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Why don't they still make it ?
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Background- Something for the weekend sir?
The BMW Z4 was launched 2002 which is a bit of a surprise when you look at a Z4 on the road today, given that the design is over 5 years old it still looks surprisingly fresh.
It replaced the more retro looking Z3 which, like many two seat convertibles, had been lambasted as being just another Ďhairdressersí car. However unlike the Z3 which was launched with a 1.9L engine, when BMW launched the flame surfaced ĎBangled-designedí Z4 it had just two engines. The 2.5L and 3.0L, the more frugal 4 cylinder models following later in 2003.
The car was a major departure from the Z3 which had been criticised for using the out-dated rear, trailing arm, suspension from the old E30 3 series. It used a much more modern, multi-link, rear setup and this gave the car a more composed and balance ride.
The Z4 was and still is made in BMWís Spartanburg factory in North Carolina and in the main, the build quality is good. However there are some issues with fit and finish of the interior trim pieces that could have been improved and because the doors are quite long, thereís been quite a lot of weight removed from them resulting in a real tinny sound when closing them, especially with the windows down.
Regardless of the shortfalls, when the car came to the UK it was a predictable success and with the recent facelift and introduction of the M versions, still is.
Yes the UK might not have the driest weather on the planet but we sure do like our convertibles. Maybe itís because we get so little sun here that we take pleasure in celebrating it when it arrives or maybe itís just because weíre all a bit mad, living here on an island cut off from the rest of civilisation... whatever the reason, here in the UK, a car with a soft top is as winning a combination as fish and chips.
All of this was great news for BMW but at the 2003 IAA Frankfurt motor show ALPINA took a departure from their executive uber saloon image and decided to put a smile on the faces of those that yearned for more power from their soft top roadster and launched the, Z4 based, 3.4L BMW ALPINA Roadster S. Of course this wasnít ALPINAís first outing into the soft-top market, that had been with the very retro style Z8 based BMW ALPINA Roadster V8 (RV8) which utilised the 4.8L V8 engine from the outgoing B10 V8s.
The RV8 however, was only ever available in LHD and in truth was more aimed at the US market as a boulevard cruiser. The LHD issue and £95,000 price tag were probably the main reasons why only 11 came to the UK, that and the fact that Boyzoneís Ronan Keating had one.
With the Roadster S however, here was a car that would come to the UK in RHD and be available in larger numbers and most importantly would have the 6 speed manual box that whilst an option on the LHD B3s was never available to the UK B3sís which was only available with a Switchtronic gearbox.
It was powered by their recently enhanced 6 cylinder 3.4 Litre engine as found in the B3s and instead of being launched in the trademark ALPINA blue Ė ALPINA signalled this departure by launching it in the distinctive non metallic Japan Red.
To this day Iím not entirely sure why they made the decision to produce a roadster. Although Iím sure it was more to do with good timing, given their development work was completed on the 3 & 7 series and there was no new 5 series to work on, rather than it was to do with some master plan to widen their range. Iím just glad they did, because what they created was a two seater soft top sports car that puts fun back into driving, a sort of M roadster long before there was such a thing.
Production of the UK models ran for just 2 years, (2004 and 2005) during which time only 167 cars were produced in RHD. Production had to cease due to European emission regulations as the 3.4s engine was Euro 3 compliant but didnít satisfy the more stringent Euro 4 regulations which came into place in January 2006
Three years on after itís launch, weíre taking another look at the ALPINA Z4 and seeing just what you get for your money on the second hand market.
The BMW ALPINA Z4 in the UK was available in 2 fixed specifications:
(i) The Standard model £38,000
(ii) The LUX model £42,850
Both cars had fixed specifications and prices with just the exterior body colour and interior leather colour being able to be altered by the buyer.
The standard car (as our test car is) was fairly well equipped over the base Z4.
Standard specification included:
Electric folding roof
19Ē Dynamic Alloy wheels
ALPINA front apron
ALPINA 3 piece rear boot lid spoiler
ALPINA up rated suspension
Stainless steel exhaust system
Electric seats with driverís side memory function
ALPINA logoíd wind deflector
Dynamic Traction Control
ALPINA trimmed interior with ALPINA logos and rhombs on the seats
ALPINA multifunction steering wheel with co-ordinated stitching and rhombs
ALPINA leather gear knob
BMW Business CD Head unit
6 Disc CD Changer
Airbag deactivation switch
ISOFix front passenger seat.
Driver & Passenger cupholders
Park Distance Control
The LUX model added:
Bluetooth phone preparation
DVD Satellite Navigation
The main body colours offered were:
ALPINA Blue (at additional cost)
Sterling Grey (as on our test car)
The 3 main interior colours were:
Black Leather with Blue and Green stitching on the dash and steering wheel (or alternatively Red stitching)
Red leather with red stitching on the dash and steering wheel
Beige with Maroon piping and Maroon stitching on the dash and steering wheel.
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Visually the Roadster S took the already striking design of the Z4 and made it typically ALPINA. Upfront there was the traditional ALPINA front lip spoiler with raised logo which gives the front a flatter more aggressive look than that of the BMW donor car. At the rear a distinctive three piece spoiler enhanced the look of the boot lid and improved down force at higher speeds. A full stainless steel exhaust system protrudes from the rear bumper with 2 polished tailpipes and the rear boot carries the ALPINA and ROADSTER S logos.
Like on the BMW model the front wing carries the engine/model denomination of 3.4S.
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From first glance the Roadster S promises something a little special Ė although playing true to the ALPINA ethos these additional design touches are prominent enough to be seen by those paying attention, yet subtle enough to go unnoticed by the casual glance. The 19Ē dynamic design alloys (first seen on the Z8 based roadster V8) are the biggest clue that this car is not a regular Z4. and with its 235 35 R19 on the front and 265 30 R19 on the rear, setup the car has a wider looking more purposeful stance than even the current Z4 M models.
|ALPINA changes give the Z4 more aggressive look. |
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Step inside the roadster and these touches are a little more obvious, a sort of reward to those having bought into the ALPINA brand.
The overhead individual numbered plaque and the customary blue instrument cluster are just two of the features which define every ALPINA. Further signs of the designers at ALPINA working their magic can be found in the individual door entry sills or the very subtle ALPINA logo pressed into the leather dash trim.
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Our test car is finished in black leather and the trademark blue and green stitching to the leather pieces on the door handles, around the centre tunnel, across the dash and on the rim of the chunky steering wheel. The backs of the contoured sports seats carry the traditional ALPINA roundel and the trademark Blue and Green Rhombs. On the different interior coloured cars these stitching details are seen in other colours.
|ALPINA enhanced interior more classy |
Even though the Z4 is built in North Carolina, when it arrived at the ALPINA factory as a 3.0L model it was stripped of all unnecessary items like the engine, gearbox, exhaust, wheels, suspension and most of the interior.
ALPINA made over 2000 alterations and improvements to the cabin of the Z4, most of them unseen and all of them give the Roadster S a much improved feel of build quality over the standard model.
The specification is high as you would expect from a car costing close to £40,000 when new (£42,850 in the case of the LUX model).
Though all the usual BMW creature comforts are here:
Electric Heated Seats
Electric Powered Roof
Multi-function Steering wheel.
Despite being a two seater the cabin is roomier than youíd expect with plenty of legroom on both sides for even the larger frame. Storage is adequate with pockets behind the seats and a handy pocket at the rear of the tunnel for your mobile phone.
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Ride, Handling & Steering
Generally, ALPINAís offerings have a reputation for improved ride and handling and this is no less the case in the Roadster S.
Itís not that the ride in the standard BMW is particularly bad or soft Ė a little choppy perhaps and thereís a little bit too much under steer, when pushing through the twisty bits. The ALPINA corrects this and firms up the ride, quite a lot more than in other ALPINAís Iíve driven. Generally, an ALPINA will be less harsh than its similar M model and yet more responsive and stable than the donor car itís based on. In the roadster this gap between the ALPINA and the M is much closer than on other previous and subsequent ALPINA models.
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Thatís not to say that the ride is too hard, itís not, but in a car weighing only 1320kg even the smallest of bumps are transferred through the body and at faster speeds over uneven surfaces this can make the ride a little twitchy, particularly through the steering.
|Improved ride and handling. |
On a dry road the grip is supreme although the steering can seem a little light and vague at times. Not helped Iím sure because of the long sculptured bonnet.
In the main, I didnít find this an issue, but in the wet and in particular at higher speeds this vagueness can make you a little wary and off-camber corners can seem more treacherous than they should.
Look beyond these minor negatives and this truly is one of the most exhilarating BMW/ALPINAís Iíve ever driven and Iím making that statement after covering over 3000 miles in this Roadster S and still not finding a moment were Iím happy to reach my destination, on several occasions I can openly admit to taking the long way home simply to spend more time behind the wheel.
Prior to the ALPINA Iíd covered similar mileage in an E60 M5 a car that costs £25,000 more than the ALPINA and yet on more than one occasion left me cold Ė so it seems the Roadster S is facing down even the toughest and most modern of opposition.
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Engine, Gearbox and Performance
The 3.4-litre (3346cc) engine that powers the Roadster S is the same unit that is installed into the E46 B3s though on the RHD B3s models these came fitted with ALPINAís trademark Switchtronic gearbox which is essentially an auto gearbox mated to a torque converter allowing the driver to hold the gears right until the redline and to change up and down with full control, from the steering wheel, unlike the more mainstream BMW Steptronic system.
No such electronic gadgetry here though, donít get me wrong Iím a great fan of the Switchtronic system in the right car Ė but it would have been a travesty on a huge scale to have this car fitted with an auto box. So finding that not only is it a manual but a 6-speed close ratio ZF box makes preparing to drive this car for the first time all the more exciting.
Turn the key clockwise and from cold the engine fires up with a menacing rumble. The sort of noise youíd expect from a much larger V block design, once warmed up the sense of occasion from the exhaust is no more diminished, with its popping and overrun you can tell that beneath the pretty boy looks, lurks an engine with real character and purposeful intentions, honourable or otherwise.
|300 Bhp / 266 lb ft from the 3.4-litre straight-six. |
The engine is essentially a rebored block from the E36 M3 3.0L with its pistons and head designed and manufactured to ALPINAís specifications. Rev the engine and itíll push the needle all the way round to 7300 rpm and with it give out an exhaust wail thatís decidedly similar to that of a Porsche albeit with a deeper undertone of the straight-six.
It really is an engine of two distinct characters, docile and relaxed with enough power in almost any gear allowing you to trundle around town taking in the scenery with the roof down, or an out and out monster with acceleration and performance to put many cars, double its price, to shame.
0-62mph (0-100kph) is a rapid 5.3 secs (0-60mph = 5.1 sec) and 100mph comes up in just 13 secs with an unlimited top speed of 169mph (172mph with the optional hard top fitted)
Developing 300 Bhp at 6300 rpm and 266 lbft (360Nm) of torque at 4800 rpm this engine and gearbox combination allows both itís strengths to come to the forefront.
It really does allow the driver to define how it will perform. Many performance cars are only happy when theyíre being nailed in every gear and yet the Roadster will quite happily meander through the rush hour traffic or over the never-ending series of traffic calming measures, waiting for the time when the road opens up and you drop a cog and flex your right ankle.
Of course practicality is rarely going to be top of your priority list when youíre looking at a two seater convertible, letís face it youíre never going to be able to pick up that new dining room table from IKEA or take the wife and 3 kids on a holiday to Devon, but that said what the Roadster S has to offer it gives to the fullest.
Even with the roof retracted in a record 10 seconds the boot is more than adequate for the weekly shopping or able to cope with enough luggage for a weekís holiday. You might struggle to fit in a set of golf clubs but the space is certainly more useable than the twin boots of the Porsche Boxster.
|Decent boot and impressive MPG
Economy is perhaps one of the most surprising aces in the armoury of the Roadster, given that it packs a 300BHP engine under the bonnet. We were pleasantly surprised to regularly see MPG figures, over a full tank, in excess of 25MPG, and results as good as 33MPG easily achievable on longer distant trips.
Iím not really sure why Ė but back when the roadster S was launched at the 2003 Frankfurt motor show it passed somewhat under my radar. As far as ALPINA was concerned Iíd been much more caught up with their new behemoth B7 creation. Afterall here was a 4.4L V8 supercharged engine developing nearly 500 BHP and promising nigh on 200mph from an almost 2 ton 4 door saloon. Apart from the B7 Ė the show that year also saw the launch of the new BMW 6 series as well as evocatively styled McLaren SLR and first outing of the Bugatti Veyron. Put simply, the roadster was vying for attention against tough opposition indeed.
I remember thinking at the time that the styling was a big improvement over the standard Z4 and that it looked great in Japan Red but for some reason when they started to appear in the showroom of Sytner Nottingham I didnít get itÖ I thought it was just a summer time marketing ploy another rag top to add to the list.
Oh how I regret that nowÖ
Because over three years later on I do nowÖ I finally get it. Iím sold and I want one.
Sure itís based on the pre-facelift Z4 and yes it now sits in the shadow of the headline grabbing Z4 M Roadster but that doesnít bother me in the slightest. In the real world itís no slower that the M and itís cheaper to run, service and insure. Itíll also see off the competition from the much lauded Porsche Cayman S and Boxster S.
Iíve spent over a month with this car and covered quite an array of miles in all road conditions and as each day passes I hope that it wonít have to go back. Sadly I know thatís not the case, and as I write this I know my days with this awesome car are limited.
Ironically, as this 06 registered car proves, itís been little over a year since you could have still, picked up a new Roadster S and yet the dawning light didnít reach me in time. If I want one now itíll have to be a pre-owned example which, I suppose my bank manager would agree, isnít all bad news.
The residuals of the Roadster S have held up well in the face of the 2006 facelift/revision, though the popularity of the Z M Roadster and the introduction of the coupe model have started to see prices lower to a more palatable figure.
Non LUX cars can be found around £23-£24k at the moment with the better appointed and more desirable LUX models demanding £25-£28k depending on age mileage and colour.
With only 167 RHD cars to start with its not like trying to find a 320d in the classified section of your local free paper. However, they are out there both at dealers and on the private market and as most have been second or third cars, condition is generally high and mileage low. Though itís wise to remember that like all ALPINAs these cars came with only 2 years manufacturers warranty from new, therefore many will now not be covered unless the previous owner saw fit to extend the cover.
The bottom line is if youíre looking for a soft top roadster this summer, with an exhaust note to die for, fuel consumption you never though possible in anything larger than a 2.0L engine and a feel good factor every time you drive it, roof up or down, you could do much worse than taking a Roadster S for a test drive.
So have a look on the Autotrader and go and strike that deal, a word of warning, donít leave it too long or I might just get there before you.