Unlike most car manufacturers who make a coupe first, then cut the roof off to make a convertible, BMW first created a Z3 Roadster off the 3 Series platform, then a Z4, before the coupe was even thought of.

In the middle of 2004 a prototype Z4 Coupe was shown to the BMW board. They dismissed the idea of an attachable hard top and went with the coupe.

Explore the 2006 BMW Z4 Range

In December 2004 the management board confirmed production and just a short 17 months later at the end of May 2006 it was released to the world.

Here endeth the history lesson.

Now, the Z4 Coupe and Z4 M Coupe have arrived in Australia to challenge the Mercedes-Benz SLK and Porsche Cayman and already they have scored a win with a price advantage.

The 195kW three-litre Z4 Coupe will cost $87,900 in six-speed manual and $90,500 in six-speed Steptronic auto.

They compare favourably with the SLK 350 at $114,400 and the Cayman at $118,000.

The 252kW 3.2litre Z4 M Coupe comes in six-speed manual only at $127,200, which compares with the SLK 55 at $163,400 and Cayman S $148,500.

The price differential from BMW Roadster to Coupe is $3300. BMW also claims its Z4 Coupes are faster, lighter and more fuel efficient.

They will arrive with similar features to the Roadster models such as cornering brake control, dynamic traction control and dual front and side airbags.

The M model adds Bluetooth mobile phone capability, sat nav, TV and an audio system approved by Lucas Films, the makers of the Star Wars movies.

BMW uses Carver speakers which allow high sound pressures from small speaker sizes.

They use 10 speakers including two subwoofers and achieve a total output of 430 watts.

BMW claims potential buyers are mainly males aged 35 to 45 years with an appreciation of high-end audio systems.

But the Z4s are not just about noise; they are also about performance, boasting a stiffer chassis, stiffer suspension and a 0-100km/h sprint time of five seconds.

The Z4 Coupes feature the latest generation dynamic stability control (DSC) with extra functions such as brake drying, emergency braking and hill start assistant. The driver can completely shut down these systems if required.

They also feature substantial aluminium chassis and body parts and a 50-50 weight balance.

The Z4 M is distinguished by quad chrome pipes, M alloy 18-inch wheels and tyres, performance brakes, M rear apron with diffuser and a slight styling departure up front.

It is also stiffer in the front and rear axles which allows even stiffer suspension.

BMW claims it launched the Z4 M Coupe around the famous German Nurburgring circuit in 8 minutes, 15 seconds, which was faster than the M3.

It will accelerate from 0-100km/h in five seconds and with big ventilated discs front and rear, will stop again in 2.5 seconds and 34m.

Standard features over the 3.0si are: rack and pin hydraulic steering, rear parking control, variable M differential lock, M sport suspension, bi-xenon headlights with washers, metallic paint, alarm with remote, 10-speakers with Carver tech, sat nav and TV, Bluetooth mobile business preparation, voice recognition, M leather wheel and M leather seats with electronic memory adjustment.

The engine, which is straight out of the M3, has won the international engine of year award for six consecutive years.

BMW Group Australia product and market planning manager David Lederer said the jury was convinced by its "fantastic response due to the high-speed concept and six port throttles as well as moderate (fuel) consumption".

"Other engines may have more kilowatts or torque, but it's the balance between all properties which wins awards."

He said the Z4 3.0si had "the same chromosomes" as the M, but the engine is only two years old and comes from the 5 Series.

It includes magnesium for the crank case, bedplate and valve cover and an electric water pump that only runs when required for better economy.

Its standard features include: leather Oregon heated seats with electronic adjustment and memory (driver's), anti-dazzle interior and exterior mirrors, wood trim, cruise control, six-CD sound system, 10 speakers, multi-function steering wheel, Bluetooth preparation and auto climate control with micro filter.

BMW Group Australia corporate communications manager Toni Andreevski said there were 200 units available this year, including 55 Z4 M Coupes.

"In 2007, we expect to have factory allocation for approximately 200 unit deliveries, with a similar split," he said.

On the road

BMW does not build cars to just perform in a straight line, says product and market planning manager David Lederer.

"No, we want them to shine in the bends as well, especially the tight ones."

And so the Coupe version of the Z4 was launched here last week in Tasmania, home of the long and winding road.

The world launch was held earlier this year in Portugal on shoddy, potholed roads, followed by laps on the tricky, but smooth Estoril circuit.

Courier-Mail motoring writer Gordon Lomas attended and complained that only the M was available to drive and that its suspension, while a gem on the track, was way too stiff for public roads.

However, he would have found that the 3.0si actually has a more jarring ride than the M even though it has more compliant suspension.

On the Tasmanian launch, the 3.0si banged and bumped over the sharp hits, probably because it is fitted with low 35 per cent profile run-flat tyres which are notoriously stiff while the M gets 40 per cent standard tyres with softer sidewalls.

The Z4 M Coupe actually rides quite well, even on the choppier sections, taking corrugations and potholes in its stride, momentarily shaking its head and continuing in its line.

The M features hydraulic rack and pinion steering which is light and pin sharp.

Every movement is relayed to road position and the driver is able to place the machine exactly where they want and adjust that position at will, even mid corner, without drama, almost without understeer.

It's like a go-kart or an F1 machine.

The 3.0si uses electric-powered steering which is heavier, more centrally weighted and more prone to "self-steering" over bumps.

With a slightly more compliant suspension, it reacts with more character and bias in corners, but still almost no understeer.

It's more like a V8 Supercar.

While the M has greater power punch out of corners and lights up with a ferocious, crackling rasp, the 3.0si is no slouch either.

Both feature a "sport" button next to the gear shift which adjusts the throttle response via the engine management computer mapping.

The result is instant punchy response.

Although not over-endowed with torque, keep them revving between 5000 and 7000rpm and they will both supply ample ability send you straight to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

On the stop side, the big powerful ventilated discs in the M have instantaneous effect, sliding my backside forward on the leather seat and under the seatbelt.

The 3.0si has a softer pedal with a little more feel, but less brutal stopping power.

On the practical side, they feature a large tailgate which opens high and straight up so you don't have to step back.

Contents are protected from sight by a roller blind which is attached to the tailgate so it opens and closes with it.

You can fit a large suitcase and smaller bags in the 340litre boot of the 3.0si, but 20L less in the M because of a carpeted hump which houses the battery, air compressor unit and tyre sealant goo that replaces the need for a spare tyre.

Inside, the cabins are all tough, black vinyl and rally style brushed aluminium. Very macho.

And the on-board computer, sat nav and sound system controls are dead easy to use; there is no frustratingly difficult-to-use BMW iDrive system here.

The cockpit is all action with a narrow well for you to brace your knees against, but plenty of room for fancy heel-toe footwork on the pedals and space for a foot rest.

While the steering wheel is adjustable for each and height, the M steering wheel is a little thick. I found it tiring to grip over the thousands of switchbacks encountered on the 600km launch through western Tasmania.

If I was in the market for an M3 and didn't really need the two extra seats in the back, I'd buy the Z4 M Coupe which is about $20,000 cheaper.

It's also faster, livelier and sexier.

But for me the 3.0si is less daunting and more fun to drive.

While the M features precision steering and F1 handling, it makes you drive faster than you should, then shows up your errors to make you look like a sloppy driver.

However, the DSC intervenes to save you from the laws of too much physics, while allowing a certain amount of "play" and slide. I'm sure F1 drivers would love it.

The 3.0si bends slightly, pitches and rolls a little and provides bodyweight feedback through the seat of your pants and the tips of your fingers.

It is a more engaging, if ever-so-slightly slower, drive and it is easier to look smooth and in control, even if you aren't an F1 driver.

Hi-fi

"YOU look so fine that I really wanna make you mine," Jet screams to me in perfect clarity as drums, bass and guitars pound out a powerful backbeat and I punt the BMW Z4 M Coupe through the implausibly twisty roads around Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.

Next track I have Angry Anderson telling me what a bad boy he is and my right foot nearly goes through the floor.

Such clarity, such fidelity, such raw and gutsy noise. BMW's Z4 M Coupe and Roadster are the first European vehicles with audio systems to receive THX certification.

That accreditation is only given to audio output and speakers that are endorsed by Lucas Films, the makers of the Star Wars movies.

They use Carver technology which allows for high sound pressure to be produced by a small speaker.

This is important because the Z4 M Roadster and Coupe have limited space available for large bass speakers to drive that thumping bass line and gut-punching kick drum.

Most car subwoofers are 12-inch drivers that take up a lot of boot space. However, the subwoofers in the Z4 M require only 10 litres each and generate sound pressure of more than 120dB.

The system uses a 10-channel digital audio amplifier and sound processor, giving the two front-mounted sub-woofers an output of 100 watts.

There are also eight midrange loudspeakers and tweeters fitted in the doors and behind the seat, each driven by a 25 watts terminal.

BMW claims the hi-fi system develops a total power output of 430 watts.

BMW Group Australia product and market planning manager David Lederer says the typical Z4 M buyer is predominantly male age 35-45.

"Besides the necessary excitement, he has the financial means for lots of highly-emotional products," he says.

"He would likely be familiar with iPod and other such technology, high-end audio systems and a purist avant garde living ambience, not just experienced through brochures." (An iPod cable connector system that powers the unit as well will be available shortly.)

All I can tell you is 430 watts of Jet and Rose Tattoo in a tiny Z4 cabin is pure audio Nirvana.