SPORTS CARS MAY be FIRST a dying breed, but the OVERSEAS Z4 is a lively reminder DRIVE of why they must be saved from extinction. This low, lithe two-seat soft-top is impressively agile and immensely entertaining. Purposebuilt for pure driver pleasure, it’s everything an SUV is not, and can never be.
Insatiable demand for SUVs threatens the survival of the sports car. Manufacturers know that adding SUVs will add to their profits. Meanwhile, the global audience for sports cars is diminishing. And this makes it ever more difficult to create a sound business case for them.
We can thank Toyota for the new Z4, and BMW for the new Supra. Both companies insist their car would not exist without the other partner to a collaboration deal inked back in 2012.
Disentangling the fine detail of the Z4/Supra project is difficult, with BMW and Toyota managers sometimes giving different answers to the same question... to be later contradicted by some more senior exec.
Still, it’s clear that BMW deserves credit for designing most of the shared hardware. Munich also provides the Supra with an off-the-shelf in-line turbo six, something Toyota says was key to their coupe revival concept.
Chassis design was “100 percent BMW” says driving dynamics exec Jos van As. The genial Dutchman says the platform shares most, but not all, its components with the new 3 Series. The changes endow the sports cars with more suitable caster and camber angles for the strut front and multi-link rear suspensions. While brake systems are borrowed from the M3/M4, the electrically assisted variable steering system is specific to the car, says van As.
The new Z4 is longer and wider overall than the secondgeneration Z4, which stopped rolling off BMW’s Regensburg production line back in 2016. The newcomer’s front and rear tracks are wider, but the wheelbase is fractionally shorter.
BMW bought only the top M40i version of the Z4 to its international media launch in Portugal. This model’s 250kW, 500Nm 3.0-litre turbo six, teamed with an eight-speed auto and driving the rear wheels, is basically the same as in the Supra.
And it’s a lovely thing in the Z4; smooth and responsive, with oodles of boosted torque from low in the rev range, along with a willingness to rev. It’s pretty close to petrol-burning perfection.
BMW’s engineers have done a great job, too, with calibration of the auto. It’s relaxed yet alert in cruisy Comfort mode, and a snappy shifter in Sport or Sport +, modes which also uncork the mufflers to release a just-right amount of crackle and pop. Alone in the Z4 range, the M40i’s transmission has specific M Sport control software.
Two 2.0-litre turbo fours – 20i (145kW and 320Nm) and 30i (190kW and 400Nm) – will complete the Z4 launch line-up. They also have eight-speed autos, but with standard BMW software calibrations. All variants will go on sale in Australia around March 2019, around five months after European deliveries begin.
The more muscular engine in the M40i makes the Z4’s chassis work harder, but the extra urge didn’t reveal any glaring flaws during a half-day test drive in and around Lisbon.
Even in Comfort mode, the adaptive M Sport suspension standard in the M40i delivers a ride that’s firm and tightly disciplined. M Sport brakes and differential are also standard on the M40i, along with M Sport exterior package.
Selecting Sport mode makes the suspension firmer, and brings a palpable lift in smooth-road cornering ability. The effect of Sport+ on throttle response and transmission shifting makes the M40i feel like it’s been dosed with amphetamines. It’s too manic for public road use.
On poor quality Australian roads, leaving the car in Comfort mode but nudging the stumpy shift lever sideways for shifting sportiness, and perhaps using the paddles, is likely to be the best recipe for driver pleasure.
It sure worked for me on the narrow clifftop road overlooking the Atlantic Ocean that was the highlight of BMW’s drive loop.
The Z4 has a real depth of chassis talent. This is a sports car with great inherent poise and balance, yet super sharp reactions to control inputs. The sniper-rifle accurate steering is a particular highlight, though the too-thick leather-covered rim of the M40i’s steering wheel dilutes the effect.
Chubby-feeling steering wheel aside, there’s little to complain about in the Z4 M40i’s cockpit. The seats are excellent, the driving position fine, and the instrument panel artfully blends clarity and quality. Pretty much all of BMW’s latest driver-assist and infotainment technology will be available in the sports car, either standard or as options.
The Z4’s roof takes only 10 seconds to raise or lower, at any speed up to 50km/h. It looks good when erect, and does a good job of insulating the interior from noise. It does impede over-the-shoulder vision more than a little.
The new Z4 has a much bigger cargo compartment than before. It’s 281 litres roof open or closed, an increase of 50 percent over the previous model with its space-invasive folding hardtop. There’s room in the Z4’s boot for a very well-dressed weekend away.
The exterior of the Z4 is the work of young Australian Calvin Luk. The Z4 is his third design, following the X1 and X3 SUVs. He can’t disguise the fact that he enjoyed working on the new Z4 more than his earlier projects.
“This one’s extremely emotional, because there’s such a personal connection,” he says. BMW’s two-seaters were always cars that fascinated him. “I loved the roadsters the most.” Luk drove his own car to an event that marked the start of designing the new Z4. “To kick off the project we actually had a really fun day driving old Z cars. We drove the Z1 around, Z3, Z8. I drove my Z4, as well, to the meet-up.”
But BMW’s brief to its designers wasn’t to look backwards. “There is a subtle nod to past Z cars,” says Luk of the new Z4, “but the overall push was to look forward.”
“This car is really diving to the front. It’s really sort of attacking the road.” It’s an effect that springs from the subtly twisting lines emerging from the air breather aft of the front wheelarch. This “drives the whole sculpture” according to Luk, at the same time as giving the new Z4 a visual identity that’s distinct from earlier models.
Still, Luk says there’s a little of BMW’s 2000 Z8 in the new Z4. “On the front end you see that the lights are pretty high up, and the kidney grilles are low and wide,” he explains, holding up a model of the Z8 to illustrate the point, then switching to a sketch of the Z4.
He also admits that the mesh grille of the pre-WW2 328 Mille Miglia racer provided inspiration for the three-dimensional honeycomb grille-fill of the Z4.
Throughout the video call interview with Luk, the young Aussie bubbles with enthusiasm. Sports cars are like that. Designing them, driving them, dreaming about them makes life more, well, lively...
Sure, some like a thick rim but the M leather wheel in M40i is a really chubby unit. Something slimmer and shapelier would be more pleasant to hold.
Buyers will face driver-assist option decisions galore; Active Cruise with Stop & Go, Lane Departure and Lane Change warnings and Parking/ Reversing Assistant systems.
Leather and Alcantara mix is standard fit-out for M40i interior. And BMW will offer a choice of three alternative trim finishers to the standard silver.
BMW’s new Z4 will be manufactured in Austria, alongside the Toyota Supra. Both will roll out of Magna Steyr’s facility in Graz, (the town’s most famous son? Arnie Schwarzenegger). Magna Steyr’s plant specialises in contracts to build models that pose a production problem for their parents. The Jaguar I-Pace and E-Pace, and the MercedesBenz G-Class are currently made in Graz, and the plant also handles overspill BMW 5 Series production.
Same-size engine, same max power, same eight-speed auto and likewise rear-drive, the F-Type is a close match for the Z4 M40i. The Brit looks lovely, but its truly tiny boot is a limitation.
Mid-mounted turbo four means the 718 Boxster has a distinct dynamic flavour and different proportions, but it plays the same pure driving pleasure game as the new Z4. A 2019 soft-top shootout awaits.
The long-awaited return of the elegant French sedan
IT’S ODD to think of a new car launch as the end of something, but this feels just that. In its latest 508, Peugeot has delivered – in concept at least – a broadly conventional petrol-powered sedan and estate with no electric tech, no high-riding all-wheeldrive version and no voguish ‘lifestyle’ frippery. Shorn of pretence, the 508 stands or falls on its substance, which is just as well, because beneath the slinky styling is a vehicle that’s refreshingly long on good old-fashioned talent.
The sedan version we tested is both lower and longer than its bloated predecessor and its light too, the EMP2 chassis helping shave 70kg model-for-model off the kerb weight, the sedans weighing in at 1420kg. That’s less than a Ford Focus 1.5-litre hatch, so it’s no great surprise that the Pug feels perky and agile. Power comes courtesy of a 1.6-litre turbo four, driving the front wheels through an eight-speed Aisin automatic transmission. This petrol powerplant is offered in two discrete outputs, 133kW/250Nm for the entry-level versions and 169kW/300Nm for the rangetopping GT version, which also scores adaptive dampers.
The GT also gets bigger brakes behind its 19-inch alloys, leather and Alcantara interior trim, wood fascia fillets, adaptive cruise, and an electric tailgate. Switch on the cruise and lane keep assist, crank up the cat’s paw massage seats, set the 515-watt stereo to your favourite playlist via smartphone mirroring and wireless charging and you have a car that demolishes long-distance highway trips, a quality that certainly won’t be lost in translation when the car arrives on these shores in the second half of 2019. Refinement is good with some muted bumpthump from the suspension and minor wind rustle around the door mirrors. Switch the drive mode selector into Sport and the 508 does a passable impression of a 308 GTI, this map sharpening the throttle, steering, gearbox and adaptive damping. On testing alpine roads, the 508 displayed decent damping even in Sport, with a mighty front end that locks onto a line and doesn’t want to let go, the front 235/40ZR19 Pilot Sports keying doggedly into the tarmac, aided by a well-calibrated traction control tune. Body control is best in class, and the steering is almost Ferrarialert despite the tiny wheel taking three turns lock to lock.
It’s not all good news though. The resolution for the surround view cameras is poor, the manual mode for the transmission is now buried in an on-screen menu rather than atop the gear selector and the adaptive cruise functions located behind the steering wheel require Braille to operate.
Accommodation is acceptable for such a sleek-looking car. The frameless doors have freed up 6cm of additional glasshouse, allowing the designers to create a high-waisted coupe-like profile. Headroom is a little compromised in the rear, but there’s no shortage of legroom from the 2793mm wheelbase. The boot‘s a decent size too, with 487 litres and foldflat rear seats opening up 1537 litres when dropped.
The success of the 508 here depends almost entirely upon pricing. Pitching the talented 508 within a cooee of the entry-level versions of the BMW 3 Series, the Audi A4 and the Mercedes C-Class will do it little favour, despite it being an objectively better car than any of these basement-spec sluggards. Hanging your hat on objectivity seems almost as quaint a concept as selling sedans and wagons in a market that’s turned its back on them. The effervescent and wholly charming 508 more than deserves a fair go.
Designer Gilles Vidal has cleverly used horizontal elements to visually broaden the 508, despite it being much the same width as its predecessor. The broad, narrow grille and black rear fascia panel combine to give the 508 a low, wide appearance.
Peugeot not only showed off the petrol 508s in Paris but also whipped the hanky off a hybrid version with a 147kW engine and an 80kW electric motor offering a system output of 165kW. An 11.8kWh battery delivers 40km of EV range.
The wireless charger and USB ports are buried in the nether reaches of the dash beneath the flying buttress, ensuring you’ll forget your mobile every time you get out of the car. Plus side? You won’t get distracted by it flashing up notifications.
Peugeot’s CEO, Philippe Imperato, insisted at the Paris Show that Peugeot was not premium, but at the top end of mainstream. That’s about the toughest place to make a dollar and local importer Inchcape is leaning towards bringing only the GT flagship here and ramming it with equipment. Imperato’s not about to argue that one. “The 508 will not affect my profit and loss,” he was reported as saying. “Sixty percent of profit is SUVs [and another 30 percent is in commercial vehicles], so I don’t need 50 percent of revenue from fleets; it’s not important. I don’t care. If I’m killing the pricing, then I’m killing the residual value.” So don’t expect discounting.
The Mazda is the car that the 508 will have to beat to establish its bona fides and while the 6 may well be low key, it’s all class. It can’t level with the 169kW Peugeot’s power-to-weight ratio though.
Should you prefer a certain tectonic plate-like implacability to the French car’s jinky agility, the vast Superb will doubtless appeal. The 508 could also find it hard to beat the Czech bruiser’s fierce value.
Mid-strength brew that hits a high C
WE ALL have one relentlessly hyperactive mate, right? In vehicular terms, that mate is a Mercedes-AMG C63. Great for a laugh most of the time, but there are days when they (and the C63) need to be hosed down.
Luckily, Affalterbach offers an alternative called the C43. It’s a fast C-Class more suited to everyday use, with a level of performance that can be explored and enjoyed without regular visits to a racetrack.
For 2019, the C43 has been updated as part of the most comprehensive C-Class facelift to date. The 3.0-litre V6 found in all four C43 shapes (sedan, wagon, coupe and cabriolet) is fed more boost by larger turbos from the E43, lifting peak power from 270 to 287kW. Torque remains at 520Nm, as does sharp 0-100km/h performance of less than 5.0sec for all body styles.
A bi-modal performance exhaust is now an individual option for $2300, or added as part of a $5400 package with performance seats, and microfibre trim for the new AMG steering wheel. The pipes let out a throaty growl as the V6 revs, with loud cracks on upshifts and a burbling overrun in the sportier drive modes, without fully reaching the C63’s level of V8 boisterousness.
Another major point of difference is the rear-biased all-wheel-drive system. Grip is in ready supply, and the C43 is resolutely composed on fast roads.
Subtle adjustments have been made to AMG’s adaptive suspension tune, though its overall feel is unchanged. The difference in ride quality between Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes is noticeable, but less pronounced than the step changes of the adaptive dampers now available in regular C-Class variants. Comfort is generally acceptable for a sporting car, but AMG could afford to sacrifice some agility the C43’s softest mode.
To make it easier to identify, the C43 now has a distinctive twin-louvre grille, and 19-inch wheels with an aerodynamically optimised design. Multibeam LED headlights with a range of up to 650 metres are standard, as is the blacked-out AMG Night Package. A reprofiled front bumper includes aero aids at each corner to guide air around the wheels for efficiency. New LED tail-lights are also fitted.
Pricing starts at $107,900 for the sedan through to $124,900 for the cabrio, making C43 a full $50K and change more affordable than an equivalent C63. It’s an appealing proposition; closer to being compatible with Australia’s speed limits, while still more than fast enough to put a grin on your face. Consider it a grown-up brand of performance for the discerning, now more compelling for 2019.
Interior improvements include infotainment and driver assistance upgrades, though the A-Class’s advanced MBUX interface hasn’t made its way to C-Class yet. The instrument cluster is now a 12.3-inch digital screen with a customisable AMG mode, supported by a large display above the centre console. Extensive safety and convenience tech includes a 360-degree camera, AEB, adaptive cruise, parking assist, evasive steering assist and traffic-jam assist.
Instant solution to unsealed palace driveways
THE PRICE tag isn’t the only thing absurdly large about a Rolls-Royce. Making them look and feel bigger and more impressive than every other car has always been a core principle. Ask, or perhaps force, its designers to produce an SUV like the Cullinan, then, and you’re going to end up with something that would belittle a behemoth.
As one crayon-wielder admitted, they basically looked at the basic, two-box design of other modern luxury SUVs and decided it wasn’t big enough (and nor was the 7 Series platform BMW offered), so they built an all-new, unique three-box design that’s meant to capture “capability and elegance”.
It certainly captures attention – at 5341mm long, 2164mm wide and 1835mm tall it would want to – and never more so than when it’s ploughing down a steep dirt track in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, straight at a bunch of baffled hikers. It must have felt like a particularly aristocratic house was about to run them down.
I would say I was surprised by just how capable the Cullinan was when thrown at some steep and rocky challenges, but anyone who’s driven a modern Range Rover knows just how incredible and bizarre the mix of luxury with off-road ability can be.
What’s impressive here is how simple the big Rolls is to use. Apparently the brand’s buyers like these cars to be a ‘detox’ from their busy, supercar-addled lives, so you get no shift paddles, no manual transmission control, and a one-touch ‘Off-road’ button.
Everything else is taken care of by the company’s first all-wheeldrive system and a surfeit of power and torque from a massive 6.75-litre, twin-turbocharged V12 making 420kW and 850Nm, which arrives at just 1600rpm. Put your foot down and all that nose rears at the sky, it’s fabulous.
Rolls also claims to have equipped the Cullinan with its famously wafting ‘magic carpet’ ride, no matter what you throw it at. Sure enough, it’s almost surreal in its quietude and floatiness on sealed roads, but even actual magic can’t totally silence the clatter of gravel roads.
It’s also on loose stuff like that where the Cullinan’s light and airy steering feel is just slightly disconcerting, because you’re not entirely sure of what your wheels are up to.
Generally speaking, though, this seemingly inevitable Rolls SUV delivers on its mission statement of being ‘Effortless, Everywhere’, and no doubt will achieve the company’s goal of being hugely profitable.
The first year’s production is already sold out, despite a reassuringly large price tag starting at $685,000.
Rolls-Royce expects the Cullinan to be its biggest selling model in Australia, with around 80 percent of buyers opting for the family-friendly Lounge variant, which gets a three-person bench seat in the rear, and the rest opting for the Individual spec, which gets two bucket seats plus a fridge, champagne flutes, and a glass panel to separate you from the luggage compartment, making it even more freakishly quiet. Both models score the fantastic, and unique in this segment, suicide doors.
Rebirth of rock-hopping cult classic
THERE’S a highly evolved enthusiast scene for the previous-gen Jimny – a car that went on sale two decades ago and to this day remains in a class of one: a tiny, ladder-frame 4x4 with proper off-roading talent, at the expense of on-road manners.
But now there’s a new one. Or perhaps a very heavily updated one, since that chassis retains its design, albeit strengthened with extra bracing to improve torsional rigidity. This two-door seats four, but only if you don’t need boot space, because its 377 litres of volume is only available with the wipe-clean, plastic-backed rear seats folded flat.
Still, ferrying friends isn’t really on the agenda here. Jimny is built to appeal to keen fourby folk who need its terrain-tackling talents, but Suzuki also wants to push it in the direction of youngsters whose lifestyle requires go-anywhere ability. That’s why it’s styled somewhere between a Jeep, an old LandCruiser and a mini G-Class.
Our test drive near Frankfurt soon highlights the Jimny’s limitations. Barrel into a bend too quickly and you get comical bodyroll. The electrically assisted recirculating-ball steering set-up – combined with the long-travel suspension – can make for unpredictable levels of control and composure even at modest speeds.
To get properly under its skin, you need to leave the tarmac behind. Pull the pleasingly agricultural transmission selection lever rearwards one click and you’ll engage the front wheels as well as the alwaysworking rears, and you’ll be able to make full use of the impressive approach, ramp and departure angles. When stationary, push that lever down and pull back another click to engage the low-range transfer box for more accurate control scaling the steepest slopes.
There’s no centre-locking diff here but rather an open one on each axle, with torque-vectoring by braking making a decent fist of simulating an LSD. The 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated engine’s torque is enough to keep the Jimny moving through the relatively tame mud, rock and dust of our test route, and it feels as though we’re only scratching the surface of what this rugged 1.1-tonne mountain goat can do.
Just as in the previous-gen, a five-speed manual and a fourspeed auto are likely for Oz. We tried the manual, and wish it had a sixth gear to cut engine revs and noise at motorway speeds. But otherwise refinement is far better than that of the old Jimny.
A pity, then, that the sat-nav is woefully slow, and the Euro NCAP rating is a paltry three stars. Still, you’ll either love the Jimny – and join the ranks of smitten enthusiasts – or ignore it in favour of a less characterful small SUV.
The Suzuki Jimny first hit roads (and the bush) in 1970 and the Japanese maker has since sold more than 2.85m of its cult baby 4x4. When it arrives in early 2019 the fourth-gen Jimny will replace the Jimny Sierra-badged third-gen after no less than 20 years on sale. The 1.5-litre atmo four is confirmed – we won’t get the JDM 660cc three-pot turbo, sadly – as are high-beam assist, daytime running lights, hilldescent control, sat-nav, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
Flawed but irritatingly appealing baby SUV
THE CITROEN C3 Aircross isn’t a car that does great first impressions. Its minor controls seem putzy, the ride and handling are nothing to write home about and the unremitting hard interior plastics lack the sort of quality sheen you’d get from something like a Mazda CX-3. Then you hear that Citroen is planning to price it somewhere in the $30K to $35K bracket and you figure it’s dead in the water right from the get-go.
That sort of money buys you top-spec rivals like the Toyota C-HR Koba or Mazda CX-3 Akari which, like the Citroen, drive the front wheels only. That’s quite some company to be rubbing up against.
Riding on the same 2640mm wheelbase as the Opel Crossland X, the Pierre Authier-styled Aircross is powered by an 81kW/230Nm 1.2-litre turbo threepot engine, mated to a six-speed Aisin torque-converter automatic gearbox. Start flinging it at a few corners and it’s certainly game, clinging on keenly at the front, albeit with a fairly neurotic ESC calibration. Unfortunately, there’s a fairly firm primary ride, which can manifest in an unsettled, agitated comportment on poor surfaces. Citroen claims to have increased the roll stiffness on this car versus the C3, but it’s still pretty lax. That’s odd for a company that’s trying to reassert its credentials in ride comfort.
Unlike European models, the Australian car will miss out on the sliding rear bench, the seat instead being fixed at its further forward position, so both variants get an identical 410 litres of boot space. That’s a clear 60 litres more than a CX-3 and 33 more than a C-HR and what’s more the Citroen offers more rear legroom than either of these rivals.
It also features a flat folding front seat which means that you can slot items up to 2.4m long inside. Couple that with the most headroom in its class and up to 1289 litres of luggage space with the rear seats folded flat and you have a small SUV that punches above its weight on utility.
Despite its litany of manifest shortcomings, the Spanish-built C3 Aircross emerges as something unexpectedly charming. It’s well equipped, easy to live with, is more practical than any of its rivals, comes with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and your neighbour probably won’t have one. Citroen is still working out final specs for the Aussie market, but if that price tag can come in closer to $30K than $35K the C3 Aircross will definitely be worth a place on your shortlist.
There may be other compact SUVs that can carve a cleaner corner than the cute Citroen, but if you prefer stacks of equipment and a certain cheeky charm, the Aircross is worth a look.
Citroen saw no benefit in trying to sell a stripper-spec version of the Aircross in this market, so it gets gear like wireless phone charging, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, a head-up display, sat-nav, speed-limit recognition, a top-vision 180-degree camera, keyless entry and start, 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels, a contrasting roof, LED daytime running lights, and cruise control with speed limiter as standard.