The Z4 has always been a BMW that’s had a little bit of a personality crisis, never being fully clear as to its purpose in life. The first generation wasn’t a bad car at all, but it couldn’t manage to knock the Porsche Boxster from its perch as the driver’s roadster of choice.
BMW’s second stab at it was an altogether softer machine. Again, not a bad car, but not an overtly sporting one either, even in range-topping sDrive35iS guise. No, this was a machine that was aimed at the TT and SLK rather than the Boxster, and as a drop-top cruiser it was a fine piece of kit provided you didn’t ask too many questions of its chassis.
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But what should we expect from this latest, G29 generation of Z4? BMW’s billed it as having been engineered with a focus on maximum agility, dynamism and steering precision yet in almost the same breath admits that if you’re looking for the ultimate driving experience then the Boxster is the way to go. In truth though, the vast majority of Z4s sold in the UK will be of the 20i variety, pitching it against slightly more mundane offerings from Mercedes-Benz and Audi and perhaps tempting buyers away from a top-of-the-range Mazda MX-5.
And the Z4 does have a lot going for it; good (if a little gawky from some angles) looks, a relatively entertaining drive, good engines offering a blend of performance and economy, and a host of standard equipment. It’s an undemanding car to drive, offering precise steering, huge levels of grip and a balanced chassis, but it’s somewhat one-dimensional, lacking any layers in its performance and delivery. It’s easy to drive fast and for the most part very composed when doing it, but you’d be having more fun in that MX-5 or Boxster.
For many owners the lure of a reasonably priced BMW roadster will be enough – stylish, quick and easy to drive and with all the gadgets and gizmos you could possibly need. If you’re happy to swan about the countryside roof down taking in the sights and smells it’s a good choice, just don’t expect it to be the last word in dynamic ability or tactility.
BMW Z4: in detail
Performance and 0-62 time – even the 20i has better than expected pace, but it’s the M40i that’s by far and away the quickest of the three models with a 4.5sec 0-62mph time
Engine and gearbox – Both the 2-litre four-cylinder and 3-litre straight-six are relatively characterful, but no manual gearbox option is disappointing
Ride and handling – Grip levels are impressive and the steering is precise, if lacking in feedback; Sport models offer a more compliant ride
MPG and running costs – The Z4 shouldn’t cost the earth to run with impressive economy and emissions figures, but small fuel tank limits range
Interior and tech – Seats and driving position are excellent, as is the level of technology, but the cabin lacks a sporting ambiance
Design – A short wheelbase and wide track make the Z4 look a little gawky from some angles, but overall it’s an attractive machine
Prices, specs and rivals
The entry-level Z4, the 20i Sport, costs £37,115, while a 30i in the same trim level is £40,815. Add £1750 to those prices and you’ll be looking at an M Sport model, with the M40i costing a hefty £49,185.
The Z4s are well equipped though. Leather upholstery is standard, as are the expected items such as air conditioning, DAB radio and Bluetooth. Eighteen-inch wheels come on all models bar the M40i which receives 19s, while there’s an eight-speed auto, cruise control, LED head and tail lights, park distance control, high-end navigation and BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant and Live Cockpit Plus.
While the Boxster is the benchmark in terms of driving, it’s the Audi TT and Mercedes-Benz SLC that are closest in terms of price. With its folding metal hard-top the SLC is certainly a less sporting proposition than the Z4, but the TT is on a par in most respects and depending on your viewpoint may be the better looking machine.
The 718 Boxster is dynamically the best car in this sector, but it’s expensive. By the time you’ve added PDK, PASM, a leather interior, electric seats and the mechanical differential to a Boxster (all standard on the Z4 M40i) its price has risen to £56k, and it’s still not as quick as the M40i. Do the same to a 718 Boxster S and it’s getting on for £15k more expensive than the M40i. The Stuttgart product is overwhelmingly the better car to drive, but you certainly pay for the privilege.