German automaker BMW AG's American-born design chief Chris Bangle set many an enthusiast's teeth grating last year with his clumsy redesign of the big 7-series sedan. But he may have redeemed himself with the recent arrival of the all-new 2003 Z4 roadster, the beautifully styled successor to the Z3.

Built in South Carolina, the Z4 displays all the panache its predecessor lacked, and manages to push the envelope in key areas such as handling and safety.

That cutting-edge performance comes at a price, however: Our test vehicle, a nicely equipped Z4 3.0i, had a sticker of $44,820 -- enough money to buy a Chevrolet Corvette.

He: In a perfect world, the new Z4 would get my vote for Car of the Year. It does everything right for me, and it looks simply sensational. And, honey, you know our 25th anniversary is coming up in just a couple months.

She: This is one time I'm going to let you have your way, because I've fallen hard for the Z4, too. BMW has managed to combine style and practicality. All those creases and curves on the Z4's exterior are called "flame surfacing" and in many ways looking at the BMW is like staring into a fire. The car is an automotive changeling, morphing into different looks depending on the angle and the light. From an artistic perspective alone, it has lots of energy and movement. And that's just in the driveway. I also give BMW credit for putting a heated glass rear window and a power top in the new convertible and making the interior larger. It's comfortable for two people and the passenger doesn't feel like a second-class citizen. The Z4 isn't built solely around the driver. It's the perfect couples car.

He: As long as you let me do the driving -- for a change. BMW really upgraded the handling with a revised rear suspension, and the variable-assist electric power steering transmits just the right amount of feedback. I like the familiar 3.0-liter straight six, but with the Z4 packing a couple hundred pounds more than the Z3, the engine could use just a few more ponies. The six-speed gearbox is just plain sweet. My big regret is that the weather never warmed up long enough for us to enjoy some serious top-down motoring.

She: As great as the Z4 is, it's not the perfect all-weather car, so you'd better be prepared to make it an addition to the family fleet of vehicles. I'd also like to speak to the women for a second and warn them that a jogging bra is recommended apparel in the Z4 because it does have a bouncy ride, despite being fitted with gas-pressure shocks. As for other weak points, I was surprised that the $475 optional sterling gray exterior paint had some noticeable orange peel. There were no lighted vanity mirrors, the cu pholders were located near the side vents -- which made spills a problem -- and we had visibility issues with the top up.

He: I know this sounds out of character, but I think I'm going to let that brassiere remark stand unchallenged. Despite some of the flaws inside the cabin, this is still one of the hippest, most welcoming interiors I've seen, and quite a dramatic change from the awful, plain-Jane cockpit of the old Z3. The leather and metal accents are sharp, and seem absolutely appropriate to the car's image. And thank you, BMW, for giving me a little more hip and leg room.

She: The safety features on the Z4 are really exceptional. Standard items include side air bags and antilock brakes with dynamic brake control, traction and stability control, plus rollover protection bars. And I noticed that the fuel economy is pretty remarkable for a six-cylinder performance car -- 21 miles per gallon in city driving and 29 on the highway. That's better than some smaller four-cylinder models, including the Ford Focus SVT we tested last week.

He: Curiously, it's also better mileage than you get on the base Z4 2.5i, which comes with a 2.5-liter six-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission. That model starts at just under $34,000, which is way less money than the 3.0i. In this price range, competitors include the Audi TT, the Honda S2000 and the Porsche Boxster. If you can afford the ticket, the Z4 is worth an extended test drive -- even if your anniversary is still months away.

2003 BMW Z4 3.0i

Paul's rating: World Class

Likes: Sensuous, distinctive styling. Handsome cabin tastefully trimmed in leather and metal accents. More spunk and personality than predecessor. Smooth, powerful six-cylinder engine. Sensational handling. Crisp six-speed manual gearbox.

Dislikes: Pretty pricey. Noticeable "orange peel" in paint. Not a great all-weather car.

Anita's rating: Above Average

Likes: Exceptional safety features include side air bags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control, rollover protection bars. Surprisingly good fuel economy for a performance car. Roomier inside than Z3.

Dislikes: Bouncy ride. No lighted vanity mirrors. Silly place for cup holders. Limited visibility with top up.

By the numbers

Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger roadster

Base, $40,250; as tested, $44,820

Engine: 3.0-liter I-6; 225-hp; 214 lb-ft torque

EPA fuel economy: 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway

Key competitors: Honda S2000, Porsche Boxster, Audi TT

12-month insurance cost: $1,548

Where built: Greer, S.C.

-Includes $695 destination charge.

-Estimated by AAA Michigan. Rates may vary depending on coverage and driving record.