BMW Z4 M Roadster

Chuck out your luggage and don't look at the petrol gauge. Melanie Bien belts up for a wild, windy ride in BMW's roaring new Roadster

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Price: £42,750
Engine: 3.2-litre six-cylinder petrol
Performance: 0-62mph in 5 seconds, 23.3mpg
CO2: 292g/km
Worth considering: Porsche Boxster S, Mercedes SLK, Audi TT

Roadsters are about unadulterated fun. Forget luggage, fuel consumption and insurance costs, it's all about the open road, ideally with the wind in your hair, and exhilarating performance. With the Z4 M Roadster, BMW has got it right, producing a highly desirable car capable of impressive speed. Even though it is electronically limited to 155mph - thank goodness - motorists can still claim to be driving the soft-top with the world's fastest fully automatic roof (10 seconds to open).

The 343bhp, 3.2-litre M Roadster engine is the most remarkable thing about this car. If you'd like to leave a Porsche Boxter S trailing, this is the car to do it in, as you have a 63bhp advantage. The Roadster is immensely powerful, raw yet impressively smooth, climbing from 0 to 62mph in five seconds. The six-speed manual gearbox is a dream, with a short shift. The exhaust note is spot on, rising from a burble to a roar.

The steering is light. The body weighs less than the M3, yet clings confidently to the road. This is a driver's car, with the ability to disable traction and stability control systems for those in search of further thrills.

Styling is an important part of the package. The Z4 M benefits from the restyling the Z4 has undergone. The front spoiler has been enhanced and the headlights redesigned.

The Z4 is more masculine than its roadster predecessor, the Z3 - clearly designed to appeal more to men. Women who don't like to be patronised with "girly" cars are unlikely to be alienated by the muscular exterior, but they might by the interior: it is desperately boring, dominated by dull grey plastics. The blue and red "M" stitching on the steering wheel is garish, but the colour is a relief. The Z3 styling was easier on the eye than Chris Bangle's Z4, however the Z4 offers a more solid feel with its stiffer, less shaky bodyshell.

Nice touches include a gear-lever knob that lights up red at night, giving a cosy feel to the cabin, and the roof. It retreats at incredible speed - there's no fiddling with clasps.

There are downsides. With the roof down it is extremely noisy, far worse than the Z3. The wind deflector, which is vital, costs another £165. For a price of nearly £43,000, this seems a bit of a cheek. The suspension is stiff and the cockpit rather cramped.

There isn't much to distinguish the Z4 M from the non-M styling-wise but behind the wheel there is no mistaking its extra power and class. BMW was aiming for the "ultimate driving machine" when it created this car. The Z4 M comes pretty close.

Phillip Dance, 45, project engineer from Malvern

USUAL CAR: SKODA OCTAVIA

Surprisingly, the driving position is very comfortable. There is a nice roar to the engine but I had to keep reminding myself of the 30mph limit. Inside, the layout is good but I am not convinced about the speedometer, which is pretty cluttered. Visibility is good and the speed at which the roof goes down is excellent. The gears are easy to use, and it is quiet with the hood down - there is no whistling. The handling is spot on, there is no over-steer. It is a muscular car and feels quite masculine. It also feels totally different at speed to when you are tootling along. If I was after a car that was a bit of fun I might be tempted to buy one, as long as I could get my golf clubs in the boot: it would be a bit of a squeeze.

Will McNaughton, 35, HR consultant from Twickenham

USUAL CAR: SEAT LEON CUPRA

The engine isn't as noisy as I thought it would be. It certainly feels as though there is a lot of power, and it is pretty quick when you put your foot down. The driving position is comfy but I imagine if you were a bit taller you would struggle. It looks quite muscular; no way could this be mistaken for a hairdresser's car. I am surprised by the plastic interior - it marks easily - and I am amazed cars like these don't come with seat warmers. It is quite blowy with the roof down; why doesn't the wind-breaker come as standard? It is a lot of fun, but you don't need it to go as fast as it is capable of doing. If I had a spare £40,000 I would consider one, but I don't think I would be able to hang on to my licence for long.

Ian Collins, 33, IT consultant from Windsor

USUAL CAR: TOYOTA CELICA, PORSCHE 911

Performance is obviously very important in a car like this and you could get into a lot of trouble with it. But the steering lacks feel: you bounce over the potholes. It rolls a little on corners but I like what it does when you lift off the throttle. The brakes are fierce. The exhaust note is nice, it has a lovely positive gear change and a meaty steering wheel. My complaint is that it isn't aggressive-looking enough and doesn't look as though it cost £42,000; it doesn't look that different from the standard Z4. I like the aluminium interior and the enclosed cabin makes me feel safe but rather claustrophobic. Visibility is good with the roof down, but with it up it is a nightmare because of the massive C-pillars.

THE VERDICT

If you would like to take part, e-mail m otoring@independent.co.uk or write to: The Verdict, Features Department, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.

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