What’s hot: Beautiful drivetrains, long, long bonnet and open-air appeal.
What’s not: Too few places to enjoy these cars at the ragged edge.
X-FACTOR: Rorty, sharp, not too comfortable, the modern embodiment of the ‘sports roadster’.
Price: sDrive20i - $79,900; sDrive28i - $89,900; sDrive35is - $119,545
sDrive20i: 135kW/270Nm 2.0 turbo 4cyl | 8spd ZF auto
sDrive28i: 180kW/350Nm 2.0 turbo 4cyl | 8spd ZF auto
sDrive35i: 250kW/450Nm 3.0 turbo 6cyl | 7spd DCT
BMW Z4 REVIEW
It is simply not possible to not enjoy BMW’s razor Z4. Pick a price, pick an engine, and whichever one you land in your garage, you will love every moment at the wheel.
These are very well-sorted cars, and beautifully appointed in every model grade.
Two low-set seats only, a long, long bonnet, the rear wheels at the hip, wind in the hair and a rounded burble from the rear... to drive the Z4 is to connect with the elusive and particular charm of the true ‘sports roadster’.
Of course, instead of a draughty rag-top, the Z4 has an electric folding metal roof that tucks neatly into the boot. (We’ve gotten soft, sure, but it’s practical and closes up as snug as a coupe.)
This Z4 is an updated model, but don’t go looking too hard for the changes.
Across the three model range they’re limited to a new headlight design, a slightly extended chrome flash above the gills in the front fenders, and… umm, some additions to the feature list (a little of that “look, we’re giving you more” thang).
Little changed they may be, but little change was necessary. BMW’s Z4 was right before, and it’s still right.
Each of the three-model range feels every inch the premium roadster; your choice comes down to how hard you want to hammer the nail.
Not sure there is such a thing as a poor, or drab, or ill-fitting BMW interior.
The Z4, from the entry-spec sDrive20i to the sledgehammer sDrive35is, is beautifully appointed and stylishly executed.
From the feel of the leather, the elegant simplicity of the controls and centre console, to the snug feel at the solid sports wheel, this is a smart and appealing cockpit.
It’s all about ‘feel’ – about creating a place for the driver – and the Z4 does this particularly well. There is a strong sense of being seated in a cockpit, and of control and precision with everything nicely at hand.
The specs and feature list, of course, vary according to the model grade and how many dollars you’re prepared to shed.
But these Z4s are very nicely featured automobiles and, in each of the model variants, you can see where your money has gone.
Beside the usual premium features like Bluetooth, high-fidelity audio, the entry-level sDrive20i gets internet and smartphone music connectivity and voice control.
It also gets standard sat-nav, Nappa leather seats and trims, patterned aluminium console and dash highlights, and an abiding sense of quality and solidity throughout.
Operating the screen display functions is simplicity itself; it rises from the dash when you thumb the start button, and creature comforts are controlled via a simple (and quite elegant) four-dial display set high in the dash.
The mid-range sDrive28i adds new 18-inch wheels, gearshift paddles and sports seats, while the top-shelf sDrive35is comes with 19-inch wheels, a very useful wind deflector (which tames the turbulence with the top down), carbon fibre trim finishes and adaptive M suspension as standard.
You can also opt for premium ‘Merino’ leather across the range (but from a cow not a sheep... in case you’re wondering) and of course, BMW’s M Sport handling package.
ON THE ROAD
BMW Z4 sDrive20i
Surprisingly, of the three models at launch (no six-speed manuals), the one I enjoyed most was the least powered and least-kitted, the entry 20i.
At $79,900, it's a full $40k less than the thumping 35is.
It can be had with either a six-speed manual, or the superb eight-speed ZF automatic transmission (with plus-minus shifter or paddles at the wheel).
With 135kW and 270Nm under the bonnet, it’s not overburdened with neddies, but is absolutely no slouch.
The 2.0 litre turbo can sling the Z4 to 100km/h in 6.9 seconds. That’s far from shabby. And the transmission is a delight.
Flick it across to ‘sport’ and it rattles off the shifts in lightning style.
Its performance belies those modest engine numbers - it will pull rapidly out of a corner and overtake just as eagerly.
Fuel use is listed at 6.8 l/100km; we returned a very respectable 8.4 l/100km while giving it a fair old stamp.
BMW Z4 sDrive28i
Spend $10k more (like $89,900), and you get essentially the same car, but with a considerably more potent 2.0 litre turbo in the snout, thanks to a re-jig of the engine management and a bit more boost to the turbo set-up.
The sDrive28i packs a feisty 180kW and 350Nm under the toe.
While the extra grunt is immediately noticeable, there’s no change to the suspension tune nor to the 28i’s feel for the road.
The transmission is also unchanged – except that it shuffles through its eight-speeds a whole lot more quickly. BMW is claiming a 0-100km/h time of 5.7 seconds; we’ve no reason to doubt that.
It’s a remarkable engine, incredibly responsive with any turbo lag disguised by the similarly responsive eight speeds waiting for the whip.
Fuel use is listed at 6.8 l/100km; we managed 8.5 l/100km after a pretty feisty drive.
BMW Z4 sDrive35is
This one is the beast. You’ll pick it from the twin pipes at the rear and the bigger 19-inch wheels. And you’ll need a pole to vault the $119,545 list price.
You’ll also not mistake the ill-tempered crackle from the exhaust should you tackle a corner on a trailing throttle.
Under its aquiline nose is BMW's six-cylinder 3.0 litre turbo, punching out 250kW and 450Nm. Those numbers produce a 0-100km/h time of a blistering 4.8 seconds.
While fuel consumption is listed at 9.0 l/100km, we were showing 11.5 l/100km after our run at the wheel.
This one can really run with the hounds. The Z4 35is comes with the full monty M Sport package as standard.
Its chassis is simply superb and it corners wonderfully flat.
Like the 20i and 28i, it’s just a matter of tucking that long nose in early and pointing it through the apex.
It provides such precision at the wheel that you can track a line incredibly accurately. Rear-drive, and sublimely balanced, the 35is can be tightened through a winding road with the accelerator (without feeling it's going to suddenly bite the hand or push wide).
These are wonderful drivers’ cars. The only debit, from a handling perspective, is that the steering feel has lost something of those earlier BMW sporting cars.
The electric assistance just doesn’t work as well as BMW systems of old.
It’s not woolly, you can thread a needle with either these cars, it just doesn’t feel quite as ‘alive’ through the wheel nor as subtly engaged with the road.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
Yes, wonderful cars certainly – all three: Z4 20i, 28i and 35is.
Strangely enough, the one that appealed most to me was the 20i: the cheapest (if around $80k could ever be called ‘cheap’) but not lacking in either character or performance.
In some ways, the more modest power and the extra work required at the gears, is more like roadsters of old.
And with this one, you won’t need to worry quite so much about falling under the bleak and unforgiving gaze of the constabulary as they put your licence through the shredder.
And we’re a bit mental about this endless pursuit of stratospheric power numbers aren’t we? (I mean, where can we use it? In the back paddock?)
No, an alive chassis, a sporty wheel in hand, an eager surge waiting under the toe and just sunshine above... well, that’s enough isn’t it?
And you can get all that, in this beautiful RWD Z4 20i roadster, for around the price of a middling TT.
Pricing (inc GST and LCT, ex on-road charges)
- BMW Z4 sDrive 20i - $79,900
- BMW Z4 sDrive 28i - $89,900
- BMW Z4 sDrive 35i - $119,545
Note: manual transmission is a no-cost option.