Folding metal hard-tops claim to provide the best of both worlds – marrying cruising refinement with open-air thrills. But does the new BMW Z4 deliver on this promise?
The two-seater has a hi-tech aluminium roof in place of its predecessor’s fabric design. It’s also bigger and softer than the model it replaces, as the brand has given its sporty roadster an extra dose of sophistication. The car that BMW used as a benchmark when developing the Z4 was the Mercedes SLK.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the BMW Z4
Now in its second generation, this is the model that started the folding hard-top craze. A recent round of tweaks has improved its looks and sharpened the dynamics, but while the four-cylinder SLK 200 matches our BMW on price, it falls short on pace. So, we’ve given the Z4 a tougher test by pitching it against the more expensive SLK 280.
Refinement and sophistication are all very well, but a roadster should also be great to drive – and few drop-tops are as engaging as Porsche’s Boxster. It’s £5,054 more than the Z4, but with a powerful new engine and subtle facelift, the mid-engined machine is at the top of its game. Has the new BMW got what it takes to steal victory, or will the newcomer lose its head?
When BMW developed the Z4, it had one target: the SLK. The Mercedes is a great benchmark, combining coupé comfort and security with wind-in-the-hair roadster thrills. It also serves up refinement and elegant looks, and has a desirable badge. Ignore the breathless entry-level four-cylinder model, and the SLK even provides genuine sports car pace.
However, it can’t match the BMW here. The Z4’s folding metal roof is equally effective, while its bold looks turn even more heads. Better still, it costs less than the Merc, is sharper to drive and just as quick in a straight line. And the EfficientDynamics technology means owners can expect superb economy and low emissions.
But great roadsters need more than good looks, strong performance and wallet-friendly running costs. They should also entertain – as the Porsche does!
The mid-engined machine is totally absorbing to drive, with controls that are full of feedback. It’s also practical, and its fabric hood is as effective as its rivals’ metal designs. Superior pace and a more desirable image help the Boxster justify its price premium.
1st: Porsche boxster
With its superbly balanced chassis and perfectly weighted controls, the Boxster is a sheer delight to drive. On top of this, the 2.9-litre engine delivers strong performance, while the cabin is impressively practical. It’s pricey, but well worth it.
2nd: BMW Z4
Buyers who are in the market for a desirable and refined roadster need look no further than the Z4. The newcomer has eye-catching styling, a fantastic interior and strong engine. What’s more, in entry-level sDrive23i trim, it’s something of a bargain.
3rd: Mercedes SLK
The SLK started the folding hard-top trend, but the competition has now caught up. There’s still a lot to like about the Mercedes, including its clever roof, smart looks and cruising comfort. Yet it’s let down by its uninspiring dynamics and disappointing pace.