Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: East Coast, USA
Thanked 47 Times in 33 Posts
It seems to me that the Z8 can be a polarizing vehicle. Some people look at it and really dont like it- they think its not a good value, after all you get the engine in the M5 plus a real car. And some don't like the choices BMW made in terms of handling (mid point between GT car and sports car). In general, with the Z8 BMW knew they wouldnt please a whole lot of people, but they dont have to. What they did do though is make a car that the people it does appeal to will truly love.
I am unbelievably fortunate to be able to drive both. Here is a write up I did when someone asked about how they compare in terms of handling a while back- I then just re-edited it and added some commentary. I hope this helps:
Z8 v M5
So here’s the big question- how does it handle compared to the M5? Who wins?
The answer is: it depends. Handle is such a subjective word. For me what it means is very complicated.
It’s not about g-force it can pull, but its part of it. If you’re looking for which car will stick to the road better over expansion joints that you encounter in real life its the M5. The Z8 sticks very well on smooth roads, but the M5 sticks better on every day roads and every day speeds. The Z8, partly due to its shorter wheelbase and stiffer suspension, doesn’t like turns that have expansion joints. The car doesn’t become totally unglued, but it skips/hops over them, while the M5 basically keeps on going- I’ve had the M5 skip out on an expansion joint or two. Strangely, as the speed increases, the Z8 gets more stable in these situations- probably because the degree of these kinds of turns is reduced for higher speeds. And keep in mind this is just as compared to each other.
In terms of steering, the Z8 is and feels more precise; likely due to the rack & pinion setup vs. the recirculating ball on the M5. The Z8’s steering gives more communication than that of the M5, but both are very good. The Z8’s steering weighting is heavier than that of the M5 in normal mode, and its even a little heavier/stiffer than the M5 in sport mode. It’s definitely more linear.
I prefer the Z8’s steering feel but you also feel the tires grabbing the road, whereas with the M5 this sensation is mostly absent (this is sometimes referred to as “tramlining”). The Z8 has much less body roll and almost no dive or squat.
The M5 is very nimble, for a car of its size. Yet, taking a turn quickly in the M5 you can sense the mass of the car; while the Z8 has a more nimble feel. As expected, the M5 rides much better over rough pavement and road conditions.
The shifter in the Z8 is essentially that of the M5, but the throws feel shorter (I don’t know if they are or if it just feels shorter) and the shifter is much smoother. It has a great feel. By comparison the M5’s shifter feels longer, a little wobbly and a little notchy.
Then there is the exhaust note. The Z8’s is much better. Of course, it’s fairly easy to modify the M5’s exhaust.
So that’s handling- my conclusion, the M5 might be capable of higher handling numbers, and is definitely a much better daily driver, but for I’ll take the Z8 on feel.
On to driving experience- well, you’d expect a sedan and roadster to be different- and they are. The M5 is a truly refined sedan capable of mind-boggling performance; it is the classic “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. The Z8 is a stunningly beautiful roadster also capable of really mind-boggling performance. It feels as if it out accelerates the M5 by a considerable amount- even though we all know this is not true. It’s just that you’re closer to the action. On the whole, the Z8 is a much more involving experience.
The M5’s personality is "high-tech"- it is literally the ultimate daily driver. While the Z8’s personality is that it gives you the romantic sensation of driving that the “classic” cars from the 50s and 60s it based on you would think must have had while utilizing all the latest modern technology. In some ways the Z8 is more high tech than the M5, but basically it just feels like it’s just you, the wind, and the open road. When I think of the best car in the world, the M5 comes to mind. When I think of automotive jewelry, I think of the Z8.
Both cars feel like bank vaults as far as chassis rigidity. As we know the M5 feels very sturdy, especially considering the taught suspension and weight it carries. Believe it or not, the Z8 feels just as sturdy. Its easily the stiffest open top car I’ve ever driven- there is NO cowl shake.
Both have some “personality quirks”. The M5 has some bizarre squeaking from the rear deck when it goes over rough pavement and bumps. The moon roof cover rattles over rough pavement and some of the wood trim will rattle a little over rough pavement. In the Z8, all the switch gear is aluminum and if the steering wheel is in the all the way in position (it’s a telescoping steering wheel) when you go over bumpy pavement, it sometimes clangs together- its not often but it was disconcerting enough for me to inquire about it. A partial remedy is to extend the steering wheel about 1” or more. Also the steering is so precise that when you make a slow turn over rough pavement you can sense the tires hunting over the pavement and it feels as if the steering column is loose- I had this checked too, its not loose, its just how it is. A friend with a Ferrari tells me he has the same sensation. The only rattle is the passenger seat, when unoccupied, will sometimes jiggle over rough pavement- the fix, move it all the way to the back so it rests on the back of the interior.
As to the location of the gauges in the middle, this is something that’s very easy to get used to and IMHO is not a problem for the car. The reason is that the Z8 isn’t about gauges or data. It’s all about feel. I think if they were doing this on a car with the volume of the M5, it would be a problem, but they are doing this on a very small volume car. Sure, it’s a little bizarre the first time you look out and there’s no gauge cluster in your view, but its easy to get used to and once you trail your “muscle memory” for your eyes to look more over than down its no big deal.
The Z8 is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The Z8 doesn’t really compare to Ferrari, although the comparison is inevitable. I’ve driven a Ferrari F40 (ok- it was a very short drive- but I did get to drive it!). Several months ago I drove a 360 Modena. I liked it very much! And to be fair, I won’t push cars I don’t know well to their limits- so my “reviews” are more average-driver than race-driver. I think if you want pure performance a Ferrari would have the edge.
But for my tastes, Ferraris are too flashy and I think their styling runs the risk of being dated. Again, were talking personal preferences and personal observations. But when I see a 308 or 328 or Testarossa just don’t find their styling any where as appealing as when I saw them years ago. That’s said with the benefit of hind-sight, so I’m expecting to not be saying that about the Z8, but I won’t know for several years. Again this is a personal preference thing so I’m not knocking Ferrari because of some empirical problem like bad engineering- they are engineered wonderfully.
We are very fortunate to be able to have cars like these and having choices is a good thing. But when I considered the whole package I made my choice for the Z8.
As to the experience of driving each on a regular basis:
I drove the Z8 almost every day for the first 6 weeks I took delivery of it.
Comparing to the M5 here are pros and cons:
Rougher ride- the ride is fine for most trips but as a daily commuter it can be a little tiresome- not bad though, just compared to the "dampened" ride of the M5 it can get a little tiring. To compare the ride is more like the E36 M3- but a tad stiffer. That said, the Z8’s ride doesn’t beat you up either.
Comparatively jumpy handling over road irregularities. The M5 also skips over these bumps, but much less, its almost impossible to sense.
People freaking out and acting stupid- I have no problem with genuine car enthusiasts but there are those folks who stop you at the gas station with only one question to ask- which I think is a little rude to ask of a stranger. I loved the way the car drove so much I picked it up but the attention it generates is my biggest gripe (and its not *that* bad). I usually talk and show it off to people who seem truly interested in the car b/c its pretty or they know what it is. And there are times where people honk on the road or nearly lose control of their vehicles so you have to keep an eye out. I kid you not when I tell you that one day I heard the screech of tires and I looked around and it was a guy in a 5 series going the other way on a 2 way road- he hit his brakes to stop- he could have caused an accident!
The ragtop wasn’t designed the way car companies design ragtops for modern convertibles. Its not quite as insulated and it doesn’t have a glass rear window nor does it have an automatic boot cover. The reason why is that to design the low window lines of the car (compare to the new 3 series cabrio or the new MBs) BMW had to make the top as thin and small as possible. This meant a plastic window (easier to fold) and a manual boot cover. Before I knew the reason I thought this was absurd. I thought that in a car with CD, GPS, VANOS, etc you have to take this leather covered cover and clip it over the lowered top. In fairness, with the top up the insulation is good and you can drive year round and not get too hot or cold. BMW decided that for winter driving you would use the hardtop that comes with the car, there are no options except color, and for summer driving you would drive open air. The ragtop is really there for the summer day when a rainstorm surprises you.
The lighter is far back on the center tube way- kind of to the driver side behind the emergency brake; so running a wire for a radar detector is distracting.
The “sport button”- this is also in the M5. There shouldn’t be a sport button! If anything they should have it reversed and have a button for a gentler driving mode.
The cup holder is this bolt on after thought that encroaches into passenger’s legs.
Ok, so those are the cons- now for the pros:
First and foremost
!!!THAT FEELING!!! -- you know, that feeling that produces an ear-to-ear smile - if you like to drive, this is one of THE cars.
The sound of the engine from 4,000 rpm on is intoxicating.
The sensation that you are a part of a singular mass- or that it’s an extension of you.
The lines of the hood as miles pass by
The way the car feels much smaller on twisty roads
No built in cup holder- this is sports car not glorified beverage transportation!
The red interior is fabulous!
The shifter is very smooth.
The sensation of even more massive acceleration than the M5. The engine (as you other M5ers know) but here its pushing a smaller and lighter mass. The standard throttle program is the same as the M5s sport mode. The Z8s sport mode is kind of like a super hyper drive. However, in the Z8 the sport button only affects the throttle, not the steering also as in the M5.
It rejuvenates you.
I could keep going but basically the Z8 is probably the best daily driver when compared to other sports cars. But the M5 is the ultimate daily driver, probably the most amazing sports sedan you can/will find. If you had to have only one car, it’s definitely the M5.
I think the best way to describe the cars is to borrow BMWs phrases from different markets. Their USA phrase: “The Ultimate Driving Machine” really does apply to the M5, while their phrase from somewhere else (I don’t know): “Sheer Driving Pleasure” really describes the Z8.
[This message has been edited by MEnthusiast (edited 01 April 2001).]