BMW Z4 review
The BMW Z4 blends upmarket image with plenty of roadster wind-in-the-hair thrills
The second-generation BMW Z4 was launched in the UKin 2009, having swapped the old car’s divisive looks and fabric roof for a much sleeker design and a complicated folding hard-top. The new roof makes the Z4 quieter and more secure than soft-top rivals like the Porsche Boxster and Audi TT, although it also makes it much heavier. Every model comes with rear-wheel drive and a choice of four or six-cylinder petrol engines. Standard cars offer a good balance between dynamics and comfort, but the more expensive M Sport models have a very harsh ride and are best avoided in our opinion. A 2013 update added a set of revised LED headlights and saw the introduction of a new entry-level model, the BMW Z4 sDrive18i, which is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine that develops 154bhp and returns 41.5mpg. However, the interior has been carried over largley unchanged, which means the top notch quality is undermined by some dated looking switchgear. The Z4 shouldn’t be more expensive to run than its rivals, but it is best to avoid the options list as ticking a few boxes can quickly push its price sky high.
Our choice: Z4 sDrive28i manual
While the original 'flame surfaced' 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. It 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 inside than the Audi TT and miles behind the beautifully made Porsche Boxtser. Standard equipment depends on the engine you go for, but you’ll need to opt for the 20i or higher if you want leather, climate control and automatic wipers and headlamps. M Sport models get big 18-inch alloys, sport seats and an M Sport chassis, suspension 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 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. 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 strongly even from low revs and responds quickly to the throttle, particulalry when the standard Performance Drive Control is in Sport mode - you can also choose from efficient ECO PRO and relaxing Comfort settings. There’s also the sDrive35i and a range-topping six-cylinder sDrive35is, which goes head-to-head with the Boxster S and SLK 55 AMG, with a 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds. It comes with the same seven-speed twin clutch M DCT transmission as the M3, 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.
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 and there’s no reason to doubt the new car wouldn’t go one better. 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 15th overall in 2012, five places behind arch rival Audi.
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 secconds to erect, which is considerably longer than the TT’s 14 and 10 seconds respectively. Lowering the roof also has a big impact on luggage space, with boot capacity shrnking from 310 litres to 180 litres with the hood stowed - the fabric roofed TT offers 250 litres whether the roof is up or down. It’s still big enough for a couple of large holdalls, but getting them in and out is the 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 new sDrive18i, 20i or 28i, it has a claimed average fuel economy figure of 41.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 159g/km. These numbers are impressive for a car of this type, and are only slightly down on the Audi TT 2.0 TFSI’s 43.0mpg and 154g/km. It’s also worth noting that opting for the eight-speed automatic gearbox has no impact on these numbers. BMW doesn’t offer a diesel model, though. The range-topping sDrive35i will be much more expensive to run, as it can only manage to return 30.1mpg and emits a hefty 219g/km of CO2. Newer rivals like the SLK 55 AMG and Boxster S both do better in this area, with emissions of 195 and 206g/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 percent of their new value after three years.