- BMW unveiled the Concept Touring Coupe at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in Italy.
- The concept turns the Z4 roadster into a two-door hardtop with a shooting-brake body—a look that has been dubbed “clown shoe” in previous years.
- BMW is said to be pondering a limited production run.
It’s raining cats and dogs on the eve of the 2023 Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza in Cernobbio on the banks of Lake Como, but the foul weather does not stop the paparazzi from zooming in on the metallic brown show car. Head on, the two-door fastback looks exactly like the recently facelifted Z4 roadster. But the quarter-front view shows a different animal altogether: sleek and muscular, the restyled silhouette turns out to be a crowd-stopper par excellence.
Instead of the traditional canvas top, the coupe sports a long metal roof that fuses with a neatly sculptured, nearly vertical hatch. Although it is effectively a shooting brake, BMW chose to badge its latest creation Touring Coupe, thereby paying homage to the very first touring model launched in 1971, which was based on the 02 series. The bespoke paint has tiny glass fragments mixed in for extra depth and luster.
Although the show car is completely redone from the B-pillar rearward, the well-balanced two-seater’s look is still of a piece. Whereas the stubby rear end of the Z4 is busy and cluttered, the tail of the coupe appears prettier and more practical.
The side view shows the trademark BMW Hofmeister kink, which, like the frame of the kidney grilles and the tailpipes, is finished in matte bronze. The slowly dropping roofline terminates in a full-width drag-cutting and downforce-enhancing spoiler, which together with the bulging hatch below creates a fast and furious look even in the parking lot.
The bulging rear fenders house 21-inch wheels shod with Pirelli P Zero tires. Up front, the concept rolls on 20-inchers. The muscular shape suggests that this coupe could eat an M4 for breakfast, but engineering fitted the Euro market’s 340-hp version of the turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. The suspension is an unchanged carryover item.
What’s It Like Inside?
Despite the short rear overhang, the Touring Coupe easily eclipses the roadster for luggage space. On the debit side, we noted the tall loading lip, the relatively narrow cargo deck, and the substantial blind spots caused by the ultra-wide C-pillars.
The reinforcing crossbeam mounted between the passenger cell and the cargo deck, which seriously compromised the seat travel in the Z3 coupe, is not an issue here. As you would expect, the cockpit is leather-trimmed from wall to wall. The tri-tone color scheme blends a brownish gray with an ochre saddle tone in the center and contrasting black accents. The supple cowskin was provided by the renowned furniture company Poltrona Frau, and the leather is braided together in a highly elaborate fashion that recalls the baseball pattern used in the first Audi TT roadster. Nice. The three custom bags come courtesy of Schedoni—maker of bespoke Ferrari luggage sets.
A Brief Drive
We would have loved to put this special Z4 through the paces, but there was no way BMW would let us leave the Villa d’Este premises in this handbuilt one-off. The challenge was thus to find a reasonably long straight, two corners tight enough to make the photographer happy, and enough space in between to feel, hear, and digest the first impressions of this very special car. We can now tell you that the touring coupe does accelerate, turn, and brake to order, but what makes all the difference is the added emotional value it oozes out of every freshly polished pore. The cabin smells like a $5000 antique chair, the ambiance shouts luxury, and the exhaust sounds as if it never fought for regulatory approval.
Onlookers gave the car their unanimous thumbs up, but the firm’s board of directors is less convinced. After all, in this dawning EV era, this coupe’s only energy cell is the starter battery, and there is no hybrid version in sight. To make matters worse, the remaining life span of the Z4 is a paltry three years, and when production ends there is no replacement in the offing.
“The Right Car at the Right Time”
Comments Domagoj Dukec, head of BMW brand design: “We still feel that this is the right car at the right time. The shooting brake remains a convincing synthesis of sportiness and style. We are going to monitor the response before making a decision, and when doing so we shall also consider the impact such a model would have on the marque and our image.”
The Z4 touring (project name California) was inspired by the very first Z3 coupe built between 1998 and 2002, which was dubbed “clown shoe” for its extreme proportions. The Z4 hardtop that followed never attained icon status. If it hadn’t been for the partnership with Toyota (to build the Supra), the Z4 would have bitten the dust in 2018.
Sharing the investment with the Japanese enabled BMW to develop the currently available fourth generation, and capacity at Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria, where the car is built, would allegedly permit a batch of 3000 to 5000 touring coupes on top of the current allocations.
The question is, are enough markets interested in a new variant of a model that’s not exactly a hot seller? Or would it be wiser to proceed with a small batch of 50 to 100 of highly bespoke limited-edition collector items priced north of $150,000 apiece? Watch this space for the final say, expected later this year.
Although I was born the only son of an ornithologist and a postal clerk, it was clear from the beginning that birdwatching and stamp collecting were not my thing. Had I known that God wanted me to grow to 6’8″, I also would have ruled out anything to do with cars, which are to blame for a couple of slipped discs, a torn ligament, and that stupid stooped posture behind the wheel. While working as a keeper in the Aberdeen Zoo, smuggling cheap cigarettes from Yugoslavia to Germany, and an embarrassing interlude with an amateur drama group also failed to yield fulfillment, driving and writing about cars became a much better option. And it still is now, many years later, as I approach my 70th birthday. I love every aspect of my job except long-haul travel on lousy airlines, and I hope it shows.