BMWs attract a bad press generally, and the people who like them are often considered of very bad judgement: People who love themselves and want to show the world how great they are by cruising around in an ‘enthusiasts’ motor car, not white good trash built for plebs. I’ve been one of the detractors for many years, though I was still alarmed to get accused of onanism on one occasion while overtaking a ‘classic’ Mini in a BMW E39 saloon. It wasn’t even mine and we owned a Mini at the time! At least, I think that’s what he was signalling. It definitely wasn’t ‘turning left.’
The annoying thing is though, BMWs often ARE really good cars, built for enthusiasts – though they do seem to produce feeble versions for the wannabe pleb-types. I always thought the four-cylinder Z3 roadster was such a vehicle. Surely the real enthusiast absolutely has to choose the sonorous, powerful six-pot version?
Apparently not. Because I drove this, and I liked it.
It’s a 1.9-litre, four-pot and the first Z3 I ever drove. (that’s not me at the wheel, this was only a couple of years ago). I jumped into it assuming I’d hate it. From the moment of its launch, it seemed to be a car that screamed ‘smug’ at the top of its voice. Even worse, James Bond abandoned his Aston for one in the film Goldeneye. I’m not sure I’ve got over that to be honest. It was a low moment for the Bond franchise. I’m not actually that bothered that all Z3s were actually built in South Carolina in the USA. Judging by this one, they did a decent enough job of screwing them together.
The quality was certainly the first impression. The way the doors shut, the interior plastics and the lack of rattles on the move all give a feeling of quality that you certainly don’t get in say an MGF, the sunvisors for which were stolen from Fisher-Price. The engine is punchy enough too for public roads, allowing you to build speed rapidly, with a nice exhaust note, without attracting the attentions of The Law. What really staggered me was the handling though. I thought I’d chuck it about a bit to see how good the grip was, but only managed to upset my internal organs.
I clambered out of it feeling like I’d had an absolute hoot. The same day, I drove an MGF and found it entertaining if flimsy, and an Audi TT Roadster which was about as exciting as a four-hour lecture on envelopes. The Audi went so far as to be a disappointment. It was so typically a German car. It worked so hard to be good that it ended up being dull. The sort of extrovert that you hide from at parties before they crack another ‘hilarious’ joke and try to get the pretty girls to drink too much.
This makes it all the more extraordinary that the BMW delivered. It manages to be good without losing sight of the need to be able to go ‘wheee!” as you zoom down the road. My short road test of the Z3 just left me wanting more. On paper, that’s not very surprising perhaps. It’s so like me to favour a lesser-powered version. Maybe I need to savour a six-pot to see whether less is more. What is surprising though is that this is far from the first BMW that has left me realising that behind the much-derided badge, is a series of very impressive cars.