New BMW Z4 2019 review

Can the all-new BMW Z4 roadster offer Porsche 718 Boxster thrills? We find out…

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.5 out of 5

Be in no doubt: the latest BMW Z4 makes a huge leap forward dynamically over its ageing predecessor. It’s better built and loaded with more equipment, too. However, against such strong competition, it doesn’t quite hit the spot. Too heavy to feel as fun as a Porsche 718 Boxster or an Alpine A110, the Z4 lacks the excitement or emotion that’s really crucial in this segment

This is the new Z4, and its maker claims it’s the first incarnation to offer genuine driver appeal. That’s right: unlike the previous laid-back iterations, this is a car that BMW reckons will offer thrills to beat the Porsche 718 Boxster S.

Yet it’s not quite as straightforward as that, because this sector already offers plenty of choice. While BMW might have singled out Porsche as a benchmark, more focused drivers can look at the fixed-roof Alpine A110, too. If your preference is for top-down cruising, is an Audi TT Roadster a better bet?

• Best sports cars on sale

We’ve driven the top-spec Z4 M40i, which costs from just over £49,000 – closer in price to the standard Boxster than the higher-powered S. Below that sits the Z4 sDrive20i (£36,990) and the sDrive30i (£40,690). All are rear-wheel drive and come with an eight-speed auto box, although the base model will get a six-speed manual at a later date.

Predictably, the smaller units are cheaper to run. Based on the same 2.0-litre petrol, both the 20i and 30i are claimed to return 46.3mpg and emit 139g/km of CO2. The six-cylinder M40i’s extra punch means efficiency takes a hit, although a claimed 38.1mpg is nearly identical to that of the Boxster S.

The new Z4’s drawn-out gestation ran in tandem with Toyota’s revival of the Supra name for its interpretation of the two-door sports car. However, there are actually very few components shared between the two; the BMW-sourced engine and ZF automatic gearbox populate a fairly short list.

The Z4’s chassis is all new. There’s extensive use of aluminium in the suspension (which features standard adaptive dampers in the M40i), and an electronic differential to aid traction out of tight turns. The 2,470mm wheelbase is 25mm shorter than the outgoing car’s and 5mm less than the Boxster’s.

As you’d expect from a BMW, the Z4 offers perfect 50:50 weight distribution, and the centre of gravity is much lower than before. This is thanks in part to the roof; gone is the old car’s folding-metal design, replaced with a lighter fabric lid. It opens and closes in a mere 10 seconds and at speeds of up to 31mph, and also helps bump up boot space by 50 per cent to an impressive 281 litres.

It’s not only the roof operation that’s speedy. The M40i uses the same 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six as is found in the M240i. It helps the Z4 reach 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds which, conveniently, is identical to that of a Boxster S. What you don’t get from the Porsche, but the BMW delivers, is a tuneful six-cylinder sound.

The Z4’s gearbox is pretty fantastic, too – smooth, fast and responsive – but it lacks the interaction you get from the Porsche’s six-speed manual.

• Best convertible cars available

That feeling of being truly a part of the action is often missing out on the road, too. As with the gearbox, the Z4’s chassis is impressive; the turn-in is razor sharp and the front end devoid of understeer. Against the ridiculously high standards of the Boxster, though, the BMW falls just short on two counts. First, the steering. While precise, it’s a little low on feel, so you end up merely aiming the car along a road as opposed to getting real feedback about what’s going on beneath you.

The second issue is weight. The Z4 tips the scales at 1,535kg – a whopping 150kg more than a PDK-equipped 718 Boxster S. The Alpine A110 weighs just 1,080kg. As accomplished as the BMW’s chassis is, it’s impossible to disguise the mass – and leaves you wondering how good it could be if the car was put it on a diet.

While the driving criticisms are fairly picky – a result of the brilliant competition that the Z4 faces – the problems with the interior are bigger. There are some things inside that impress; the build quality is faultless, the infotainment system is great, and the seats are as comfortable on a long journey as they are supportive along a twisty road.

The main problem is with the design. Looks are subjective, but the dashboard layout is barely any different from that of the new 3 Series. In a four-door saloon it looks fine, but it would be nice to have something a little more exciting from a two-seat sports car. Pick virtually anything as a rival – Boxster, TT or even a Ford Mustang – and you’ll find a greater sense of occasion inside.

Most Popular

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox
Dacia Duster gear lever
News

Driving test update to preserve the manual gearbox

With more drivers learning in autos and electric cars, the DVSA is looking to update the driving test so people can still drive manuals in future
16 Jun 2021
Exclusive: Jaguar’s luxury reinvention to start from £100k
Thierry Bollore - Jaguar I-Pace
Jaguar

Exclusive: Jaguar’s luxury reinvention to start from £100k

New boss Thierry Bollore reveals that Jaguar will be reinvented as a luxury car brand to take on Bentley, with the design of a new family already sign…
22 Jun 2021
‘The 2030 combustion engine ban is just around the corner – and we’re running out of time’
opinion: charging
Opinion

‘The 2030 combustion engine ban is just around the corner – and we’re running out of time’

Andy Palmer sees electric car uptake revving-up in the UK but says targeted investment is needed to prevent a stall…
22 Jun 2021
New 2021 Ferrari 296 GTB launched with 819bhp V6 hybrid powertrain
Ferrari 296 GTB - front
Ferrari

New 2021 Ferrari 296 GTB launched with 819bhp V6 hybrid powertrain

The 205mph Ferrari 296 GTB supercar is powered by an all-new 2.9-litre plug-in hybrid engine
24 Jun 2021
New Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 2021 review
Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 - front
Volkswagen Golf GTI Hatchback

New Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 2021 review

The new special edition Volkswagen Golf GTI Clubsport 45 is one of the best cars ever to wear the GTI badge
23 Jun 2021
New 2022 Honda Civic hatchback revealed with hybrid power
Honda Civic - front
Honda Civic

New 2022 Honda Civic hatchback revealed with hybrid power

New Honda Civic hatchback builds on almost 50 years of the nameplate with e:HEV electrified drivetrain
24 Jun 2021
New Audi Q4 e-tron Sportback 2021 review
Audi Q4 e-tron Sportback -
Audi Q4 e-tron Sportback

New Audi Q4 e-tron Sportback 2021 review

Audi has expanded its electric car portfolio with the Q4 e-tron Sportback - is it one of its best EVs?
23 Jun 2021
'Bolloré's strategy is already having a good impact on Jaguar Land Rover'
Opinion JLR Thierry Bollore
Opinion

'Bolloré's strategy is already having a good impact on Jaguar Land Rover'

Steve Fowler says JLR CEO Thierry Bolloré's new approach is working wonders
24 Jun 2021
New Dacia Duster facelift launched with fresh styling and more tech
Dacia Duster facelift - front
Dacia Duster

New Dacia Duster facelift launched with fresh styling and more tech

The budget-conscious Dacia Duster has been updated for 2021 with some subtle design tweaks and a new eight-inch infotainment screen
22 Jun 2021
New Mercedes C-Class 2021 review
Mercedes C-Class - front
Mercedes C-Class

New Mercedes C-Class 2021 review

The new Mercedes C-Class compact exec gets S-Class-inspired tech and new suspension to challenge the BMW 3 Series
24 Jun 2021
Audi will launch final petrol and diesel cars in 2026
Audi petrol diesel
Audi

Audi will launch final petrol and diesel cars in 2026

Audi will phase out petrol power in Europe in 12 years’ time, with a new line-up of “more than 20 e-tron models” scheduled for launch by 2025
23 Jun 2021
New Toyota Yaris Cross prototype review
Toyota Yaris Cross prototype - front
Toyota Yaris Cross

New Toyota Yaris Cross prototype review

We drive a late prototype version of the new Toyota Yaris Cross to see if it has potential
24 Jun 2021
New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review
Skoda Enyaq iV 80 Sportline - front
Skoda Enyaq

New Skoda Enyaq iV 2021 review

The new Skoda Enyaq iV is the Czech firm’s first bespoke electric car and we've tested the full range on UK roads
10 Jun 2021
New 2021 Peugeot 308 SW estate arrives with more space
Peugeot 308 SW - front
News

New 2021 Peugeot 308 SW estate arrives with more space

The Peugeot 308 SW joins the hatchback in the range and arrives with two plug-in hybrid options
22 Jun 2021