For some reason, the Z3 Coupe spoke to me in a way the convertible did not, especially the high-powered M version, though at $41,800, my bank account wouldn't hear it speaking at all.
BMW is trying again. The Z4 debuted in November 2003, an angular, edgy sports car that speaks to me, but not very loud. The Z4 has been sold as a convertible only, but as a late 2006 model, it gets a coupe companion to go along with the convertible's mild interior and exterior freshening.
Again, there is an M version of the Z4 Coupe, with a 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine, just like that original Z3 Coupe's M version. But this time, instead of 240 horsepower, it has 330. And while it's still expensive, at a base price of $49,300, it undercuts its main German competition, the Porsche Cayman S, by maybe $10,000 when comparably equipped. The BMW also has 35 extra horsepower, though the engine is smaller.
On the outside, the Z4 M Coupe looks even smaller than it is. Overall length is 161.1 inches, nearly a foot less than the Porsche Cayman. Height is only 49.9 inches, an inch and a half less than the Cayman. This is strictly a two-seat car, though there's 12 cubic feet of cargo room in the rear, beneath the hatch. That's good, because there's not much room for anything up front.
Inside, the Z4 Coupe is tight but comfortable. Headroom is plentiful with the seat in a low position, and you do sit very, very low in the M Coupe, but I never felt cramped. Instruments and controls are accessible and simple; thankfully, the annoying joystick-controlled I-Drive system is absent. Perhaps the most immediately noticeable feature is a very fat leather-covered steering wheel, which I loved, but others thought was odd.
On the road, the M has a stiffer ride than the regular Z4 coupe. I didn't find it particularly rough, but I'd expect many will. Test drive any BMW M vehicle on uneven pavement before buying the car -- I know plenty of customers who didn't and wish they had. But that stiff suspension translates into superb handling, aided by the big 18-inch tires and wheels. Drilled disc brakes are superb.
There is no faulting the engine and transmission. Clutch action is light and sure, shifting is positive, and the smooth, gutsy engine has torque in every gear.
Styling-wise, the Z4 coupe and convertible are polarizing, but you can't deny that the look is distinctive. If you don't need the extra power, the regular Z Coupe starts at about $40,000, while the M Coupe starts at $49,300, and as tested, it's $51,495. That includes a $1,000 federal gas-guzzler tax, thanks to fuel mileage of 16 miles per gallon in the city, 24 on the highway.
As occurs often with BMWs, the more I drove the Z4 M Coupe, the more I liked it. The styling never grew on me the way the cockpit and handling dynamics did, but judging from comments, people like the car.
But I'm noticing that nice 1999 and 2000 Z3 Coupes are down to about $15,000 on the used market. And they're speaking to me, and my bank account, a little louder than the 2006 model.