– Good handling
– Great styling
– Fair power and economy
– A bit impractical
– A bit noisy
– A bit expensive
We are probably the local authority on all things related to the reborn Z roadsters from BMW. We have a rare Z3 M Roadster on our fleet. We tested the rare Z4 Coupe when it first came out. And now we got to play with the first Z4 with a folding hard-top. The entire series changed dramatically every time it was redesigned, for better or for worse.
The latest iteration of the Z4 has transformed into a better cruiser, taking the fight to its perennially-softer German competitors. Alongside the evolved styling, the most obvious changes are the heavy folding convertible hard-top, complemented by a larger butt to fit it in. The car still looks as exotic as the older versions, and infinitely sporting in style, but actual sportiness has given way to comfort-biased compromises.
For one, the larger interior now has enough space for a parcel shelf behind the seats, with more built-in compartments for small items. There is a central padded armrest, with two cup-holders underneath and space for a mobile phone. And most obviously, the handbrake has been replaced by a small electronic parking-brake button. Our 10-year-old M Roadster has none of these.
However, still in common with our M Roadster, there is a leather-lined dashboard, colour-matched leather door trim, soft-touch upper materials and hard-plastic lower materials. The sun-visors are still tiny, the doors are still long, and the roll-hoops behind still impede rearward vision in this pricey car.
Cabin styling is more in line with the previous Z4 than the ancient Z3, with a simple dashboard featuring wood trim and rotary knobs for the dual-zone a/c in our sDrive30i mid-range model. There was no navigation screen in our tester, replaced by a storage cubby in its place, and the electronic key still has to be inserted before the starter button is pressed. Features did include power windows, electric mirrors, power-adjusted seats, front and side airbags, parking sensors, Bluetooth and HID headlights, but not cruise control, ventilated seats, keyless start, USB ports, and many other options usually available in the BMW options catalogue. The CD stereo was expectedly good, while the a/c was fine in February weather.
There is good space for average-sized folks like us, even with the roof up. The seats are only mildly bolstered, as if to fit out-of-shape drivers better within the limited width. Boot volume is about average for a coupe, but once the roof is down, there is only enough space left for a six-pack of Pepsi and two bags of chips. The roof itself is an efficient three-piece mechanical dance, operated by holding down a button.
The 3.0-litre inline-6 engine powering the sDrive30i is straight out of the 330i sedan that we last drove in 2006. Making 258 hp at 6600 rpm and 300 Nm of torque at only 2600 rpm, it is a perky unit that suits a sports car, but by no means a supercar. During our desert-winter test, our car clocked a 0-100 kph time of 6.6 seconds, with a 6-speed automatic doing all the shifting. We did not use the manual-shift feature, as there is a mild delay in responding to inputs and is really intended to just hold gears rather than for drag-racing. The super-smooth engine also burned up 12.9 litres/100 km during our time, which is relatively economical for a sports car.
The new Z4 certainly handles very well. Its naturally low stance and wide tyres are enough to give it an advantage on the twisties, even if there are “Dynamic Driving Control” settings available to choose between Normal, Sport and Sport+. While the transmission and throttle responses certainly become more urgent, Sport+ seems to simply loosen up the stability control. The settings also supposedly affect the fully-independent “Adaptive M Suspension,” but we couldn’t feel any difference between the modes, so are not sure if our car was even equipped with the fancy shocks.
Indeed, leave it in any mode, let the 225/45 front and 255/40 rear rubbers on 17-inchers do their thing, and enjoy the drive that made BMW famous. The car corners almost flat and has tons of grip. However, it is noticeably more conservative at the limit than our aggressive M Roadster. The new Z4 isn’t tail-happy under power like our old car, and also understeers earlier on sharper turns. While the sharp steering and the ABS-assisted brakes are still full of feedback, the new Z4 has softened its edge, even when compared to the previous Z4, let alone the Z3.
The new Z4 rides firm but is a bit softer than all Z roadsters before it, although it can still crash over the sharpest bumps to remind occupants that they’re sitting only a few inches from the rear wheels. It is quieter than a Z3, but still has a fair bit of road noise, engine noise and ambient noise with the top up. And while top-down driving is extremely fun, we couldn’t do it for more than 10 minutes at highway speeds before pulling over to put the roof up, because the hurricane rush around the low windshield makes mince-meat of your scalp, ears and brain.
But this car is infinitely cool, and never meant to be practical, even if it makes more of an effort than in previous generations. On the street, expect random people to enquire about the car, or simply gawk at it, because it will expectedly sell in small numbers and be a rare sight. However, those looking for a hardcore sports car will lament the loss of one more roadster in the name of mass appeal.
Current Model Introduced in:
Test Acceleration 0-100 kph:
Observed Test Fuel Economy: