BMW said before that there won’t be an M version of the current Z4 and it’s keeping its word – by calling its faster and meaner Z4 something else. Instead of the “M”, it’s applying the “s” suffix, which is a lesser-known badge that had been used on various generations of the 3 Series and the previous X5.
This distinction is probably more important for us in Singapore than anywhere else since the island is home to the world’s first exclusive M dealership. It’s the difference between going to Teban Gardens for a Z4M or to the more familiar BMW showroom along Alexandra Road.
The car may not be called the Z4M but it can certainly be mistaken for one. It wears the M Aerodynamics bodykit, M adaptive suspension that’s 10mm lower than standard, and M steering wheel. Even the doorsills carry the heralded alphabet. The dials may not have “M” emblazoned on the centres but they are finished in the same shade of grey as the E46 M3. A cheeky touch that won’t go unnoticed by M fans.
But we aren’t so keen on deliberating the aesthetic merits of the makeover. One of the dominant impressions about the second generation Z4 is how BMW seems to have shifted its focus to chase after the Mercedes SLK instead of the hard-charging Porsches.
The 35is may well be BMW’s retort that the Z4 hasn’t forgotten its original mandate of being an out-and-out sports car first and a luxe cruiser second. Hence the appearance of the Cayman S in these pages – if the 35is wants to prove itself then let it be against the most focused car in the segment.
Since the last time we had a local drive of the Cayman S, the car has been updated with the adoption of direct fuel injection for its 3.4-litre engine to bump up power by 25bhp. The mechanically similar Boxster continues to play second fiddle with a 10bhp deficit (unless you opt for the limited edition Spyder that has 340bhp).
The gearbox has also been changed from 5-speed automatic to the 7-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. PDK not only guarantees seamless gear changes but also allows for the possibility to vary the pace and aggressiveness of the shift when the car is equipped with the Sport Chrono package. (As you’d expect with Porsches, that’s not included in the sub-$300K list price.) Quite significantly, pushing the Sport+button squeezes the Cayman’s 0-100km/h timing below the 5 seconds mark.
When it comes to absolute numbers, the 35is has no trouble seeing off the Cayman S. The inline-6, which is the same twin-turbo 3-litre unit in the non-s Z4 (as well as the 335i; and not the single-turbo unit in the 535i), has been tuned to make more go: 34bhp and 50Nm of torque to 340bhp and 450Nm. Like the Porsche, the BMW too has a 7-speed dual-clutch box with a selectable shift mode. Set to its most aggressive setting, the 35is just pips the 320bhp Cayman in the century sprint stakes, despite the BMW being 294kg heavier than the 1.3 tonnes Porsche.
The 35is also sounds like the faster car of the two. Its engine wakes with an almost beast-like roar on ignition. While the 3-litre may not have the metallic and raspy voice of the traditional M cars (it isn’t an M car, after all), its deep and muscle car style growl during acceleration is at least as exciting. It makes the Cayman sounds a little subdued. And it doesn’t help that Porsche had made the car quieter during the update (the direct injection tweak must have something to do with it). To get the Cayman the driver really has to be giving it the beans.
Besides the firepower and acoustic talents, the BMW also has a really nice cabin to get its occupants in the mood. There’s a certain sense of occasion not unlike the classic sports cars about the Z4’s dashboard architecture with the drizzling of shiny knobs and dressing around the instruments. The red on black colour theme on the test car all the more sets the mood. The visual drama is a stark contrast to the Cayman. The presentation is as honest as they come although Porsche does offer a dazzling array of customising possibilities, which range from hardback sports seat to specifying the colours of the belts and instrument dials. The visual drama, the feel-good first impressions and ballistic pace undoubtedly work in the BMW’s favour but it’s how the car drives and handles that differentiates a pageant queen from a sportsman.
The Cayman sets the standard as an athlete. The mid-engine car has a firmish ride as you’d expect, but there’s an underlying suppleness (even with the adaptive suspension in Sport) to deliver just enough give to keep the tyres planted on the ground. The steering seems very well set-up too. It feels very direct and linear in the way it translates the driver’s inputs to steering angle at the front wheel. This makes the it incredibly easy to place on the road. More impressively, the car seems to pivot from the centre, very near the driver’s hip, so it’s very easy to “read” cues from the chassis.
The 35is, in contrast, isn’t a car about minute details. From the revised electro-mechanical steering system to the lowered suspension, the chassis amplifies the slightest action (or inactions). There’s an assuring abundance of grip from the front end but overall, the car doesn’t sculpt around corners like a figure skater as much as hack its way out of apexes like a tornado.
Part of this has to do with how adaptive suspension seem to be a few notches too aggressive for our roads. More often than not, it seems hell-bent on pounding the tarmac into submission, rather than working the chassis to let the tyres have the best possible condition to do their work. It does make driving the 35is quickly a really exciting affair with the car never feeling completely settled.
But after the immensely talented engine, the chassis needs at least as much work to shine, then the 35is can have a shot at beating the Cayman S beyond out-dragging it at the lights.
Porsche Cayman S
ENGINE: 3436cc, flat-6, 24-valves
MAX POWER: 320bhp at 7200rpm
MAX TORQUE: 370Nm at 4750rpm
GEARBOX: 7-speed dual-clutch
0-100KM/H: 5.1 seconds (4.9 seconds with Sports Chrono)
TOP SPEED: 275km/h
CONSUMPTION: 10.2km/L (combined)
PRICE INCL. COE: Unavailable
BMW Z4 sDrive35i
ENGINE: 2979cc, inline-6, 24-valves, turbocharged
MAX POWER: 340bhp at 5900rpm
MAX TORQUE: 450Nm at 1500rpm
GEARBOX: 7-speed dual-clutch
0-100KM/H: 4.8 seconds
TOP SPEED: 250km/h
CONSUMPTION: 11.1km/L (combined)
PRICE INCL. COE: Unavailable