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We pit the new BMW Z4 against the Lotus Elise SC

Posted May 22 2009 04:37 PM by eurotuner 
Filed under: Editorials

2010 BMW Z4

During the launch of the new Z4, several people were debating whether the new BMW Z4 was a real sportscar. I maintained it was, but at the back of my mind was unsure. A lack of steering and brake feedback made the car feel rather numb at speed, casting some doubt.


2010 BMW Z4
2010 BMW Z4

Returning to LA, we had the opportunity to pit the $52475 300hp Z4 sDrive35i (we’ll call it the Z435i) against the $54990 218hp Lotus Elise SC in the legendary Malibu canyons – possibly the toughest test this BMW will ever face in terms of its sportscar credentials.
Having driven the supercharged Elise SC before (et 7/08) we knew the featherweight chassis was rewarding and represents the quintessential roadster. The new Z4 is a bit of a lard-arse by comparision, but its 300hp, 300 lb-ft twin-turbo 3.0 motor would keep the Lotus honest.
The BMW also boasts a wonderful metal hardtop that drops in 20sec. Its inclusion necessitated a longer, wider body, and the Z4 has certainly benefited from the extra girth. It’s far more handsome than its predecessors, reminiscent of the Z8 from some angles.
Sadly, the hardtop means we may be deprived of a Z4 Coupe, since BMW feel it’s no longer necessary. There was also talk of dropping the M derivatives, and we might have believed it if the X6 M and X5 M hadn’t been announced several days earlier. If BMW has M versions of its off-roaders, the Z4 M must surely be on the cards…

2010 BMW Z4
2010 BMW Z4

The Z4 comes with in either 28i or 35i derivatives, with the M3’s paddle-shifted seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission on the Z435i or a conventional six-speed manual. We chose the latter for our Lotus showdown, but both work extremely well.
Also borrowed from the M3 was the Adaptive M Suspension, which gives the driver three damper settings – Normal, Sport and Sport +. This also affects the DSC stability control, engine response and steering control map. The system is both a strength and ultimately the weakness of the car. By trying to appeal to a wider range of customers, it’s possible to enjoy a very comfortable ride in the Normal mode. However, it lacks control when the roads become more demanding. Stiffening the dampers gives a firmer ride but the sway bars still allow too much body roll for our liking. And while the electro-mechanical power steering weights up nicely, it disguises feedback from the front tires.
In the canyons, we were surprised at how well the BMW was able to keep pace with the Lotus. We’d expected the portly German it to wallow behind the lithe Brit. But the combination of torquey power delivery and clever chassis control kept the Z4 in the chase. Admittedly, we had to drive the BMW very, very hard.
As we came to a halt to consider the evidence, the BMW’s brakes were smoking and the driver sweating. What was a fun canyon run for the Lotus, was a study in crash avoidance for the BMW. Safety margins were narrowed and the car was on the ragged edge, yet it did keep up. Certainly the experience was less rewarding, but few can match the Lotus for driver satisfaction.
You can read our full report and further observations in the August 2009 issue of eurotuner magazine, on sale July 14.

2010 BMW Z4
2010 BMW Z4

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