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What's Hot
Brilliant handling, enjoyable in all weather.
What's Not
Cramped cabin and small boot make weekends away tricky.
Demands to be pedaled with enthusiasm, as any good sports car should.
Kez Casey | Oct, 05 2013 | 1 Comment


Vehicle Style: Luxury sports roadster

Price: $79,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 135kW/270Nm turbo 4cyl | 8spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.8 l/100km | tested: 9.8 l/100km



BMW’s Z4 holds classic roadster appeal - all the elements are in place. Long bonnet, over-the-axle seating for two and fresh air from all sides.

There’s also a chassis that begs you to drive it, and, borrowing from the best of British tradition, a spunky little four-cylinder engine.

But the sDrive20i is where the Z4 range opens - cheapest and least powerful, it couldn’t possibly be the driver’s choice could it?

It very nearly might be, depending upon where your priorities lie.



Quality: As any enthusiast vehicle should, the Z4 keeps things simple in layout and function, with precise fit and finish.

The impressive interior gaps, and the aluminium carbon-effect swathe encompassing the four-dial climate controls look impressive.

Importantly, for something with a folding top, there’s nothing loose or prone to movement, and the fully-lined roof is trimmed as impeccably as a coupe.

Comfort: Compact dimensions are key here. The tight cabin has compromises, six-footers can slide the seat back to fit their legs, but the backrest needs to come forward to suit.

Another side-effect of the low-slung seating means that dropping into the seats isn’t always graceful, thankfully the short doors swing out of the way, and the relatively flat seats aren’t too bad to extract yourself from.

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Equipment: Standard features include auto lights, wipers and self-dimming interior mirror, leather trim, heated seats, leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel with paddle shifters, cruise control, bi-xenon headlights and dual-zone climate control.

There's also Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity, navigation system with folding display encompassing iDrive and internet compatibility, 17-inch alloy wheels and powered hard top.

Additionally the test car came with the M Sport package with different bumpers, 18-inch wheels, M-branded sill-plates, sports seats and an M Sport steering wheel.

Storage: Luggage space grows from 180 litres with the hardtop folded to 310 litres with the top up, meaning the Z4 passes the all important golf club test. There’s also a through-loading port for longer items.

In the cabin, storage is otherwise tight. The glovebox is compact, the centre console loses a lot of space to the (redundant) phone dock, and the cup holders are hidden under the centre armrest too, at least the flip-out door pockets are roomy.



Driveability: Look to the Z4 sDrive35iS if you want numbers to crow about. The outputs for the 20i are a little more modest, but we're happy to declare it the purist’s choice.

It’ll sprint to 100km/h in 6.9 seconds, so it’s no slouch, and between precise steering, and taught ride-control the sDrive20i delivers a real Goldilocks package - it is just right.

A lower output version of BMW’s twin-power 2.0 litre four-cylinder provides 135kW of power at 5000rpm and peak torque of 270Nm from 1250 to 4500rpm.

Despite the low-ish rpm ceiling for peak torque and power, the engine still appreciates a decent rev. But with torque available early it is just as happy at a more relaxed clip.

Getting the best from the engine wouldn’t be half as much fun if not for BMW’s terrific eight-speed auto.

Smooth shifts, responsive manual controls, clever programming and lightning-fast responses almost make the manual option obsolete.

Refinement: With the roof in place you’d believe you were in any normal fixed-roof coupe. The true test of any cabrio or roadster comes with the roof stowed, and the Z4 doesn’t disappoint.

Conversation is still possible at freeway speeds, and there’s only a hint of draft snaking through the cabin between 60 and 80km/h. Scuttle shake is always a part of topless life - its only minor in the Z4 though.

The engine can give off some gruff notes under low loads, but open the taps and there’s a rorty but precise growl from the exhaust.

Ride and Handling: Riding on firmer suspension as part of the M Sport Package didn’t deteriorate the Z4’s ride too severely. Taut rebound control and firm springs make for voracious roadholding.

The Z4’s front suspension features an aluminium-intensive MacPherson strut setup, coupled with an independent rear. On the road, the 20i obediently follows what's happening at the wheel - it's a very precise front end - and avoids understeer (and oversteer most of the time).

The electric power steering is quick to respond, but still not the equal of a good hydraulic system - there’s a properly weighted feel but not quite a true sense of feedback.

Braking: On-the-ball braking is assured with the Z4’s quick-to-bite four-wheel ventilated disc brakes.

In commuter traffic the brakes can be a little jerky, but the strong stoppers are just the thing for washing off speed when its needed and can handle a good workout.



ANCAP rating: Not tested.

Safety features: Four airbags (dual front and side), ABS brakes with brake assist and corner brake control, seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters, Dynamic Stability Control and traction control, with fixed steel roll bars and reinforced A-pillars for rollover protection.



Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres.

Service costs: BMW servicing is condition-based, with a display on the dash letting you know the car is due. A section in the iDrive lets you see an estimate of when the next service is due.

BMW offers service plans over three or five years and with two levels of cover, the higher level covering consumable parts (such as brake pads) as well as labour and oil.



Mercedes-Benz SLK 200 ($83,950) - In some ways the SLK is the one ‘true’ rival for the Z4. Power and torque are identical, but the SLK promotes touring over hard driving.

The seven-speed auto isn’t quite the equal of the BMW and the softer, calmer demeanour of the Benz make for a slightly less-spirited drive. The price of entry works against the SLK, driving it down in the value stakes. (see SLK reviews)

Porsche Boxster ($106,490) - The Porche commands a bigger entry ticket, but the additional spend buys you a much stronger six-cylinder engine, a quick shifting PDK transmission, and mid-engined balance.

Surprisingly, with a boot front and rear the Boxster takes the prize for most versatile, just the thing for a weekend getaway. Handling is head-of-the-pack, and steering utterly brilliant - ultimately though the Boxster belongs in the company of more up-spec Z4 models. (see Porsche reviews)

Mazda MX-5 Sports Roadster ($52,010) - Folding hard top, rear wheel drive and a proper roadster feel? The MX-5 delivers the lot, even as it approaches the end of its model-cycle.

Although the feel behind the wheel is impressive, the price difference makes itself known with an interior that lags behind these competitors, a less powerful engine, six-speed auto and refinement that’s only good, not great. (see MX-5 reviews)

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.

Above: the new Mercedes-Benz SLK.
Above: the new Mercedes-Benz SLK.



Genuine driver involvement is slowly being bled out of cars. Thankfully, with the Z4 sDrive20i, that isn’t the case.

Of course there’s the point-and-shoot 28i and 35iS for those after big numbers, but for anyone seeking honest thrills and the kind of DIY pride that comes from putting in the groundwork to get them, the range-opening 20i has your number.

Taut, agile and spirited - just the way a roadster should be. There’s enough forgiveness in this package to flatter drivers of all skill levels and stand-by comfort and security at the press of a button.

Pricing (inc GST and LCT, excluding on-roads)

  • BMW Z4 sDrive 20i - $79,900
  • BMW Z4 sDrive 28i - $89,900
  • BMW Z4 sDrive 35i - $119,545

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