Recently Car magazine had a brief post about the discontinuation of the inline six that powered everything from the E36 through the E46 and E86. And that got us thinking about that engine, the cars it powered and how they stacked up against all the other M offerings through the years.
There are countless opinions about what an M car should be and what truly is the best yet. In my mind there are a handful of cars that exemplify the qualities of the Motorsports division. First and foremost there’s the original E30 M3. Created with incredible pedigree and highly successful motorsport history the E30 M3 in some ways is the pinnacle of the brand. That would probably be out pick for the ultimate ///M car across the entire range.
But what modern M car deserves this title? While we love the last two generations of the M3 they’re simply too heavy a car in our minds. And as much as we love the E39 and E60 M5s, it’s hard to argue that they haven’t become bloated as compared to the original E34 example. The modern M6 also exemplifies this all too well.
With that rational the Z3 M and Z4 M seem start to seem like obvious choices. But the convertible tops do way too much in limiting ultimate performance. Decreased torsional rigidity make these less than ideal choices for attacking mountain roads let alone track days. They are inherently flawed as any gorgeous classically proportioned roadster is.
The coupes are the natural answer then. The Z3 coupe was brutal and (in my mind at least) a gorgeous yet almost vulgar looking car. But it’s the Z4 M Coupe that is both looks and performs the part of the ultimate modern M car. It’s mechanical sounding inline 6 will never be equalled in it’s character or purity now that we’re in the V8 and forced induction era at the M Division.
The first generation of flame surfacing seems as if it was meant for the Z4 M Coupe. The long hood and the elegant yet aggressive looking rear quarter is full of the kind of design tension that make the car look fresh for decades.
Inside the interior is the last of the pre-iDrive BMW’s. It’s worth noting that I’m a long-time iDrive supporter, but the lack of it just goes along with the car’s simplistic nature. This car was BMW and even the M engineers getting back to their basics. It only ever came with a manual and good luck getting anything remotely resembling a golf bag in the hatch. This car was designed and engineered to be driven in anger.
And the engineering of the E86 M Coupe wasn’t an afterthought. The car took the best of the then current generation M3 (including the CSL braking system) and shoe-horned it into a smaller lighter package. Based on a conversations I’ve had with those who work within the ///M division, engineers took over a week at the Nürburgring tuning the suspension alone.
While the new E89 Z4 is impressive and undoubtedly more refined and sophisticated, it can never be the car that the E86 was. Due to it’s larger body, aluminum hardtop and subsequent bump in weight, there’s a loss in purity to the overall package that cannot be overcome with even the wonderful twin turbo 3.0L petrol engine.
And as much as we here at BF love the new 3.0L twin turbo, it cannot touch the 3.2L in character. There is no engine in BMW’s current line-up that can match the power, sound and even efficiency of this now seemingly ancient powerplant.
And it’s because of all of this that the Z4 M Coupe is my ultimate modern ///M car.