I think I grew up with a little bit of an obsessive personality. Unlike many other kids that loved to play sports and get dirty outdoors, I was always the timid one who'd sit in one corner of the room, just zoning out on his toys.
As a youngster, I had a fixation for Batman. I'm unsure if I liked him because of what he represented or simply because he was the only who drove a car, the most awesome one at that. And because I had an obsessive personality and parents that gave into my every whim, because I was a very obedient child, right Mom? Dad? As far as I remember from age 3-10, I was Batman every Halloween. I went to school with a Batman bag, Batman pencil, Batman pencil sharpener, and I even had a Batman tent pitched inside my room. Above and beyond all the toys including the mega Batcave, my prized possession was, you guessed it - the Batmobile. I'd roll around the carpet with it for hours and when it was bed time, it slept beside me.
Obviously, I had to outgrow it, or so I think I have. As I got a little bit older, I amassed a little collection of model cars. Ferrari became the new Batman. However, since we didn't have the internet back then and I couldn't just google a photo, I had books. While that was all nice, it was all too far fetched to get me immersed in the experience. The real tangible fixation began at home, and it started with BMW. I grew up around the cars from Bavaria having my father, uncles, and grandfather own different ones over a long period of time. My orientation with the brand is so deep, that I have my own understanding of what a BMW is. It is personal. Like everyone else, we take things as we see them and for me, a BMW was the attainable dream.
It is still a dream.
Yes, there's the speed, the luxury, and the world renown German precision. All the figures are there to impress, but if we're basing it on that alone, one can argue that a Toyota or a Volvo is just as good. In a world where statistics, analytics, and likes are the basis for what's great and what isn't, we have all seemed to lose our way. Nobody seems to talk about the very distinct smell of BMW's leather, and so it is gone because cutting corners is the name of the game. I could be blindfolded as a child and I could identify the smell of an E34 5 Series to a W123 Mercedes-Benz.
Today, everything smells the same - Toyota Camrys included. Also, what ever happened to the sound? The deep and bassy rumble of a baritone E34 525i? The smooth transmission that shifted right about when the exhaust was about to shake the shit out of the car? Are we all about what is green and good for the environment? Not that it's a completely bad thing, but what makes a BMW? Where's that heavy but communicative steering? Do you really need to rev the living daylights out of the car to hear some of its soul? Did they just remove specialness from the equation because everyone is willing to buy into mediocrity for as long as it comes with a BMW badge?
"The exhaust note has a delicious delay when the car swaps cogs, very similar to the older BMWs - which I absolutely adore."
The answer lies in the E89 Z4. It is ridiculous that the answer I've been looking for has been in front of me for the longest time. I may have overlooked it myself, but boy was I in for a surprise when I hopped in this roadster. If there is a car with the old time magic we've been looking for from BMW, it is this one. It is unquantifiable sheer driving pleasure. I thought that the 2-liter engine was going to be soulless and that it would be only contribute to the Z4's poseur intentions, but I couldn't have been more wrong.
It was lively and it loved to sing, complete with phlegm-like gargling on the overruns. It doesn't pull or scream quite like an inline-6, but for the Philippines, it is more performance than you can really use. The steering feel is fantastic too. It had the weight and the feel that's gone missing with modern electric power steering softwares in the newer cars. The sport automatic transmission did the job quite well too. The speed of the shifts suited the characteristics of the roadster perfectly and was smooth as silk in the city.
On sport mode, the car tightens up. It's not the theoretical kind of tightening. You actually feel the car sit down and tense up the moment you hit the sport button. The shifts get more rapid too and the throttle becomes a little more sensitive and free-revving. It's good to have, but I can honestly do without a setting that lets me choose a driving mode. After all, the car's chassis has so much grace in handling its weight, that tightening it up even more is somewhat unnecessary. The ride is already stiff as it is.
I guess sport mode would make a more significant impact with a bigger engine and higher power output - but for this one, comfort mode is perfect. The exhaust note has a delicious delay when the car swaps cogs, very similar to the older BMWs - which I absolutely adore. The interior is typical BMW, but with a hint of specialness to it. It is bespoke and has a character of its own. The overall designs screams of a roadster and does not share the same design with anything else that the brand offers.
Classic BMW fashion.
The true pièce de résistance of this car is obviously the foldable hard top roof. While I must say that I've gotten used to the simplicity and speed at which you can operate the soft top of the Mazda MX-5, the retractable hard top of the Z4 is worth the time it takes to fold and reveal itself because you don't get the overwhelming noise from outside elements the moment you've had enough wind blowing through your hair. Also, I think it looks just as beautiful with the roof up as it does when it's topless.
When the roof is down, the whole experience switches from standard definition to ultra high definition. The sound goes from mono to stereo. Ultimately, it sucks you into the glamour and the allure of al fresco driving. And really, when you add that formula to a BMW, it sets your heart ablaze. The Z4 may be acquired taste, but once you've had it, it is one you can't get enough of. To say that the Z4 is the best automobile that the German brand builds is laughable, it is however, the best BMW that they make today.
It is beyond driving.