BMW Z4 review
The BMW Z4 blends an upmarket image with wind-in-the-hair roadster thrills
The BMW Z4 is a two-seater roadster that designed to rival sporty models such as the Audi TT and Mercedes SLK. Now in its second generation, the current Z4 was launched in 2009 and received a subtle facelift in 2013.
Unlike its predecessor, the latest Z4 benefits from a complex folding metal roof that helps make the BMW more refined and secure than fabric-roofed rivals – although the electrically powered mechanism adds weight and reduces luggage space.
All versions of the Z4 feature a traditional front-engined and rear-wheel drive layout, plus a choice of turbocharged four and six-cylinder petrol engines. The entry-level 2.0-litre unit powers the 154bhp 18i, 181bhp 20i and 241bhp 28i, while the 3.0-litre straight six is reserved for the 302bhp 35i and 335i.
Despite its sporty looks and powerful engines, the Z4 is more of a comfortable cruiser than a scalpel sharp sportscar. The rear-wheel drive layout delivers balanced and engaging handling, but a soft suspension set-up means it never feels as responsive as a Porsche Boxster or Audi TT. M Sport models feature a stiffer suspension set-up, but the trade-off is an extremely firm ride.
As you you’d expect from a BMW, the Z4 features an extremely upmarket interior. Top quality materials and a solid finish help give the snug two-seater cabin real premium appeal – although some of the dated graphics for the various LCD screens betray the car’s advancing years. Still, there’s plenty of standard kit, with all versions getting alloy wheels, climate control, a DAB radio, Bluetooth connection and xenon headlamps. M Sport models get larger wheels, a muscular bodykit and leather trim for the seats, while the flagship 35is adds adaptive damping and a seven-speed DCT twin clutch gearbox – all other models get a six-speed manual as standard or an optional eight-speed automatic, apart from the 35i, which is available with the same DCT unit as the 35is.
Our choice: Z4 sDrive28i M Sport manual
While the original 'flame surfaced' BMW Z4 divided opinion, the latest model has a much sleeker shape. The long bonnet and stubby boot give it classic sports car proportions, while the metal folding roof ensures it looks just as smart with the top up or down, and you can even specify it in a contrasting colour, if you want to make sure everyone knows you're driving a convertible.
The Z4 was facelifted for the second time in 2013, with new circular LED running lights, subtle chrome trim for the grilles and side indicators, plus a slim white ‘eyebrow’ line that has been added to the top of the main headlight cluster. The changes are subtle but do just enough to keep the Z4 looking fresh. It’s just a shame, then, that BMW hasn’t done more to the interior.
The snug wraparound dash design is still stylish and it’s all made using high-quality materials, but some dated looking switchgear means it feels older than rivals such as the hi-tech Audi TT and Porsche Boxtser. Standard equipment depends on the engine you go for, but all versions get climate control, alloy wheels, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and xenon headlamps. Leather seat trim is standard on 20i models and above, while the M Sport versions get bigger 18-inch alloys, sport seats, M Sport chassis and suspension settings and an aerodynamic bodykit.
The options list includes a Comfort Pack, which comes with cruise control, parking sensors, extra storage and a wind deflector, plus a Media package that adds internet connectivity and a Design Pure Traction styling pack, which adds black and orange contrasting trim to the interior.
The rear-wheel-drive Z4 isn’t as engaging as a Porsche Boxster or Audi TT, but it is a surprisingly good cruiser, thank to its supple ride and refinement. Still, the naturally weighted steering, fine balance and decent grip mean the BMW still feels agile and composed through a series of corners. M Sport versions feature a stiffer suspension set-up that harms ride comfort, while the range-topping 35is gets adaptive dampers, which are very stiff in their sportiest setting.
Unlike the Mercedes SLK and Audi TT Roadster, the Z4 engine line-up is exclusively petrol. The range kicks off with the sDrive18i, which uses a detuned version of the four-cylinder 2.0-litre turbo engine from the 20i and 28i. According to BMW it can complete the 0-62mph sprint in 8.1 seconds and hit a top speed of 137mph, but it needs to be worked hard to keep up with traffic. The sDrive20i is a much better bet in terms of performance, despite its modest 181bhp power output.
It still accelerates strongly even from low revs and responds quickly to the throttle, particularly when the standard Performance Drive Control is in Sport mode - you can also choose from efficient ECO PRO and relaxing Comfort settings. At the top of the range are the six-cylinder sDrive35i and sDrive35iS – the latter goes head-to-head with the Boxster S and SLK 55 AMG, with a 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds.
It comes with a seven-speed twin clutch M DCT transmission, which delivers smooth and quick shifts using the paddles on the steering wheel. Every other model comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, while an eight-speed auto gearbox available as an option, and the 35i can be had with the DCT transmission, too.
The latest BMW Z4 hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but the previous model received a four-star result when it was tested back in 2004. Standard safety kit includes the manufacturer’s Driver Stability Control system, which includes traction control, anti-lock brakes and electronic brakeforce distribution to keep the car stable in extreme conditions. Run-flat tyres are also fitted as standard, along with protective rollover hoops and a whole host of airbags, including a pair in the seat headrests to protect you in the event of a side-on smash. As for reliability, the previous-generation Z4 had an excellent reputation in this area, and this latest model is proving just as impressive. It has been the subject of one recall, though, which was for a potential fault with the electric power steering. The Z4 hasn’t yet featured in our Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but BMW finished 10th overall in 2014, two spots ahead of arch rival Audi, but one place behind Mercedes.
Two-seater sports cars aren’t known for their practicality, but even by class standards, the Z4 doesn’t fare well in this area. The complex hood system takes 21 seconds to fold down and 20 seconds to erect, which is considerably longer than the Audi TT’s fabric top. Lowering the roof also has a big impact on luggage space, with boot capacity shrinking from 310 litres to 180 litres with the hood stowed.
It’s still big enough for a couple of large holdalls, but getting them in and out is one of the biggest problems, as the roof mechanism leaves you with a narrow opening when you raise the bootlid. Such compromises are part and parcel of living with a convertible, but if you load the boot with the hood up and try to unpack with it stowed, the chances are you’ll have to raise it again before you can get your luggage out. An optional ski-hatch allows you to carry longer items, though, and there are plenty of handy luggage nets and a couple of big central cupholders in the cabin itself.
No matter which version of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine you go for, whether it’s the sDrive18i, 20i or 28i, it has a claimed average fuel economy figure of 41.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 159g/km. These numbers are pretty good for a sports car, although the newer, more eficient Audi TT Roadster 2.0 TFSI has figures of 47.1mpg and 140g/km.
It’s worth noting that opting for the eight-speed automatic gearbox on the Z4 has no impact on these numbers. Unlike Audi, BMW doesn’t offer a diesel version of the Z4. The range-topping sDrive35iS will be much more expensive to run, as it can only manage to return 31mpg and emits 211g/km of CO2. Newer rivals like the SLK 55 AMG and Boxster S PDK both do better in this area, with emissions of 195g/km and 188g/km respectively.
As with other BMW models, the Z4 is available with a great value pre-paid servicing pack that takes care of scheduled maintenance for five years and 50,000 miles. The Z4 also benefits from strong residuals, with our experts predicting that most versions of the Z4 will retain around 50 per cent of their new value after three years.