Think BMW has given up on sports cars?
Think again. Development is intensifying on a two-seat roadster to replace the Z4, and a flagship coupe reviving the 8-series badge won’t be far behind. Finally, and ultimately, a mid-engined supercar is proposed for 2019. That’s one hell of a triple whammy.
Today’s Z4 roadster quietly passed into the automotive afterlife this summer, when production ceased at the Regensberg factory in Bavaria. Its replacement will hit the market in 2018.
Its origin has long been public: the sports car is being developed in a joint venture with Toyota, although the Japanese have let the Germans run the project. Toyota’s prize will be the rebirth of an all-new Supra coupe, while BMW gets a box-fresh two-seat roadster codenamed G29.
Today’s snug cabin will make way for a more spacious cockpit, thanks to optimal packaging rather than a massive growth spurt, which would imperil the engineers’ obsession with paring back weight. The headline news is that the current folding hardtop makes way for a classic canvas roof, which will lower the centre of gravity and do less damage to boot space when retracted.
Engines are mounted north-south in that long nose, sending power to the rear wheels. The top-of-the-line Z4M will run a 3.0-litre straight-six, with turbocharging cranking up peak power to 444bhp – the same as in an M4 Competition Pack. That will be good for a 0-62mph sprint in well under 5.0sec. BMW will broaden the range, and reduce its CO2 footprint, with four-cylinder petrol engines too – no word whether diesel power will make its Z4 debut. Hybrid assistance definitely will not.
Although engineers have been spotted testing a fixed-head version of the BMW, the Toyota agreement currently reserves the coupe bodystyle for the Supra. Unlike the GT86/Subaru BRZ twins, the BMW and Toyota will run different engines: the Supra gets a twin-turbo V6 sourced from Japan. Both Z4 and Supra will be assembled on the same line, in a BMW plant. It’s an economic necessity, just like the JV itself, given the dwindling number of sports car sales globally.
8-series. The next big BMW thing
Hot on the wheels of the Z4 is the 8-series. If you’re wondering where is the gran turismo sister car to next year’s new 5-series, this is it. Having turned 8-series into 6-series for the 2003 and 2011 generations, the 6-series will now revert to 8-series for the 2018/19 edition. Got that?
That means the 8-series will head upmarket, towards the Mercedes-Benz S500 coupe which costs from just under £100k. Two bodystyles are confirmed, two-door coupe and cabriolet.
The approach mirrors that of the 7-series compared with an S-class limousine: create a lighter and much sportier car. Also set to apply is a description you couldn’t level at the last two 6-series: a proper four-seat cabin.
The 8-series will be one of the last BMW models to use the current CLAR architecture. That’s the components set which underpins the latest 5- and 7-series among others, employing a multi-material construction to keep down weight. Up to 200kg could go, which would be a massive improvement on today’s big unit which exceeds two tonnes with larger capacity engines. Air suspension is a given, rear-wheel steering – to sharpen turn-in – is in the plan too.
The core engine will be the 4.0-litre V8, topping 500bhp in base turbocharged guise, and reaching 650bhp for the M model. The entry-level model is the 444bhp six again, plug-in hybrid electric assistance may be coupled with a four or a six, and there’s room in the engine bay for the V12, if deemed necessary.
The bad news is that BMW’s supervisory board chairman Norbert Reithofer, the mastermind behind Project i when he was running the management board, conceived the 6-series replacement as a lightweight, compact, true 911 fighter. It’s a shame that car has ultimately morphed into an S-class coupe rival – but news of the third salvo in BMW’s sports car assault could provide ample consolation.
The supercar. On its way in 2019?
BMW and McLaren have been in on-off discussions about a joint supercar project for the best part of two years. BMW’s ideal is to piggyback the carbonfibre monocoque for the 650S replacement. The trouble is that McLaren is charging ahead with its new supercar, and BMW is in danger of being left behind. The Brits have already locked in a hybrid drivetrain mixing turbocharged V6 petrol power with an electric boost; a classic BMW straight-six is now a non-starter.
And the less BMW DNA is visible in the proposed supercar, the more nervous Munich executives become: that’s why they insisted on an active role in the JV with Toyota. There is a fallback position: BMW could couple the mid-engined supercar with the i8 replacement – but that car might not see the light of day until 2022.
BMW would be seeking at least 650bhp for its supercar, and the capability for the chassis to handle all-electric power too. That’s because the next-generation i8 will not be a hybrid but a pure electric performance car, with higher output batteries giving a usable 300-mile range. Propulsion comes from three high-revving (up to 25,000rpm) e-motors developed in-house which produce a combined 700bhp. The triplets dish up more instant torque than any set of tyres can handle, so it’ll have to be precisely metered. Also part of the package: four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering and torque vectoring, as well as a robotised suspension that can lookahead, sources say.
But what happens next? Some in BMW are having an existential crisis, wondering what electrification and autonomy mean for the ultimate driving machine. The progressive faction believes the 7-series and 8-series will not be radical enough come the next decade, and argue the top end of the portfolio needs to be reinvented, that Modern Premium must be revolutionary in more ways than one, that BEVs will be the next big thing, and sooner than we think.
While design has recently internally shown its first vision of the next 7-series due in 2022, the avant-garde wing demands a more courageous flagship based on a bespoke zero-emission architecture, which will eventually take over from the conservative combustion engine-based concept. Sounds plausible – but the financial controllers were stung by the multi-billion Project i investment and are now reluctant to take risks. Whoever wins this ideological battle will steer the future of BMW – and its product portfolio, including the shape of the next-generation supercar and many more besides.