BMW’s front-engined, rear-drive sports car is an old-school delight, but it’s a less engaging driver’s car than a Boxster
The BMW Z4 has been a great success for the company over three generations, and while the previous model felt a bit more like a boulevard cruiser with its folding hard-top, the latest version has reverted to a traditional canvas soft-top. It’s a format that suits the Z4 which is quite old-school in its execution, featuring a big engine up front under that long bonnet, rear-wheel drive and a two-seat only cockpit. It works here as well as it ever has, with plenty of power and impressive road manners to back up its sporty style.
That said it’s still quite a heavy machine, and it’s not as light on its feet as a Porsche 718 Boxster or Alpine A110. It’s still fun to drive though, but some will miss the option of a manual gearbox and better steering feel. Build quality and specification are hard to fault though, and as sports cars go it’s relatively practical too.
The BMW Z4 is a two-seater convertible sports car with a traditional fabric folding roof, a range of powerful engines up front, and a reasonably sized boot at the rear. There’s no coupe version, although you can buy a removable hard-top at extra cost if you’ve got somewhere to store it and can be bothered to lift it on and off as needed.
There are three trim levels, namely Z4 Sport, Z4 M Sport and Z4 M40i. The first two are available with a choice of turbocharged four-cylinder engines as the Z4 sDrive20i and Z4 sDrive30i, making 194bhp and 254bhp respectively. The Z4 M40i is the sportiest version, and has a 3.0-litre 335bhp six-cylinder engine that’s good for a 0-62mph time of just over 4.5 seconds. All three engines are only available with an 8-speed ZF automatic gearbox, and all powertrains are rear-wheel-drive only.
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All Z4 variants are well equipped, as befits their prestigious image. Z4 Sport models get 18-inch alloys, an impressive Live Cockpit Professional infotainment system with smartphone connectivity (but no Android Auto), heated seats, twin zone air-con, cruise control and LED headlights. Next up is the Z4 M Sport which gets different 18-inch alloys, Shadowline exterior trim and M Sport bodystyling, plus M Sport suspension settings and an M Sport-branded steering wheel.
The range-topping M40i is a bit more exotic with 19-inch alloys, adaptive suspension, plus M Sport differential, bodystyling and interior upgrades including electric seat adjustment.
The Z4 takes on quite a few interesting rivals, although not all of them are roadsters. At the more driver-focused end there’s the Porsche 718 Boxster S/Cayman S and Alpine A110, while it’s most obvious direct competitors are the Audi TT Roadster and Mercedes SLC (formerly SLK). The latter is getting rather old, and so is another potential contender in the shape of the Nissan 370Z. Finally, there’s the forthcoming Toyota Supra, which actually shares its running gear with the Z4, but will only be sold as a coupe.
There have been ‘Z Car’ roadsters in the BMW line-up since the late 1980s when the Z1 arrived with its strangely configured retracting doors. That was followed by the Z3 from 1995 to 2002, while the first model badged Z4 arrived in 2002.
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