up a notch in both pleasure and price. Most will be fine with the 2.5-only the leadfeet among us would miss the extra power of the 3.0. Every Z4's rear-wheel-drive gives the car unflappable poise in corners, and body roll is just about nonexistent. The ride can be a little harsh with those bitchin' optional 18-inch wheels, mounted as they are with razor-thin tires, but they only add to the fun factor when things get twisty.

The interior is as fresh and unusual as the exterior, yet it is isn't nearly as polarizing. On higher trim levels, you face a long plank of brushed metal into which a few gauges in artfully crafted fairings are nestled. Ergonomics are quite good, with firm, supportive seats more than up to the task of keeping you in place and alert. The 9.2-cubic-foot trunk is quite generous for the sports car class, so don't be afraid to leave the minivan at home when you get the urge to hit the sale at Macy's.

Price: $34K-$45K