Austrian Wine Country – Driving the BMW Z4 sDrive23i
While Austria is synonymous to many for music and culture, its wines don’t have the renown that those of other European countries have. Austria has, however, 51,213 hectares of vineyards, mostly in the eastern part of the country. I’m visiting the province of Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), which has over 31,000 hectares of vineyards, to be followed by a visit to Vienna (over 600 hectares but it’s the only capital city in the world to have its own wine region) and then I will visit the Burgenland, which has over 15,000 hectares.
The weather in early September is just about perfect, with daytime temperatures around 21° C, cooling down to a comfortable 14° C in the evening. In other words, it’s the perfect weather to be driving a roadster.
BMW introduced its first roadster, the 315/1, in 1934 at the Berlin Motor Show. The 315 featured a long engine compartment, a six-cylinder motor, two sports seats, and a speedometer that went up to 150 km/h. The result? Instant Freude am Fahren (Joy of Driving, BMW’s tagline).
After selling 230 roadsters, BMW introduced the more powerful 319/1 variant with similar styling, selling 178. The 328 Roadster followed in 1936, becoming one of the fastest cars on the road (with a top speed of 155 km/h). Only 464 units were built until the Second World War necessitated an end of production.
The company’s next roadster, unveiled in New York in 1955, set the standard for roadsters of its era and beyond. The timeless BMW 507, designed by Albrecht Graf von Götz, a German emigrant who settled in California in 1936, remains an icon of automotive design, later passing its mantle to the BMW Z1, the Z8, and finally the new Z4 Roadster.
The all-new Z4 is the first BMW roadster to sport a retractable hardtop roof (the 3er Series cabriolet has had one, however for several years now). Its silhouette closely resembles the iconic 507, it is almost the same size and weight as the more recent and highly sought-after Z8, and it is far more elegant and sporty in appearance than its immediate Z4 and Z3 predecessors.
Prior to this trip, I had already driven two of the three Z4 variants, the Z4 sDrive35i and the Z4 sDrive30i, so I was very excited when I found out I would be driving a Z4 sDrive23i this time (n.b. this entry-level Z4 is not available in the U.S.). It comes with a 201 hp 2.5-liter inline-six engine, which is more than enough power to get me from 0-100 km/h (0-62 mph) in about 6 seconds and I found myself easily hitting 140 km/h or higher without much effort.
With the top down, I didn’t even turn on the radio or my iPod – the mellifluous exhaust note was really I wanted to hear.
The car came in a beautiful tiefseeblau metallic (deep sea blue metallic) and it attracted a lot of attention whenever I parked. Inside, the standard seats (which I find more comfortable in the Z4 than the sports seats) provide excellent support in cornering and seem perfect for multi-hour drives on Autobahnen as well.
So far, I’ve driven the Z4 from Vienna to Langenlois in the Kamptal (Kamp Valley); today my driving was relatively local but even short drives become great fun when you get to push a button and the roof lowers into the trunk. Trunk space is not great (I packed lightly for the trip) but the interior, even with the top up, is not at all cramped, unlike roadsters from other manufacturers including Mercedes-Benz. Indeed, I continue to be amazed at how open and spacious the interior feels (a feeling that may be supported by the light interior colors that BMW favors for the Z4).
Niederösterreich is one of the most picturesque regions in the country and I will share more with you about the wine, architecture, and people as the trip progresses. The regional cuisine pairs nicely with the exquisite Grüner Veltliner, Riesling, and Zweigelt wines and there will be much to report in the coming days.
UPDATE: Next is The Drive to Vienna
–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.