My recent love affair with BMW may be over. Oh how we gazed into each other’s eyes, the 6 Series Gran Coupé and I. And how could I ever forget the smell of the 328’s burning Bridgestones, or her TwinScroll turbo’s sensual groans. Now there’s someone new in my life. Her measurements are 172.2-70.9-50.4, and weighing in at 208 stone you can definitely say she’s got it all, in the immortal words of the great Angus Young.
Now I’m going to stop this cringe-worthy habit of referring to cars as ‘shes’. Although, on second thought it could still prove to be surprisingly relevant here. The BMW Z4 is a she. The new car has gone all soft and emotional compared to its harder-edged predecessor. That old Z4 was a proper drivers’ car (wheels editor Amit bought one), but this new one is more a car, that you also drive.
As for the old Boxster, that one was burdened with all sorts of hairdressers’ connotations, and we’re not talking about the kind of hairdressers we get around here that think a head massage involves a good dislocating of the shoulder. Apparently it was a girls’ car. But this new one is all primal, simplistic, intensely fixated on one single chauvinistic goal: hunt down everything in sight.
Unfortunately the first thing the new Porsche Boxster S has sighted is an innocent BMW Z4, standing there all alone in the middle of the road, fluttering in the wind, its smooth milky skin basking in the sun and emanating the unmistakable scent of an engine. One whiff and it’s game on, girl: the Boxster’s taking her back to the cave.
So there is a problem with my comparison test before I’ve even begun. I wanted to have a wild ride with the wind in my hair (or at least a scorching blaze searing my scalp) but the Z4 has other ideas, such as behaving like an impeccable boulevard cruiser. The Porsche on the other hand, is one of a handful of cars I’ve driven in Dubai that is fun all the time.
To give you an example, even an Audi R8 Spyder felt a bit dull once, even though Côte d’Azur was made for the thing. And the new Panamera GTS just robbed wheels of our salaries in the way of fines. You can only scream round a turning circle so many times before the green-and-white wag their expensive fingers at you.
But the Boxster… Whether it’s a run down the street to replenish your medwakh, or a regular commute to work, the Boxster always wants to please. I find that only cars like the Renault Clio Sport and that lot put a constant smile on your face around Dubai, purely because you can’t really break the speed limit if you tried.
You need torque for that. And the Boxster S has 360Nm while weighing 1,350kg, giving it a healthy torque-per-tonne figure of 266Nm. The BMW steps onto the scale and the spring shoots out, before agonisingly holding on just long enough for the needle to rocket past the 1,500kg mark. With 310Nm in total, perhaps we’ll flatter the BMW here and not even bother with torque-per-tonne. (Fine, so I couldn’t resist: 205Nm/tonne.) In terms of driving then, this is as one-sided as it gets, and I will elaborate.
On slippy surfaces like sand-strewn roads or even just abrasive tarmac, the Boxster will pivot and turn-in as deftly as a Queen’s Guard with the front tyres grasping at the low-grip surface. A couple of instances sent the Boxster sliding on all four wheels, but an instant lift of the throttle pedal simply swivelled the centre of the car precisely to the angle of steering lock, instantly. The car then follows a uniform arch around the corner with the rear axle swinging slightly wide off the line.
The BMW understeers, its front seemingly not in sync with the rear, both ends stubbornly having entirely different ideas of taking a corner. The electromechanical power steering communicates with the thoughtfulness of a German passport controller. “Stand behind ze yellow line! No, behind ze line!” It’s much the same story in the BMW: “Put me on the dotted line. ON THE DOTTED LINE!” OK geez, I’m trying but you’re not playing along… In fact, I don’t want to play any more. Where are the keys to that Porsche again?
I know you’ve read about the Boxster S in wheels before, since Tim Ansell travelled to the South of France for the global launch giving you all the details, but I feel inclined to repeat some bits here. This is a completely new chassis, with a 60mm longer wheelbase for better stability (and much better looks since it necessitated shorter overhangs and taut proportions) and a wider track for better everything.
Bigger wheels and tyres provide extra grip, and our tester even came with optional 20in Carrera S wheels and Pirellis that simply wouldn’t relent their rule over the tarmac unless you double down-shifted on the twin-clutch PDK with the wheel paddles, and floored it through a corner, preferably one that’s been soaked with roundabout-landscaping sprinklers.
Some people moan about the steering, but seeing as you’re stuck with an electromechanical system, pretty much identical in concept to the BMW’s steering (regular fare rack and pinion), this is simply miles ahead of the game. It’s quick, accurate, it’s everything except organic, which is a feeling you can’t get anywhere these days other than Lotii, or perhaps something ancient and lacking power steering, like my old AE86.
But that’s a trade-off that we have to learn to accept, especially if it means improved economy. And I’m not joking when I say I averaged 10 litres-per-100km in the Boxster S with a healthy mix of Ras Al Khaimah hooliganism and highway serenity. Well, if you can call low-profile tyres on 20in wheels serene… The BMW on the other hand, will slightly hesitantly dart into a bend, consequently tipping onto its side noticeably more than the planted Porsche.
Before taking a set, the Z4 lurches for the outside with the front rubber losing its battle, and even though you can call the car back into line with a boot full of throttle, the rear end swings out far less gracefully than the Porsche. On second thought, the Z4 never really takes a set. It’s a messy, unbalanced way of driving fast. Whereas in the Boxster, so long as you respect the mid-engined layout’s tendency to snap-rotate on its vertical axis (which won’t happen unless you push way beyond legal terms), every single behavioural characteristic is as predictable as London 2012’s basketball competition.
The Z4 wore 19s with sporty Bridgestone tyres, but at no point ever exhibited as much mechanical traction as the Porsche. BMW says the Z4 features the best-ever driving dynamics for a Munich roadster, thanks to ingenious levels of engineering. The company’s men in white coats were able to find a perfect balance between axle load distribution, using aluminium for most of the suspension components and the latest generation DSC, or Dynamic Stability Control.
But that’s just the thing, the Z4 feels forced, as if the engineers searched for answers too far and too long, without realising they’ve already found them before. With the 2002 E85 Z4. Now I have to give up a very dirty little secret. Perhaps this review is slanted favouring the Porsche because the Boxster S’s engine is a miracle of internal combustion, the 3.4-litre boxer six swelling with 315bhp and the usable flexibility of a 12-year-old gymnast. With the optional Sport Chrono Package it also sounds as raw as a water-cooled Porsche flat possibly can, and eggs you on further and further towards the 8,000rpm limit.
The BMW, well, there’s no hiding it any more: it’s the sDrive30i. And of course that means it’s the normally aspirated 3.0-litre straight-six developing 255bhp, instead of the 306bhp you get with the turbocharged sDrive35i. It’s not our fault, we’re not cross-eyed or anything, but we did this purely because of pricing.
You can get a Boxster S for 217 grand and a base Boxster for less than 200, while this Z4 that we have on test starts from Dh215k. So it’s definitely fair game then, and never mind the fact that our heavily optioned Boxster S actually comes to more than Dh295k as-tested. And just when you think you can finally afford a Porsche, that’s how they get you…
Before we conclude how much better the Boxster S is than the Z4 in pure driving terms (well, there, we’ve concluded), I must just add that the Z4 also failed to impress with its equipment levels, but towered over the Porsche when it came to the drab highways and daily comfort levels.
You’ll always arrive rested in the comfortable BMW (I didn’t in the Porsche, after a day in RAK’s Wadi Bih) but then again, since when was resting fun? BMW, let’s just choose to remember the good times then. We can still be friends, see each other on weekends, you know… Wait, no, actually we can’t. I’ll probably be doing something with the Boxster S...