A strange thing happened while I was driving the BMW M Coupé back to the office the other day… I had a melody stuck in my head – and it wasn’t Slash of Velvet Revolver playing a sizzling riff on his Gibson guitar or the grungy wail of Audioslave’s Chris Cornell in full voice (the kind of kind of rock regalia most would expect a raw, raucous sports car to evoke). Instead, I “heard” Barbara Streisand’s wistful rendition of The way we were as I leant on the beefy brake pedal and dipped the brawny Beemer’s heavy clutch while waiting for the suburban traffic to resume its frustratingly staccato flow.
You see, I spent a number of years in the company of a Z3-based E36/7 M Coupé and its successor’s muscular bonnet, protruding nose, wide and stubby hatchback and sit-on-the-rear-axle seating position made me long for the days with my Bavarian “breadvan” and its sublimely vocal, virtually unburstable M3-sourced 3,2-litre 24-valve Double Vanos straight six engine – of which the current (252 kW) incarnation is bound to be remembered as one of Munich’s most celebrated and much-loved powerplants.
But the Z4 M Coupé is notably better than my dearly departed “breadvan” in some ways – the seating position has been vastly improved, the steering column is adjustable, there’s adequate headroom (by virtue of the roof’s odd “middle path” Bangle line), the swooping dashboard is delightfully uncluttered and the car’s rear end design is somewhat more dignified. Having said that, it’s still difficult to see out of the rear aperture, there’s a disconcerting blind spot to contend with (when you’re in rush to get in the lane that flows into the performance-appreciating De Waal Drive) and the car’s ride quality is well and truly uncompromising.
The newcomer is undoubtedly one of the fastest BMWs to be unleashed in South Africa. I’ve driven the current M5 and the Z4 M Coupé feels even faster because the driver sits very low in the car, which lowers his or her eye-line. And, boy, that engine booms with the ferocity of a caged tiger. The only respite from the cacophony is a slick swop of the cog (the gear lever is situated above the level of your knee) and then the primal animal unleashes its fury all over again. If you want the full old school sports car experience, this M is for you. The steering is extremely direct (very sensitive to inputs), the rear remains well-planted even if you get the power on a tad early and you’ll feel every road imperfection through the seat of your pants, spine and various nether-located organs.
The problem with M Coupé is that its devil-may-care-road-eating attitude is also its major flaw. We live in a developing country with less than perfect road conditions and the M – endowed as it is with low-profile 18-inch rubber and a stiff suspension – will never let you forget that fact. It’s not an easy car to drive – if you hit a bump on the approach to a bend the coupé becomes notably unsettled, and despite your enthusiasm, confidence in the car just ebbs away.