Wiesmann Roadster MF 3
Underneath this retro skin lies a BMW M3 engine and a simply brilliant chassis
This is the best car you've probably never heard of. It's the Wiesmann Roadster MF 3 and if you're considering a TVR Tuscan, Morgan Aero 8, Noble M12 or Corvette C6, or even a new 911 cabrio, Merc SL or Maserati Spyder, you ought to take a very close look. The retro-styled Wiesmann (pronounced Veece-man) is anything but old-fashioned under the skin, being powered by the BMW M3's fabulous 338bhp straight-six. It is also, quite simply, one of the most impressive sports cars we've driven in a long time. While it's new to us in the UK, Wiesmann has been building the Roadster at its factory in Dulmen, north-east Germany, since 1993. It's an indication of the quality of Wiesmann's work that it is the only car-maker in the world to which BMW supplies parts from its M models, including the SMG II paddle-shift gearbox if desired. You can also specify anti-lock brakes and stability control, which this demo car has, which means that what you're looking at is, effectively, an M3 turned into a full-on sports car. I'd seen photos of the Roadster in German magazines but this didn't prepare me for the visual impact of the car in the flesh. It's dramatically low and muscular with its pronounced haunches, and appears to be a homage to classic British sports cars; the front is XK120 blended with Jensen CV8 lights, while it's all very Healey-ish from the doors back. I was initially struck by how small it appeared to be, but this turned out to be a visual trick played partly by the corners of the body curving away out of sight and partly by the massive 20in diameter wheels. At the rear the BBS forged alloys are shod with the lowest profile tyres I've ever seen that weren't fitted to a concept car - 275/25s, which have barely enough sidewall for the words 'Conti SportContact 2'. As standard, the MF 3 Roadster comes with 17in wheels and 215/50 rubber. With the optional 20s, its arches are so full you can only just get a hand between tyre and bodywork. I know what you're thinking - that's the ride and handling shot to bits, then. Lift the bonnet and the M3 straight-six is neatly installed and nestling quite well back in the chassis, which is fashioned from steel tube with aluminium plates. The body is super-smooth glassfibre and the underside of the bonnet is as well finished as the top side. It's also noticeable that there is barely 100mm of spring at the top of each MacPherson strut. The cockpit of this car is finished in purple suede and leather, which looks much better than it sounds, and there's a high level of craftsmanship. All the dials are banked in the centre with chrome-finished BMW heating and ventilation controls below. This SMG-equipped model (you can also choose between a manual five- or six-speed transmission) has the M3's paddles behind the small steering wheel and a compact display beyond that contains all the warning lights and the gear indicator. The aluminium-framed hood fits well and is a doddle to raise and lower (it's certainly easier for taller drivers to get in over the high sill with it folded). Once installed, even the lankiest will find ample legroom and elbow space and although the low-slung seats look small, they prove very comfortable and supportive. The driving position is spot-on too, with wheel, seats and pedals perfectly aligned, while visibility is fine. Thumb the starter button and the engine growls into life and settles to a clean if somewhat ambiguous idle that doesn't sound distinctly straight-six. Select first, get rolling and the note quickly assumes the classy, hollow timbre we know well from the M3, but those early miles are memorable for an entirely different reason. I have no idea how Wiesmann has achieved it but, despite having 20in rims, tyres with hardly any sidewalls and what appears to be minimal suspension travel, the Roadster rides beautifully. Chassis dynamics are something of a black art but this is a kind of alchemy. It's not just acceptable for a sports car, it's GT supple, and even more remarkably those wide tyres don't tug the nose all over the road when the surface is ragged and cambered. I suspect that a few BMW engineers have helped refine the specification and set-up (a number of very senior BMW personnel own Wiesmanns). The whole car has a very professional feel and finish, from the solid integrity of the basic structure to the matching ball-bearing-style tips of the stalks, window winders and door catches. There are no rattles or squeaks, no fuel-pump hums, nothing chafes when you turn on full lock - in short, it feels like a high-quality production car. It's very fast, which is to be expected given that the M Power engine is now hauling just 1180kg, a whopping 390kg less than it does in the M3. It still has that characteristic, drawn-out delivery that gets ever stronger as the tacho needle closes on 8000rpm, and the sound is glorious. Wiesmann claims a zero to 100kmh (62mph) time of 4.9sec, which seems a tad conservative given the phenomenal dry-road traction those fat rear Contis find. The SMG 'box seems to work more smoothly, probably because there's less inertia in the car, though as in the M3, you can adjust the shift speed. In its most aggressive mode, accessed when DSC is switched out, the gears slam home but not with quite the wince-inducing thump that they do in the M3. The Roadster feels comfortable deploying all 338bhp. Even in the lower gears on damp roads it takes very sharp throttle inputs to break traction in a straight line (with DSC out, of course). The handling is nicely judged, too, with a poised, fluid feel that inspires confidence. Get on the throttle early in a damp second- or third-gear corner and there's ample opportunity to get the tail swinging out, and it slides and recovers with easy progression. Once you've got a feel for it, you can play with long slides even more easily than in the M3. Perhaps the steering could be a fraction faster and a tad more feelsome but it's fine in merely brisk driving, with good weighting and precision. I've never driven a low-volume sports car as polished and well- rounded in its abilities as the Wiesmann. It is a very accomplished, very rapid and desirable car that gives the wonderful M3 straight-six the home it deserves. Sure, its styling won't be to all tastes but it turns heads like a full-on supercar and, at a projected UK price of around £60K, it's very appealing, offering the best of both worlds: the exclusivity and individuality of a specialist, bespoke sports car with the integrity, quality and running gear of a full production car, and a BMW at that.
|Engine||Straight six, 3246cc|
|Max power||338bhp @ 7900rpm|
|Max torque||269lb ft @ 4900rpm|
|Top speed||158mph (claimed)|