Long term tests

BMW Z4 sDrive 35i

First impressions of our long term BMW are good and that it's a car which is equally enjoyable to drive whether you have the roof up or down

This, I believe, is what you call a result. Six months ago I parted company with a Mercedes SLK350 long-termer. It was by no means a perfect car, but when the hard top was stowed away, at least, it had me in its grasp. I completely fell for life with the roof down, and assuming that I wouldn’t be running another convertible any time soon I concluded my end-of-term report for the Merc by suggesting that the summer of 2009 wouldn’t be half as memorable as the one I had just enjoyed with the SLK.

What a pleasure it is to be proved wrong. And what better car to be proved wrong with than the SLK’s newest rival, BMW’s latest Z4. Now equipped with a folding hard-top of its own and a slightly softer set-up than before, BMW’s roadster is clearly shifting its target away from Porsche’s Boxster and towards the Mercedes, and the next nine months with our new long-termer – through summer sun and winter frosts – will give us the perfect opportunity to find out if the new Z4 beats the SLK at its own game.

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YG09 OKO got off to a promising start the moment it arrived at the beginning of June. Being a range-topping ‘sDrive 35i’ model, it has BMW’s familiar and quite brilliant 302bhp twin-turbo 3-litre in-line six under the bonnet, mated in this instance to a conventional six-speed manual gearbox rather than the optional twin-clutch DCT. The perfect combination if you ask me. The rest of the spec is ‘just so’ too, with Deep Sea Blue paint and Ivory leather, 18in V-spoke alloys (an inch bigger than the standard items and, to my eyes, the best looking of the four styles available) and adaptive M Sport suspension.

A few additional nice-to-haves on top of this, including satnav, front and rear parking sensors, heated sports seats, a wind deflector and folding mirrors, bring this 35i’s price up from the basic £37,060 to £44,680, but, impressively, it looks worth every penny. This came as something of a nice surprise, as after glancing at early pictures of the new Z4 I had its styling down as just a neat update of the old model’s, with a bolder nose, a tidier tail and, of course, that nifty roof. And that would be no bad thing. But in the metal it’s very different. It looks longer (because it is), sleeker and more cohesive, and the distinctive cab-rearwards layout is even more obvious than before. The result is that even in this subtle shade the new Z4 has real presence. So far I’ve heard teenagers on the pavement shout about it (in a nice way), I’ve seen a young child tug at his dad’s sleeve to point it out, it’s even received a whistle of approval (at least I think that was for the car…). At times it has felt like I’ve been driving something worth twice as much. Ten out of ten for feel-good factor, then.

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And behind the wheel? Well, it only took a couple of corners for it to become clear that this is a bigger, heavier, softer car than the one it replaces. It feels not so much like a new Z4, more like a Z4-and-a-half. Yet you soon get used to the size, while the extra 41bhp and 63lb ft that the twin-turbo engine brings over the old 3.0i naturally aspirated unit more than compensates for the extra weight (0-62mph takes a mere 5.2sec, which is just two tenths shy of the claim for the old Z4 M models), and if you decide you’re not in the mood for the agreeably comfortable default ride, nudging the adaptive suspension up a notch soon finds some more sportiness for you.

Best of all, though, the mixed weather over my first couple of weeks with the Z4 has enabled me to discover that it’s a car that is equally enjoyable to drive whether you have the roof up or down, and with British weather being what it is, that could easily help make this summer even more memorable that last year’s.

Running Costs

Date acquiredJune 2009
Total mileage2640
Mileage this month710
MPG this month26.7
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