In a nutshell
BMW is driving forward with plans for a lightweight, no frills roadster: the Z2. Running four-cylinder engines, the Z2 will be a compact two-seater pitched squarely at the Mazda MX-5. When it arrives in 2011, the Z2 will be the third model in BMW's Z range. The Z4 Mk2 is due in 2009, while a new flagship Z8 should roar in around 2010.
What it does/ how it looks
BMW needs the Z2 because the bigger, costlier Z4 isn't selling as well as its predecessor, the Z3, did. That's why the product planners conceived the Z2, a more compact and more affordable entry-level roadster equipped solely with fourpot engines. The Z2 is a lot sportier than the old Z3, sources say. It will be launched as a two-seat roadster with a simple canvas top. Sounds like a Z4 you say? Yes, but the Z2 gets a different silhouette thanks to its lower windscreen, an almost balloon-shaped top and a more compact rear window. In fact, the 3900mm-long Z2 will be smaller than the next-generation Z4 in every dimension.
Under the skin
The Z2 and next Z4 will have much in common. BMW is pooling the engineering of closely related models, as it has with today's 1- and 3-series. The two rear-drive Z cars will share a front end structure, suspension and electronics. The key common hard point is the front bulkhead, which determines the position of the front axle and ensures the powerplants are mounted in a front/mid-engined position. The small roadster does get its own interior and exterior, as well as a specific steering rack and made-to-measure brakes. And there's another exciting difference – the Z2 will weigh 250kg less than the next Z4. The target weight is 970kg – that's less than Mazda's slinky MX-5 and not that much more than a Lotus Elise. To meet that goal, the Z2 will be light in construction and specification, rather than being made from expensive materials like the next Z8. To get rid of the surplus fat, BMW will commission miniaturised parts, such as a smaller battery, and shrink the cooling system. The baby Z must also forego goodies bound for the Z4 like active rear suspension, lane departure warning, active cruise control and active yaw control. But it won't be completely without frills. The options list will feature active steering, BMW's forthcoming new paddle-shift dual clutch transmission, sports suspension, bigger 17 and 18in wheels as well as the so-called vertical dynamic control (VDC) which features adjustable springs and dampers.
The inside story
With its 2400mm wheelbase, the Z2's cockpit will feel more snug than its big bruv's. And the boot is really snug: it can only swallow a small, soft bag. But there will be a clip-on luggage rack for longer journeys. Standard safety features will include four airbags and two rollover bars. To save weight, air-con will be an option and sound deadening will be kept to a minimum. The cabin style – all flat panels and sharp creases, like folded paper – is lifted from the Mille Miglia concept (pictured).
How much and when?
While the next Z4 has already been signed off, the Z2 has yet to be given the official go-ahead. The suits are still working on the business case, but the nod is expected before the end of 2007. The Z2 could even spawn a wild Speedster version, with huge wheelarches accommodating wider tyres, a chopped roof and bespoke rollover protection. Also on the cards is a high-performance Z2M, with a high pressure turbo 2.0-litre kicking out 300bhp. Expect the base Z2 to vacate the old Z3's territory. That means a price around £16,000. A compact, lightweight, rear-drive BMW roadster for £16k? What are they waiting for…