Road Tests

New BMW Z4 road test: Hard to Top?

Time 1:42 am, April 25, 2009

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It’s a direct line from customers to BMW engineering staff that has led to the new Z4 being how it is. See, BMW engineers are sporty types. The sort who turn DSC off.

They like their hard-riding, focused machines – cars such as, ooh, the original Z4. Particularly ones with high-output straight-six engines.

Customers, however, were less keen. Roll-free dynamism is one thing, but when it leads to such a bumpy ride quality, then it’s less acceptable. Alongside a TT or Nissan 350Z, the original Z4 was plain, well, stiff.

It is this that has been addressed with the new Z4. BMW admits that one of its design priorities was to improve comfort and refinement of the machine. And this, indirectly, led to another major change. The introduction of a folding hard-top roof.

It’s there with the aim of giving ‘best of both worlds’ motoring. Roof-down enjoyment when the weather’s good, but the security and refinement of a hard-top when it’s bucketing it down.

The trick is, of course, to make it look good. Bulky old things, roofs. As car such as the old Peugeot 307 CC prove, squeezing them in isn’t always easy…

BMW’s managed it, though. Chief designer Juliene Blasi has done a cracking job of getting the rear deck look, and it still lowers in a flash-like 20 seconds. The only challenge for BMW dealers is explaining why, when the roof’s down, accessing the boot is such a tortuous process…

Style wise, the all-new Z4 is closely aligned with the original. It is, however, bigger all round, which if anything has helped balance and improve the looks. The nose, in particular, is full of character, and the 6 Series rear is cool.

Inside, too, it’s much, much better quality – we particularly like the 7 Series style centre console, the new iDrive system, the easier access and the improved refinement.

Now, with all this talk of accessibility, you’re thinking the Z4 has gone soft. Fear not.

Because what we liked above all on the launch was the mighty new engine of the sDrive35i test car. This is the 306bhp range topper, that hits 62mph in 5.2 seconds, and has a stellar 400Nm of torque. Two turbos ensure this is spread right across the rev range, and on the road, it provides simply searing shove.

Seriously, this is one extremely fast and responsive car. It’s anything but ‘hairdresser’. Roof down it also sounds terrific, particularly with the test car’s optional DCT dual clutch gearbox: gearshifts happen in the blink of an eye, and elicit the most wonderful rasp from the twin exhausts.

Such response means you have confidence to get on the power early and indulge in some tail-out fun. BMW helps you here, by offering a must-have option: Adaptive M Suspension. This is a £930 electronic setup, which offers three modes of comfort.

The ‘Comfort’ setting addresses every single ride quality criticism of the old car. Sport is more dynamic – and Sport +? Well, it’s even sportier than the original – and also turns off the traction control.

And, so well balanced is the rear-drive roadster, so confident is the handling, it means you have supreme confidence to get on it early and really hoon.

BMW’s given us the best of both worlds here. It’s appreciably sportier than a TT, yet not as intimidating as a Porsche Boxster. The ideal half-way house. Indeed, something perfectly illustrated by the best-of-both-worlds roof…

Despite this, and the all-round improvements, and the more customer-friendly but no less rewarding drive, the maker isn’t imposing big price increases. The range starts at £28k for the sDrive23i, with the sDrive30i costing £33k, and this sDrive35i range-topper adding £4,400, a heap of extra kit and that wonderful, mighty engine.

All can do more than 30mpg, and two of them emit less than 200g/km of CO2. Yet more reasons why customers, 3,500 of them a year, should love it.




James Baggott's avatar

James is the founder and editor-in-chief of Car Dealer Magazine, and CEO of parent company Baize Group. James has been a motoring journalist for more than 20 years writing about cars and the car industry.

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