Author Topic: The 1,550 mile road trip - bringing a Z4 home from Tuscany  (Read 1855 times)

Offline Alex

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The 1,550 mile road trip - bringing a Z4 home from Tuscany
« on: August 18, 2013, 06:41:46 pm »
This is a few months old now, I thought I'd shared it on here but for some reason I hadn't. On May bank holiday weekend I was given the chance to bring a new Z4 home from the press launch in Tuscany. It was awesome, so permit me to bore you with the details (and a load of photos) :D



Day One: Siena to Nice

Route: Click





Midday, Tuscany. The sun was out, and I was conforming to the full British tourist stereotype. Roof down, no time for suncream because I'd rushed out and I could feel my forehead sizzling.



The planned 1,200 mile drive home hadn't started well. I'd got a morning's road testing out of the way behind the wheel of the new 3 Series GT - a long wheelbase fastback version of the segment benchmark saloon - and missed breakfast as a result. Then an iDrive freakout had put my departure back another 45 minutes while the technicians checked oil levels.



So I'd hit Siena's traffic during the hottest time of the day, the road to Martyn's (a mate whose wife had abandoned him for the same hen weekend in Barcelona that mine was going to) hotel was reserved for taxis and buses and despite assurances from his network, his mobile phone wasn't working abroad.



That said, things were looking good on the whole. We'd been allocated the second most powerful Z4 BMW makes - the 306bhp sDrive35i - and a cash allowance to find the most interesting route home over the bank holiday weekend. The car had two jobs - covering a mix of motorways and mountain passes without coming apart at the seams.



Martyn and I eventually crossed paths at Siena train station, setting off to find the nearest petrol forecourt to plan the route home. Tuscany is stunning but it's not great for major roads, the dual carriageways snaking through the treetops with six-foot barriers between the opposing traffic. Not much to see and a 90km/h speed limit to hold you back. So we took a detour, heading into the hills around where I'd stayed the night before.







We split the first part of the driving between us, cutting across to Volterra then down through Riparbella to the coast. Some incredible roads at the start, open and well-sighted, ducking into rougher surfaces the closer we got to the ocean - a cracked, rutted and heavily cambered patchwork of occasionally slippery tarmac which gave the front wheels plenty to grab at and the rear wheels constantly variable amounts of grip.







But it meant even as we reached Pisa late that afternoon we were both starting to bond with the Z4. There'd been no real opportunity to stretch the engine's capabilities, but it was taking all except the sharpest switchbacks in its stride. The original Z4 was one of BMW's earliest cars with electronic power steering, and it's still not the most mechanical I've tried but it's a vast improvement over Caroline's 2003 model.







Car and drivers had a refuel near the leaning tower, both with an added dollop of tourist tax, and with an evening stopover planned for Nice we decided to get a few more miles under our belts than outlined in our earliest plans. This meant hitting the A12 Autostrada out of Pisa, but it turned out not to be a huge sacrifice. The road charges through tunnels cut through the mountains along the coast, emerging into viaducts across vast valleys with views out to sea on the left hand side. 







Not only was this stunning, and an immaculately maintained piece of engineering, but it meant we had a chance to enjoy the straight six soundtrack enclosed in long tunnels. It's not an invasive noise at low loads, but the growl wakes up to a high pitched wail ricocheting off the walls at above 5,000rpm which makes the already well endowed Z4 sound like a full fat supercar. 







Somewhere there's a German technician who has spent years getting that sound right, but it's an addictive soundtrack which should help lubricate a few more sales of the last remaining six-pot Z4.







Monaco was too good to miss, so as the sun set over the French riviera we dipped off the main roads down into Monte Carlo between the part-erected tiers of F1 seating and followed this into Nice, where the iDrive had found us a Mercure hotel with parking right in the middle of town. Just in time for us to dump the car and find somewhere with seafood and beer to discuss plans for day two.





Day two: Nice to Nurburg

Route: Click

Filled with adrenaline, we'd set our sights on a late arrival at the Nurburgring on day two, which meant a bleary-eyed 7.30am start to top up with fuel and food in time for a blast up Route Napoleon in the morning.







Style icon.







Rising into the mountains just west of Nice, it weaves a well-sighted and glass-smooth track with plenty of overtaking opportunities up into the Alps. Even the rare moments where you get stuck behind reluctant locals and dithering tourists aren't too much of a pain, affording a few minutes to soak up some stunning views over small villages and back out to sea. 



We reached Digne around lunchtime, by which time the traffic was building up and roadworks were becoming more frequent. So we deviated westwards and headed out towards the Alps through a wide valley north towards Grenoble, with a noticeable drop in temperature and change in scenery as we joined the A41 peage towards Geneva.





















BMW hadn't set a route, so the car came without a Swiss motorway vignette. We stopped at the border and made the decision that if we were to arrive in Nurburg before midnight we needed to push on a bit to make up for taking the scenic route in the morning. So we didn't set foot on Swiss soil, rounding Lake Geneva on the motorway and crossing the border into Germany near Basel. 






We'd looked into mountain passes and decided against them based on snowfall visible on the Stelvio Pass webcam, so Switzerland was a missed opportunity. One for next time. Our brief stint on Swiss motorways was as visually pleasing for the high supercar content as it was for the surrounding mountains, but held back by frequent speed cameras and motorway traffic. I spent most of the time reining the engine in, trying hard to stop the car creeping above the speed limit.



Martyn politely declined the service station currywurst at the German border, a schoolboy error in my book when the alternative is Burger King, but with a full tank and full stomachs we were tooled up ready to book a room in Nurburg on iDrive and hit the Autobahns. At speed.







But we were held back again. Frequent roadworks and a sizeable rain shower kept speeds down until eventually we got a chance to open the taps completely, more than doubling the UK speed limit with the roof up. A little wind noise, and fuel gauge movement we could watch, but otherwise very settled and natural at high speed. It's pretty incredible how quickly you come up on traffic at that speed though.







The predictable result was yet another fuel stop near Koblenz, eventually arriving at Am Tiergarten in time to grab a couple of beers before the Pistenklause closed.





Day 3: Nurburg to Bristol

Route: Click







We'd gone to Nurburg on a whim, so arrived not really knowing whether the track was open for tourist laps and with no plans to take our £53,000 Z4 on track based on its slightly ambiguous insurance documents. But early morning traffic going past the hotel implied we were at least able to get some viewing in, so we grabbed breakfast and had a wander around the car park before going spectating at Brunchen.







Martyn hadn't been to the Ring before, and as a car nut was finding the atmosphere getting to him. He grabbed a hot lap in an Aston Martin, delayed by a 90-minute closure, and with a deadline of 11.45pm to pick up our wives from Bristol Airport we wolfed down some German food at the petrol station by the Audi gantry, took a few pics under the sign and headed for home through the old roads.











The suspension testing road is being resurfaced, but we pressed on regardless finding a new characteristic we'd not seen before. It's an extreme example, but over the ruined remains of whatever road surface was there before the Z4 began wobbling around uncontrollably. No rattles, though, and the ride itself wasn't too bad for a small car on large wheels.







Then the bad bit. A few hours trundling through Belgium and its many roadworks, dropping down towards the EuroTunnel terminal in Coquelles. A low ending to an otherwise great drive, but an easy choice considering the deadline. Given half a day more we might've dipped into Luxembourg, but time was against us, so we stuck with the potholed mess that is Belgium's shagnasty motorway network.



At the EuroTunnel we met someone on a tighter deadline. BMW had booked us a FlexiPlus crossing, valid seven days before of after the original crossing time, and including a picnic bag. At the portacabin, we spotted another Z4. Another one from the same event, but two cylinders and 152bhp down on our car.






They'd woken up in Nice that morning having spent slightly too long in northern Italy on the Friday and Saturday, and were headed for Edinburgh that evening. It kind of trumped our long distance efforts, but I think our route won. And we didn't have work the following day.







The first train didn't materialise, putting us back by half an hour. So we boarded first and began plotting swap-over points on the way to Bristol so we'd get to the airport on time. Then we realised we'd gain an hour as we crossed, the iDrive predicting a 9.30pm arrival time and a final opportunity for Martyn to drive it before I took the car away. We left the car outside his house at 10.30pm, still tinking, and went for a celebratory beer (Coke for Martyn) before heading for the airport with time to spare.







Conclusions:

We covered around 1,550 miles in three days in the Z4, and found it did nothing badly. It's a great shape, quiet and comfortable when you want it to be, but as exhilarating as you'd want it to be when the opportunity to drive it hard presents itself. The steering could do with a more natural feel, and the six-cylinder engine does make this a little nose heavy but in its class I reckon it's only the Boxster which trumps this as a driver's car.



But here's the thing. Ours cost £53,000 with extras, and that's a LOT of money for a Z4. People may moan about the idea of a four-cylinder BMW sports car, but I got a quick chance to try the sDrive18i (a new entry-level engine) in Tuscany and on all except the high speed bits of our journey I doubt it would've been half the car even though it costs half the money. It's also less prone to pushing the nose wide, keener to turn in and that German engineer has given it a charismatic soundtrack too. Lots of turbo noise, it's rather good.

Offline z3i

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Re: The 1,550 mile road trip - bringing a Z4 home from Tuscany
« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2013, 07:07:25 pm »
By new z4 i didnt think you meant an all inclusive trip paid by Bmw in the hardcore 300hp one!!
dayum man, so lucky! looks awesome! the I drive did a pretty good job of navigating then :)
shame about not visiting Switzerland man :( was our fav country, was like a completely different planet there!
next time its gotta be done in your G :D haha

thanks for posting, good words mate :)

Offline Alex

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Re: The 1,550 mile road trip - bringing a Z4 home from Tuscany
« Reply #2 on: August 18, 2013, 08:37:31 pm »
Switzerland I've done - but not properly. The weather was a bit sketchy and the Z4 was on summer tyres, we didn't fancy chancing it. Otherwise we'd probably have gone due north up through northern Italy, into Austria, Switzerland, Germany then back home.

The G40 has been to Nurburg and back, but no further:


I did Frankfurt and back in a Mondeo two years ago which was alright - but a bit of a motorway trip.

Headed out to Berlin to see my brother in this, via Wolfsburg, last year:


A champagne run in this in February:


Mont Blanc and Geneva and back in this in March:


And Hamburg to Cardiff in a day in this in May:


One sitting: :D


I want to drive down to Spain and Portugal, and up to Scandinavia, at some point. It's amazing how much stuff we have on our doorstep here. And yes, I want to go out there in the G40 again, it could do with a decent run!

Semi-interesting, mostly boring, factoid - if you look at my latest PVW write-up there's a EuroTunnel FlexiPlus bag in the background of the photo of the steering wheel which is from the Z4 trip.

Offline z3i

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Re: The 1,550 mile road trip - bringing a Z4 home from Tuscany
« Reply #3 on: August 18, 2013, 09:41:45 pm »
Haha im gonna look now :P lol

ahh you wuss :P i had road legal track summer tyres on the front of the polo through the ice and snow 2500 feet up on a blind hairpin with no barrier, thinking back...

yeah it really is amazing whats on our doorstep! and it definitely sounds like you've made the most of it :) some rather nice cars youve had the pleasure of driving, perks of the job? :)

we are planning a mini trip to wales were EVO car mag test their cars. would you be interested in coming along? will only be for a long weekend

thanks for posting those photos :) you dug anymore out? love the one of the g40

Offline z3i

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Re: The 1,550 mile road trip - bringing a Z4 home from Tuscany
« Reply #4 on: August 18, 2013, 09:43:07 pm »
yeah we would like to go down to spain and portugal too :)

Offline Alex

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Re: The 1,550 mile road trip - bringing a Z4 home from Tuscany
« Reply #5 on: August 18, 2013, 10:07:50 pm »
ahh you wuss :P i had road legal track summer tyres on the front of the polo through the ice and snow 2500 feet up on a blind hairpin with no barrier, thinking back...
Mentalist! Haha! Most of the decent mountain passes through northern Italy and the Swiss/Austrian borders were closed tbh, so we would've got there and been turned back. Figured it was better to stick with roads we knew were open and go from there.

Reading back through this makes me want to go again. BMW did one for the 4 Series in Scotland recently, I didn't go on that one though, and part of the fun is going through numerous changes in scenery. It's amazing when you cover that much ground how many different types of roads, languages and architecture you see.

yeah it really is amazing whats on our doorstep! and it definitely sounds like you've made the most of it :) some rather nice cars youve had the pleasure of driving, perks of the job? :)
Massive perk of the job. I'm very lucky! Not always all exes paid though - the XF trip was a holiday, Nurburgring was too. That XF trip was brilliant though, we went steaming across Germany at 125mph (it had more to give - but it felt comfortable and relaxed doing 2,500rpm in eighth gear) and it's incredible how quickly you get from place to place like that.

Here's the Jaaaag with the Wolfsburg towers in the background:


And one in the Eifel region, near Bitburg:


we are planning a mini trip to wales were EVO car mag test their cars. would you be interested in coming along? will only be for a long weekend
Maybe, depends when - Evo triangle I assume? Incredible road. Not done it in the G40 but the Peugeot 208 GTI was launched up there, and it was part of the Range Rover Evoque test route (and more fun than you'd expect in a car like that).

I've got Brecon on my doorstep down here, which is pretty awesome. Martyn, my co-driver for the Z4 trip, and I did a good long trip across South Wales three years ago before he sold his old Integra on. Pics are here if you're interested:
http://www.polog40.co.uk/forum/index.php?topic=5132.0

thanks for posting those photos :) you dug anymore out? love the one of the g40
TBH most of the Z4 trip pics are in the original post, but...

That's the Tuscan airport we flew into. Yes, that's the whole thing!


Tuscany at dawn, you can see the cars queued up in the foreground. Incredible scenery.


The new four-cylinder entry level Z4, shot near Siena before we set off in the 35i, it's quite good fun.


Saw this at the 'Ring on the way back.


And one from the CLA drive-back - twin Mercs at the EuroTunnel, spoiled by a Passat:

Offline z3i

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Re: The 1,550 mile road trip - bringing a Z4 home from Tuscany
« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2013, 08:13:44 pm »
Pretty sure thats the same car park we parked at in Monaco. such a crazy place! if it was the the same car park its like 10 stories up as you walk outside and you can look down to a maze of roads on different levels! soo wierd! and there was massive escalators and lifts oustisde! was like some crazy futuristic city lol

we arnt too sure when we are going yet. all trying to get our cars ready which is costing alot