2006 BMW M Roadster
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Review and phtos by Laurance Yap

Jerez, Spain – Well, it’s about time. The BMW M Roadster is back. The original M Roadster, you may recall, was a bit of a hot rod, enhancing the relatively tame Z3 by stuffing in the M3’s 240-horsepower inline six (power rose past the 300-hp mark with later versions) along with a reworked suspension that gave it vastly improved traction, stability, and handling. What was best about the old M Roadster, though, was its slightly raw edge. With some antiquated interior fittings, old-fashioned packaging (you sat almost right over the rear wheels, like in a classic sports car) and raucous engine noises, the M roadster had an appealing edginess to it, a feeling that you were driving something special. It was less refined than you might have expected of a BMW, but also a lot more fun.

Given that the Z4 roadster on which it’s based is a far more sophisticated vehicle in its own right than the Z3 (which, even when it was new, used two-generation-old 3 Series rear suspension), it’s no surprise that it immediately feels more polished than its predecessor. For one thing, its cabin has all the features and amenities you would expect of a roadster costing upwards of $60,000: the sport seats are heated (though not power-operated), the climate control is automatic, and the stereo sounds great.

The old M Roadster had none of these, nor did it have the new car’s excellent build quality: every surface you touch feels rich and expensive, and there’s a nice selection of leathers and metal trim finishes, some exclusive to the M car. Some really neat touches include a carbon-patterned leather finish that’s very cool (though Dodge got there first with its SRT products). As you would imagine, the seats have extra bolstering (they also have integrated headrests), the three-spoke steering wheel is thicker and chunkier than before, and the stubby shift knob has a backlit shift pattern like the other M cars.

2006 BMW M Roadster

2006 BMW M Roadster

2006 BMW M Roadster
Click image to enlarge

Despite the nice touches, the M Roadster’s interior doesn’t feel all that special. While I like the minimalist dash design, with a plank of trim running straight across the cabin and a set of tightly-packed instruments stuffed motorcycle-style in front of the steering wheel, the overall level of quality and finish is a ways off what you would find in, say, a 3 or 5 Series sedan. The air vents at the ends of the dash panel seem to have been added as an afterthought, some of the plastics are hard and scratchy, and gaps between the various pieces are wider than in other BMWs. (These same complaints, in relation to the rest of the BMW line, could also have been levelled at the old M Roadster.) Nevertheless, this is at least a practical interior: the driver’s seat has a wide range of adjustment to accommodate all body types, and there are several useful storage cubbies.

Fire up the engine though, and some of that rawness returns. Unlike the upcoming M3, which is rumoured to be powered by an eight-cylinder version of the 500-hp V10 fitted to the M5, the M Roadster sticks with BMW’s trademark straight-six layout, in this case the excellent 330-hp engine fitted to the outgoing M3. It trumpets a raspy sound through four fat exhaust pipes, and at idle it gently shakes the whole car, giving it a tingly feel that’s hard to describe. Blip the throttle and it makes a delicious ripping sound as it sends the tach needle spinning. Jump off the gas and the revs die just as quickly.

2006 BMW M Roadster
Click image to enlarge

Unlike the M3, which offers you the choice of a six-speed manual or a high-tech sequential gearbox with adjustable shift speed and launch control, you can only get the M Roadster with a manual transmission. While I am a big fan of the M3’s SMG gearbox (and thus bemoan its absence here), the manual is pretty good, with tightly spaced gates. The clutch is as easy to use as any economy car’s, and the other controls are also very slick: the brakes are powerful but easy to modulate with a linear pedal action, and the steering guides the front wheels with a mere twitch of the wrist.

Touch the “sport” button on the centre console, and you introduce a new level of aggression to the whole experience: the throttle quickens to the point where it’s almost too sensitive, and the steering assistance is dialed back to give some more weight (and feel) to the helm. Indeed, it’s almost too aggressive: on the track, the M Roadster was actually easier to drive in regular mode, with the slightly slower throttle making for smoother progress on a very slick Jerez Speedway.

2006 BMW M Roadster

2006 BMW M Roadster
Click image to enlarge

As you would imagine, the M Roadster’s suspension has been beefed up in order to handle all that extra power. Wheels and tires are bigger all around (they’re 18-inch as standard now) and the suspension is lower and stiffer than on the Z4. What’s perhaps more impressive than the grip and handling – on the track it was poised, balanced, and impressively faithful to control inputs no matter how hard I pushed – is the fact that the M Roadster actually rides pretty well, something that can’t be said of cars like the M3 coupe or cabriolet. On rutted roads, the suspension thumped around a lot, but there was little harshness in the way pavement imperfections were transmitted to my spine, and the stiff structure meant for very little cowl shake, and controls that felt rock-solid.

The improved ride quality is one trait shared with the rest of the Z4 range, which has been face-lifted for this model year. The lineup is now comprised of a 215-hp 3.0i model (using the same engine as fitted to the confusingly-named 325i sedan), a 255-hp 3.0Si (no, it’s not a Honda), and the M Roadster. The non-M cars receive redesigned front and rear bumpers (the front bumper integrates some pretty cool, razor-thin fog lamps), new wheel designs, suspension upgrades, and more standard equipment. Prices start at $53,900 for the 3.0i.

2006 BMW M Roadster
Click image to enlarge

Considering that you pay almost a $25,000 premium to move up from a 330i to an M3, the M Roadster looks to be a bit of a deal, priced over the 3.0si by less than $10,000. It’s also priced lower than the V8-powered Mercedes SLK55 AMG and the less-powerful Porsche Boxster S. As a driving experience, the chassis isn’t as pure as the Porsche’s in terms of feedback and delicacy, but the M inline six’s noise and power delivery give it an aggressive hot-rod edge. Though its trunk is spacious enough for a weekend’s bags, it loses out in practicality to the Porsche, and the Mercedes’ edge remains, as always, its folding metal roof – which provides superior insulation from the elements as well as reduced levels of wind and road noise.

Still, given that adding some of BMW’s typically expensive options to the $60,900 3.0Si would easily bring it up to the price of the M Roadster (which already comes with more standard features), BMW should have no trouble moving a great number of them out the door. In terms of worldwide sales, Canada ranks eleventh for BMWs but fifth for M cars, suggesting that as a country, we already have an affinity for the company’s high-performance models. With the arrival of the M Roadster last March, and its sister car, the similarly-priced hardtop M Coupe in July, that affection will only grow.


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  • Buyer’s Guide: 2006 Mercedes-Benz SLK-class
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