7 Days with a Z4M

An article in Road Magazine, published June 2008. Words by Phil Royle.

The Z4M in a slide

I’ve always had a thing for properly quirky cars – the sort of motors people might say they like, but would never actually buy, own and enjoy… cars exactly like the BMW Z4M Coupe; leftfield hero.

Like many petrolheads, I’ve been an M-Power BMW fan for many a year: A hard charging carbon-air-boxed E46 M3 CSL straight-six sounds almost too good to be true, as does the E90 M5’s mega five-litre V10, once spinning at sufficient revs. Undeniably, BMW’s M-Power wing makes some of the best normally aspirated engines on offer. And the Z4M’s 343bhp, 365Nm 3.2-litre straight-six M-Power S14 engine is a tried and tested, evolved belter ... perfect for that muscle car drag off the lights (easy 5.0sec to 60mph), the 160+mph Autobahn cruise, power oversteer on tap (thanks to glorious torque curve and the best possible throttle response) and a proper spank on track too. Tip top talents.

The BMW Z4M, posing for a photo

Then there’s the leftfield looks, all muscular and moody. But the Z4M Coupe is no bit of rough brickie. It’s a top exec who works out – a lot. And we all know the ladies like a bit of money and muscle, so it’s no surprise to find they go all gooey when the quirky, squat, luxurious-but-understated beef cake of a Z4M Coupe throbs onto their driveway (although, I suspect, most would still rather have the roof chopped off, despite the hair mess factor). Here’s a car that’s got the gravitas required to allow you to confidently toss the keys at a valet in a proper hotel, whistling and clicking your fingers at your foxy female companion. The Z4M is Munich at its best. "Yah, for shure?"

A well-known ex-rally driver once said to me: "A great car is one you have to look back at twice every time you’ve just finished a drive, and one you think of excuses simply to go out and rag it’s arse off." And never a truer word was spoken, especially with reference to the irrepressible Z4M Coupe. It’s such a great car to drive – for any reason, purpose and to fit any mood. And, in the week I had it on test, I simply couldn’t leave the moody blue bugger alone. It just sucked me in, time and time again, and was always great fun (the essence of good motoring), even doing the mundane domestic runs to that Mecca of suburban modernity; the household refuge site, or worse, Tesco.

The cabin feel and quality, the notchy yet direct gear shift, the ride quality, the look over the long nose, the feeling of sitting supercar low and then the magic potential of going from just chilling with that quite big six humming away, to hitting the Sport throttle map, burying the loud pedal and going a bit mental – relishing all 343bhp let rip through that carbon airbox, to the LSD-equipped rear wheels. Beautiful.

Due to a busy working week, I didn’t get the chance to take a proper Euro or Blighty-based road trip in the Coupe, but I did cover a load of miles, bloody comfortably and even economically (easy 280-300 miles on £45-50 tank and 26- 28mpg, on cruise, but certainly not in ‘maximum attack’ mode). And, most especially, I also got to see the Z4M play its wild card – perfect drifting.

The BMW with smoke at the rear

Road booked a one-to one driver training slot at Bruntingthrope Proving Ground with 'limit handling guru', Don Palmer, a man who is still teaching F1 drivers today about driving psychology, after decades in the industry. Don is a supremely natural driver; relishing time spent 'over the limit' most, where the majority of us mere mortals fear to tread, or simply lack the ability to do so. But a day spent at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground with Don 'do less, be more' Palmer is money (around £400 to £500) seriously well spent. I guarantee you will go away armed with information which will stay with you, improving your driving no end; whether as an F1 superstar, clubman racer, trackday hero, drifting wannabe or performance enthusiast. He's da man, as they say.

"It’s a bit of a pig when you are up and over the limit," says Don, squealing the car from full oversteer one way to fully broadside the next, one hand on the wheel, chatting, negotiating a tricky, tight coned-off course. Bastard! "It might take you a bit of time to master this," he adds, adding insult to injury.

But 'master it' I did, thanks to a lot of practice (makes perfect!) and Don’s superior IQ mind games and multiple question technique (forcing you to come up with the reasons you make mistakes, and think about exactly what is going on, crucially, at the critical tyre level 'contact patch').

I've always loved managing lift off oversteer, and getting my AWD Imprezas into nice, controlled four wheel drifts (especially in the snow).

But holding a proper, full-on power slide in a powerful, un-TCS-aided, rear-wheel-drive car is a skill that's eluded me to this date – previously resulting in clumsy efforts, too much gas, a lack of steering control and the inevitable spin.

But, after an hour or so under Don's watchful eye and off the wall thought processes, I could hold 8/10 drifts, pretty much as long as there was space to go sideways in, in both directions, wet and dry... and it felt bloody marvellous.

This is as much a driving nirvana as lapping the North Loop of the Nürburgring for me.

The Z4M speeding past

Managing a bit of oversteer on track is one thing, as is stepping the tail out from a junction, but controlling a 343bhp, RWD muscular monster like the Z4M on its (constantly changing, 'pig' as Don says) limit, at pace, is something else entirely. And I’d highly, highly recommend all of it – the different Z4M Coupe, the unusual methodology of Don Palmer and the black art of mastering full-on power oversteer. It’s a sure-fire recipe for enjoyment...

One thing is for sure, Road’s next ‘7 days with…’ has got its work cut out to see off the mighty, marvellous, idiosyncratic Z4M Coupe, and finally having my Eureka moment, sideways. Bliss.

2013 Don Palmer. All rights reserved.