by Paul Dana
On sale: Spring 2000
Expected pricing: $120,000+
When Pierce Brosnan appeared behind the wheel of BMW's Z3 convertible in the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye, the bad guys really had nothing to worry about. In its original guise, that two-seat convertible was slightly toylike in its proportions, almost whimsical in appearance. Plus, the base four-cylinder engine lent itself more to cruising than any serious pursuits. Not until BMW's Motorsports division breathed fire into the platform with the M Roadster and M Coupe did villains need pause for the Z3.
This time around, however, 007's mount is significantly more serious in every category, including style, price, performance and panache. With the Z8, BMW is targeting the world's premier supercars, including the Porsche 911 Turbo and Ferrari 360 Maranello. As the spiritual successor to the 8 Series coupes, the Z8 serves as the flagship model for the BMW product line. Nothing short of scorching performance will do.
The car arrived in Bond's The World Is Not Enough this past Thanksgiving. It arrives in showrooms sometime in the spring of 2000 as a 2000 model. The Z8 debuted as a show car concept in 1997 at the Tokyo Motor Show. BMW had the good sense to leave it alone on the way to production. A full production version was shown at this past year's Frankfurt Motor Show.
Style-wise, the car is a gem. The overall theme is the now ubiquitous modern-retro. A classic long hood and rear-cockpit proportions pay tribute to virtually every great roadster in history, especially the Jaguar E-type. The corporate trademark twin-kidney grille has been squashed flat and arranged across a shark nose that peaks sharply in the center. Round fog lamps are tucked into the outer edges of the grille. A lot of cars used to look this cool, until the advent of government-regulated 5 mph bumpers. The nose, together with chromed horizontal ventilation gills aft of the front wheels, similar to those on the Z3, recalls BMW's beautiful 507 roadster from the 1950s. At the rear, the taillights are horizontal slits. Front and rear fenders bulge subtly and sexily over the wheels. Nowhere does the car look fussy. There's just a simple, timeless forcefulness of intent.
The cockpit, on the other hand, represents a concoction of daring '50s themes gone too far. The main gauges are grouped in a cluster in the center of the dash, so the driver must glance to the right to take them in. The chrome, multi-spoke treatment of the steering wheel is a styling touch better left to history, especially in such a potent machine. Customers will either love the look or hate it. Regardless, cars like this show that design courage is meeting with acceptance in the boardroom and in public, and the world is better place as a result. One detail that works well is the use of individual leather-wrapped roll hoops behind each occupant. The soft top is semi-automatic, employing a servo-powered closing mechanism. A removable aluminum hardtop is standard.
Mechanically, the Z8 is deadly serious. The chassis, suspension and bodywork are made almost entirely of aluminum to minimize weight. Power comes from the 5.0-liter 400-horsepower V8 currently serving in the M5 sedan. The unit features BMW's double-VANOS variable valve timing, plus an intake manifold that uses electronically controlled individual throttle butterflies for each bank of cylinders. These help generate neck-snapping torque at low- to mid-rpm ranges, with a peak value of 369 foot-pounds at just 3800 rpm. All this motive force, channeled through a six-speed manual gearbox and propelling a 3660-pound car, translates into 0-60 mph times in about 4.5 seconds. Like all German luxury cars, top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.
In the handling department, the severe rearward location of the engine behind the front axle contributes to perfect 50:50 weight distribution. Massive 245/45 front tires and 275/40 rears ride on 18-inch rims. Their tenacious grip on the pavement is aided by BMW's DSC III (Dynamic Stability Control) system. BMWs have long set the standard for handling superiority and driving enjoyment, and we expect the same of the Z8.
No firm pricing has been set, but the Z8 should sticker in the $120,000-$130,000 range. BMW will only import 500 to 1000 of the cars initially, so unless you are already on a waiting list at your dealer, you may have to wait a few years. Or you could ask Q to whip one up in the lab. Either way, it will be worth the wait.
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© 2000 New Car Test Drive, Inc.