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2006 BMW Z4 M
2006 BMW Z4M New Car Review

"M" is what BMW puts on its cars to say: "More." More zip, more pizzazz, more go, more stop, more for a serious driver to sink a foot into. The Z4 M Coupe is no exception. Or maybe the "M" stands for "much" because there is such a muchness about this coupe. It is fast, agile, capable and ready to enthrall any driver who can appreciate its direct simplicity and clean competency.


2006 BMW Z4 Exterior

The Z4 M has accepted certain donations from the remarkable M3 coupe such as basic underpinnings and road-loving suspension and the awe-inspiring 3.2 liter inline six cylinder engine. The stated horsepower is 330 and the torque an admirable 262 lbs/ft (albeit not fully realized until 4900 rpm.)

Importantly, the Z4 M has also rejected certain gifts from the M3. For instance the SMG (sequential) transmission is not even an option here. And there is no iDrive to delight or befuddle. Nor is there anything stirred in with the questionable intention of improving BMW’s benchmark steering. The Z4 M’s steering seems to come to us unadorned, undiluted and as responsive and communicative as BMW’s once were before bright Bavarian engineers set about to improve the egg.

Their "active steering" is absent here; complicated variable steering ratios are absent. Even electric steering (like on the M-less Z4) is absent. This one is hydraulic. OK, so the fancy stuff has its place on other BMWs but in this M we have simple direct, pay attention control. With a special addition: a steering wheel as fat as a balloon tire on a kid’s bike. Taking hold is like grabbing a wrist giving new meaning to "handful." I like it, but not everyone does.

The gearbox is similarly direct. It’s a smooth six-speed manual that, as you roll your foot between brake and throttle for downshifts, makes you believe that you are indeed in the driver’s seat.

BMW has been waxing increasingly successful while I’ve felt it’s been slipping into a, well, if not softness at least reduced edginess. The new 3 Series gets raves and awards from my colleagues but I yearn for the way the older, smaller 3 Series so much more eagerly took to tight turns. I admired the hell out of what the BMW engineers were doing but I resented it, too. "Don’t dazzle me." I begged. "Just let me drive."

The Z4 M does that.

But BMW doesn’t just turn you loose with a small, short-coupled, high-powered car without some kind assistance. Invisible training wheels are thankfully present. But they are helpful assists to driving, not a move to take over the task. A viscous limited-slip differential keeps the rear wheels from tossing grip back and forth in a disconcerting manner and DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) unobtrusively brings the car back from the hairy edges of extreme oversteer or understeer. Unless of course if you want to let it all hang out like the back end were on casters. Just shut off the DSC.

Another choice you can make as you can with most M cars: select the throttle response appropriate to your intentions. "Normal" is the default setting but you can push a button and get "Sport." That will change the ratio of pedal movement to throttle opening and give you instant access to peak performance. (BMW has a variable valve timing system that is peak indeed.) In my experience I found "Normal" to suit all of the situations in which I found myself. "Sport" seemed too touchy for the normal road use (therefore, select "normal," silly.)

I like a car that elicits sudden conversation-stopping grins. "Did you feel that?" I asked my passenger after an on-rails turn direct from an under-cranked silent movie. Only at the last minute had a germane route sign emerge from behind overgrown foliage. Normally I wouldn’t have last-minuted a turn like that but this was an M. And it felt so good I over-pushed into the next bends, too. Carnival ride, anyone?

The M can run smoothly with good touring manners (the seats are great) through the winding country roads, but it most likes to deliver when a lot is asked of it. Then it seems to grin, too, and the dance begins.

Writing about a BMW vehicle without mentioning Chris Bangle seems as unlikely as TV without commercials, particularly since this controversial designer, transported from Wisconsin to Bavaria, was credited with the Z4, minus the M. And the M version seemed more refined, less drum major showing off.

BMW Z4 Interior

Bangle is one of the most verbal of designers with a ready spiel. Really a choreographer of design he all but dances his description with swooping body language to show what this line is doing and why that one goes that way. "Sculpture" he calls cars, but he sometimes falls to realize that they are sculpture that must move primarily in one direction. And they must be opened and closed for interior access. And they must be manufactured. Thus a smooth body, probably quite handsomely sculptural in clay, acquires lines running all over the place, leading the eye into dead ends or befuddling it with too much going on.

But then even some of the edgy character lines that are meant to be visible run counter to the flow of movement and seem to deny this sculpture-that-moves its very forward flow. Always impressed by Bangle’s verbal gymnastics I still don’t buy his rationales. So I tolerated rather than admired the odd excesses of the Z4. But the Z4 M. What has happened? I can’t say for sure, but it looks happier with itself and I am happier with it. This is a matured design that even I find attractive. But appearances are best left to individual judgments.

On the back roads of, appropriately Wisconsin, on which I drove the Z4 M the car was a pleasure and an impressive piece of machinery. Whereas many carmakers to maximize their horsepower resort to turbo and super charging BMW chooses to refine and perfect to get the most from a normally aspirated engine. Maybe it’s a motorcycle thing, and BMW is equally important in the two-wheel world. Anyway, this inline six is an object of awe. I was falling in love.

But then we were directed onto some highways, not quite super but four-lanes and well-traveled. Wisconsin winters are not kind to such objects and driving over it in the stiffly sprung Z4 M was simply unacceptably rough. Both my companion and I found ourselves quivery-voiced like the late Katharine Hepburn. My eyes wobbled in my head. "This is unacceptable," I said to strong agreement. I meant both the highway and the car. This roughness could not be attributed to run-flat tires (that make another BMW product, the Mini Cooper S, run jarringly on rough roads) because the M, thankfully, wears performance tires and not run-flats.

I strongly suggest any test drive you take should replicate your most common route. You can rate your own acceptability level.

And you might also try two other coupes with high performance intentions: the Nissan 350Z, not as fast but less costly, and the Porsche Cayman, lighter and more lithe (though .3 seconds slower 0-60) but much more expensive.

Still don’t pass up any opportunity to experience the Z4 M. Just choose your surface well and stick to turns.

For more information visit the BMW website here.

2006 BMW Z4 M Coupe
Compact sports coupe
Model options:

Z4 Roadster, Z4 Coupe

98.2 inches
Overall length:
161.1 inches
Engine size:

3.0-liter dual overhead cam (DOHC), 24-valve inline 255-horsepower 6-cylinder engine

6-speed manual or optional 6-speed automatic with shifter paddles
Vehicle speed sensing electronic steering

Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), including Brake Fade Compensation, Start-off Assistant, Brake Drying, and Brake Stand-by features, with Dynamic Traction Control (DTC)

Air bags:
Dual-airbag Supplementary Restraint System with 2-stage "smart" airbags
Fuel mileage city/hwy:

Manual: 20/30 city/highway
Automatic: 21/29 city/highway


Destination Charge: $695