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In yet another iteration of our popular Driver vs Rider series, we take two razor-sharp machines – the Benelli TNT 899 and BMW Z4 for a spin and see how they stack up against each other!
THE RIDER (Sundeep Gajjar/ MotoGrapher) – BENELLI TNT 899
The first Driver VS Rider was with a Mercedes CLS 63 AMG and a Ducati Diavel in 2011 for a good 8000 km in the US of A. Subsequently we have had cars like the SLS 63 AMG, Audi TT and the Mini Cooper to go along with equally great machines on two wheels.
This time we had the BMW Z4 and the Benelli TNT 899 pitted against each other. Both the machines are in a league of their own. While the Z4 has seen transformations into the current avatar today, the 899 is pretty much unchanged ever since it was launched in the early 2000s, especially the looks, but it still manages to stand out of the crowd today.
We have written much about the Benelli TNT 899 earlier as well, and it was the star bike for the India trip during the #thankYouRide. However, here is a recap from the review.
The 899 being Italian had to look radical. The first look will leave you intrigued. There is a lot going on to keep your eyes busy. From the unique side mounted radiators to the suave petal discs and the unique front static headlight arrangement that is complemented by the underseat exhaust flanked by interesting two piece taillights and a red swingarm and frame which stands out. The front 3/4th view looks the best and very meaty for the 899. The instrument console is pretty basic but again pretty functional too. The build quality and workmanship is excellent.
The 899 is an inline three setup. The sound of the engine is literally music to your ears, it is not as refined as an inline four, but it is not as raw as a V-twin either. It is loud enough to warrant some sort of modification while being homologated for sale in India. The throttle response is great and even though the bike sounds like a diesel engine while idling, add even a few more revs above idling and it metamorphoses into a 3 cylinder bike engine.
The bike feels solid once you sit on it. I was a little disconcerted when I realized that the front headlight is static, taking away a bit from the naked theme, but after a while I didn’t notice it. The gear shifts are precise and the first gives you a reassuring thud. Release the clutch and the 118 Bhp/ 88 Nm of torque do their bit to coax you into twisting that throttle until the bike gets into a frenzy, which it does at around 8000 rpm. Soon enough you want to be a hooligan. The upright stance coupled with slightly aggressive rear-set pegs encourages you to flick the bike in corners. In no time I was thrashing it like a superbike, the sound goading me on.
I took it off-road and over potholes too. The suspension, I felt, was a little too stiff but then I was riding it on not the best of roads a little too hard at that! Make no mistake, even though it is ‘just’ 118 odd bhp, it’s from a 900cc mill and it is Italian. The overall package is attractive, though I would have loved to have ABS and Traction Control to complete it. What is interesting though is that Kawasaki offers ABS as standard on the Z800 in India. But the 899 is a lot lighter than the Z800. What is more interesting is the Ducati Streetfighter is the only modern Ducati that doesn’t have ABS! Makes me wonder what might be the reason? However, I am used to riding a Yamaha FZ1000, which is 150Bhp without these aids; but all said and done they do make life easier and safer on the roads. The Brembo brakes have enough bite via 2 x 320 mm discs up front and one 240 mm disc at the rear, giving the motorcycle sufficient stopping power. The acceleration, handling and sweet braking giving the rider a feeling of being on the razor edge, let’s see how sharp did the driver feel in his BMW!
THE DRIVER (Sandeep Goswami/ Old Fox) – BMW Z4 sDrive35is
The rider and the driver. The contrary twins. Poles apart and yet in synergy. Bound within by the common religion of power, speed and control. But different enough to stand apart and yet stand tall. Pushing the limits of man and machine. Exploring the boundaries of the physics governing motion. On two wheels and four.
Who is the better of the two? Who skirts the chasms of risk and danger more often and with lesser margins? Who is the greater adventurer of the two? The rider seems like an obvious pick but is it really so? Four wheels might mean the cushion of twice the rubber and little apparent need for balance but are these really such huge advantages. Think of six times greater momentum, the inertia induced reluctance to change direction and speed and think of the space those four rubber feet need and the equation tends to balance between the two.
But then does it really matter? They are not modern day gladiators for us. There’s no combat at the edge involved. In fact, there’s serenity in performance too. Even though both the rider and the driver shall be using high-performance vehicles, they are not at loggerheads by pitting the machines and their skills against each other. They travel in synergy as partners revelling in the beauty of precision machinery in motion. They move in such mutual admiration.
The driver this once had what is arguably one of the best looking convertible roadsters around. The BMW Z4. Ah! What a machine. More so because we drove the top of the line Z4 sDrive35is with its lusty 306 bhp twin-turbo 3 litre In-line 6, peak torque 400 Nm (flat between 1300-5000 rpm) and the 7- speed dual clutch automatic gearbox. It is a lovely car, no doubt about that. The classic long bonnet with that visually compact two seat cabin and the short boot. Takes you back almost to the 30’s when drivers sat almost on the rear axle of their roadracers! Fit and finish is top notch and the car seems poised for high speed action even when parked by the road. The LED DRL’s make for a distinctive profile in the RVM’s of cars ahead. The Z4’s body is a study in aerodynamics as much as it is about aesthetic beauty. The lip spoiler in the boot lid, a similar looking protrusion up front again adds to downforce and blends perfectly with the design. This is one rare convertible which manages to look equally stunning, with or without the hard top in place.
The inside is spacious, luxurious and functional. The Z4 is probably the roomiest of all two seat roadsters, comparing it to its contemporaries like the Porsche Boxster, the Mercedes SLK and even the Audi TT Coupe. The long bonnet does not obstruct forward vision, allowing even its far side to be seen by the driver. The A-pillar too, the usual suspect in giving nightmarish blind spots to these low-slung sports car drivers is not obstructive and sightlines from the pilot seat are pretty clean. The seats in the version we drove had good side support and was 10-way adjustable to boot. I guess my 5 decade old body has lesser scope for adjustment. Features are a long list with auto stop/ start, adjustable throttle and steering response, adaptive xenon headlamps, cruise control, rain sensors, ABS, front and side airbags for both driver and passenger, Cornering Brake Control, Dynamic Stability Control and Dynamic Traction Control, roll-over protection, run flat tyres etc.
Getting in and out needs a bit of body contortion not unlike other cars in this category. The Z4 in fact is the easiest of the lot in that sense. Drive selector in P, foot brake pressed, USB key into the slot, thumb the starter button and the six pistons come to life under the long bonnet as does the 8.8 inch touch panel in the dash swinging out into its face out position. Blip that throttle and you just get a hint of what will happen when the drive selector is in Sport+ mode and the real deal is dealt. All right, let’s deal it and so we shift and press that throttle and wow! It doesn’t get more real than that. The raucous bunch of 300 odd ponies does pull strongly with no hesitation and the Z4 slingshots past a 100 kmph in well under 6 seconds. The Servotronic Electronic Power Steering is precise and sharp enough and the suspension talks to you incessantly. Of course we would have loved that dialogue to be softer as our native roads are not really a great place to have hard suspension set ups. The Z4 is stiff but then if that’s what’s needed to enable it to be swung through the curves, the tail sliding around mischievously; we are game for the trade-off discomfort of that stiffness. The driver chased the rider as he banked knee down into a curve on his Benelli TNT 899. The car was sniffing the bike, magnanimity won the day and the driver hung back.
The Z4 redlines at some 7000 rpm but there’s the music of enrapture to be heard from 5000 rpm onwards, best with the top down of course. Hard top up to down is less than half a minute, the mechanical origami a treat to watch as the top folds into the boot. Of course boot space is compromised when the top is down but not as much as it is in the SLK. Wind noise is minimal with the top up (Drag Coefficient CD a commendable and slippery 0.35!) and surprisingly well controlled even when it is down. The audio system sounds great though methinks the music from the engine is a whole lot better than any MP3 player.
The sDrive35i has shift paddles on the steering wheel and the car is more than fun to drive in the manual mode. You pull in each gear right up to the red line before up shifting, the punch is addictive and for me as a stick shifter for the majority of my life, this is when I feel I am the complete driver of the car. No smarty pants electronics deciding for me when the revs have been enough. And they are never really enough. You do have the option of 3 driving modes – Comfort, Sport and Sport+ and we did toggle through the three, the first two very briefly more as a needed ritual and showed undying loyalty to the third. Don’t blame us. 300 plus bhp, 18 inch low profile RFT’s, taut handling, sharp steering and race-car quick paddle shift all put together are much too persuasive, well capable of invoking the devil in the saintliest amongst us.
As for the accountant lurking within, the car retails at some 70,00,000 INR, returns about 12 kmpl on the highway and some 8 kmpl in city, has long service intervals and retains good value over the years like any nice BMW. The fuel tank brims up at 55 litres of 95 octane and should be good for at least 400 km within the city and around 600 km on the high road.
Of course as a motorcyclist I wouldn’t give up an exciting pair of two wheels for any 4 wheeler – unless it happens to be what I have gone gaga over the past thousand words or so. The BMW Z4 makes for a worthy barter between a bike and a cage. No, I even feel bad calling it a cage you know, so good is this performance sportster on 4 wheels. The rider may have left me in his dust because we hit some traffic. But give me the Z4 on an open road and the ‘pedal to metal’ shall write a very different story from the twisty right wrist!