If I was to go around on this site claiming that the VW Karmann Ghia is a useless thing, I’d end up with a virtual punch in the nose. Only appropriate.
Yet people who dismiss BMW’s Z-cars as being hairdresser’s cars – cars that look fast, but aren’t, and therefore stupid and to be bought by people who wear black t-shirts with dress pants – are held in mutual respect as enthusiasts with valid views on stuff. Yet the facts are exactly the same.
The Karmann Ghia was essentially a coupe body on a VW Beetle, which means all the sculpture in the world wasn’t going to make it athletic. Its only saving graces are that it was well-built and very, very pretty. Like BMW’s Z-cars.
Nevertheless, stone tables of double-standards don’t crack under their own illogic, and probably because everyone scorned it, and said it wasn’t a patch on a Porsche Boxster – which it probably wasn’t – the last Z4 never did well. In fact, BMW had made up its mind that when it came time, there wouldn’t be a new one.
That’s when Toyota approached BMW and said they had this idea. The two of them could work together on a sports car that Toyota could turn into the Supra, and BMW could call the Z4. The result of this happy collaboration is a new Supra, which will be great no matter what, and a Z4 that can’t really be accused of hairdressery.
It will be available in three variants; two number combinations that I’ve forgotten, both with a turbo-four cylinder, and the M40i at the top with what’s being called one of the best six-cylinders ever. Apparently, it sings like King’s College.
Early reviewers are also waxing lyrical about the Z4's grip and handling, but because car journalists can get a bit sensationalist and think that being positive is calling everything a gamechanger and being discerning is criticising the paint colour, it’s not entirely sure whether this is meant to mean the Z4's a better sports car than a Porsche Cayman GTS. Though on the American criterion of engine size, it is.
This overwhelmingly positive consensus even extends to a certain thing, a feature that some petrolheads might find difficult to brook. In fact, I’m not going to say what it is, but apparently it’s excellent to use and just because they won’t offer the alternative on any of the models, shouldn’t stop you buying a Z4.
It looks pretty impressive too. Unlike the X3, the Z4 was designed with passion by BMW’s Australian designer, Calvin Luk, who since he was a little boy, dreamed of designing a BMW Z-car. Before they sat down, the design team took the doorless Z1, and the Z3, and Luk took his own personal Z4 out for a long drive to get the idea of the Z heritage, which sounds a bit like a junket, but you can’t spend time in such company and then go home and draw an orc’s face. And neither have they.
Happily, the Z4 production has been moving to better locations with each generation. The first was manufactured by Americans, which is wrong, because when you buy a German car you’re subconsciously nursing a lovely assumption that German technicians have breathed on it. The second generation was built in Germany. You might think that can’t be improved on, but this one will be built in Austria. Austrians are Germans with style.
In short, it's good.
In fact, we could actually be looking at the best thing that BMW makes. Certainly, the second side of the same coin is looking at the best thing that Toyota makes, and this means the partnership which not only resurrected the Supra but resuscitated the Z4 is a colossal motoring win-win. The 86/BRZ deal was not this symbiotic. The BRZ ended up being the expensive copy. And everyone likes the Mazda MX-5 more than the Fiat/Abarth 124, despite many journalists screaming the cant, “They’re different beasts”.
Yet despite the fact that the partnership looks like it’ll deliver two great cars for our time, neither looks like it’ll be welcomed that much. The Supra, because people are angry it’s not like the Sony Discman days of old, and the Z4, because enthusiasts will probably take one look at something that is stunning to see and – possibly for the first time – a very competent Z sports car, and call it a hairdresser's car simply because it has an exclusively automatic gearbox.
$140K (AUD); 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-6; 250kW/500Nm; 8-speed automatic; RWD; 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds; 250km/h; 1610 kg.