What's New for 2001
BMW has created an all-new sports car with philosophical and styling elements gleaned from its original 1955 507 roadster.
Remember a decade ago when two-seat roadsters were as rare as Internet-based companies? Then Mazda created the Miata, several thousand people made several million dollars from IPOs, and everyone was in the mood for fun. It was a good run, wasn't it? Still, high-end roadsters are almost as common as SUVs, and BMW has joined the fray with its Z8 (the company also makes an SUV, in case you're still into that trend).
The Z8 is BMW's spiritual successor to the company's own 507 roadster from 1955. Both cars use a long hood/short deck design to create a powerful and sporty appearance. Both cars come in limited numbers (only about 250 of the original 507s were produced, as opposed to the 5000 total Z8 units planned over the next four years, with approximately 1,600 coming to the U.S.).
The classic styling cues continue inside the Z8, where brushed aluminum surfaces are set off by supple leather, thin steering wheel spokes, and a starter button located on the dashboard. Items not found in BMW's 1955 roadster, like multiple stereo sound system controls, a telephone, and a navigation system, confirm that this is a 21st century ride. We appreciate the power folding top, but find a $130,000 convertible with a plastic rear window rather insulting.
The heart of the Z8 is BMW's 394-horsepower, 4.9-liter V8 that debuted in the stunning M5 sedan. For the Z8, BMW engineers enhanced the V8's oil delivery system to ensure adequate lubrication during heavy cornering loads that might otherwise starve the engine. The engine itself is located slightly aft of the front axle to help centralize the Z8's mass. Power travels to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. Zero-to-60 comes in a quick 4.7 seconds and top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.
All this power rides on an aluminum spaceframe chassis that is both super stiff (twice the stiffness of any other convertible is BMW's claim) and lighter in weight than a comparable steel frame. A multi-link rear suspension, similar to the one used in the 7 Series, controls rear wheel movement while a strut-type front suspension directs the Z8 and provides excellent driver feedback about the goings-on under the front wheels. Antilock brakes, dynamic skid control (DSC), electronic brake distribution, and even run-flat tires with air pressure sensors further contribute to the Z8's sense of security.
While the Z8 may have classic roadster influences, it is not a classic roadster. The vehicle's size and weight are more attuned to grand touring duty than canyon runs or weekend autocrossing, and its long hood and low seating position are not conducive to maneuvering through tight quarters. Its sheer performance will never match that of the 911 Turbo or a 360 Modena, yet its price, with dealer gouging, could easily eclipse both cars. That's fine if you love super-rare BMWs. Otherwise, it's a tough sell.