BMW M Division's straight six: 1992-2008

Published: 26 December 2008

In our general excitement to scoop and report on the newly unveiled BMW Z4, we seem to have missed a very obvious point indeed: that the old Z4 will, by necessity, die too. Okay, so I’m clearly not the only one to spot this, but for me there are three big reasons to mourn the old car’s passing:

1. The ‘current’ Z4 – which actually finished production some months ago – is the best-looking flame-surfaced car EVER. Some people say that Chris Bangle’s design needs a large canvas to properly gel, but I think the tiny Z4 is a masterpiece: the sharkish front end; the cartoonishly long nose that seems to stretch all the way to the door handles; that pert, muscular rear.  Beautiful! These are classic sports car proportions with a genuinely modern, unmistakably BMW twist.

 Let’s qualify the above by saying ‘my’ old Z4 has to be a coupe. The roadster looks okay, but the fixed roof gives it a racy, Triumph GT6-with-hardtop feel. And that’s a very good thing indeed. Yet the new Z4 will be available only as a coupe/convertible, adding weight, detracting from the looks, perhaps numbing the handling. Pity.

 Worst of all, the fabled M3's 3.2-litre straight six will die too. This is a fantastic unit, a naturally aspirated engine with a metallic bark that’d do a supercar justice. It debuted in the ’90s E36 M3 as a 3.0-litre, swelling to 3.2 litres in the E36 M3 Evo, plus the 'ZM3' models and E46 M3. The Z4 M marks this iconic straight six’s swansong, a heady 343bhp nestling under your right foot. And, no, the new car doesn’t get the E92 M3’s V8. There will be three straight sixes on offer, stretching from a 2.5-litre 201bhp to a 302bhp twin-turbo 3.0-litre. All good, but none can match the 3.2’s sense of occasion.

For me, then, the BMW Z4 M will be sorely missed. It wasn’t perfect – I remember a test car with a crumbling glovebox, unbearably harsh ride and a dodgy window seal that caused a cacophonous 170mph (indicated) autobahn blast – but its raw, TVR-esque charms are unlikely to replicated in its successor.

Not all hope is lost, however. A quick online search turned up a 2007 car with 13,000 miles for £18k. And in the current climate, who'd bet against a Boxing Day sale deal for even less...

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By Ben Barry

Contributing editor, sideways merchant, tyre disintegrator