– Intense handling
– A real head-turner
– Very good engine
– Hard ride quality
– Limited storage spaces
– Devilish manual mode
The BMW Z4 is ugly. The BMW Z4 looks disgusting. The BMW Z4 is a useless car. These are statements all regularly heard among armchair auto-enthusiasts and commoners alike. The truth is, the BMW Z4 looks terrible in pictures, but with the new coupe version, it is as stunning as it gets for a small sports car, and a competent one at that. After almost returning the car as quickly as we’d picked it up due to bureaucracy issues with BMW, we are glad we didn’t.
The unusual yet attractive shell is built up with frameless doors, sharp creases and voluptuous bulges, all in a tight little package that turns heads. Once you enter the car after banging your head on the roof, you’ll notice the interesting interior detailing. Our tester’s dashboard was slathered in a patterned aluminium trim, with harder plastics building up the rest. The upper door sills are very nicely padded, with leather door inserts lower down, matching the red leather bucket seats in our car. The leather looks to be of the non-natural variety, but we cannot confirm that. Build quality is largely tight, but we found an inner B-pillar trim piece that had already come off and was sitting on the floor when we picked up the car. We punched it back in its place. This is not the first time we had to “fix” a brand new car. In the past, we have also “fixed” a broken rear sunshade in a Lexus and a shattered phone holder in a VW, so such flaws are nothing exclusive to BMW.
By now, you must’ve realised that the BMW Z4 Coupe seats only two. Legroom is very good even for long-legged people, with good elbow room too, but there is only an inch separating your skull from the roof. It took us a whole day to figure out how to raise the seat to see outside better. It involves moving the seat back and forth using the power seat controls, but forward visibility improved considerably. Rear visibility still remained close to non-existent however, blocked by the tall front seats and the curvy rear window, with the funky central rear-view mirror even shaped to show just the view between the front seats and not part of your face. The side mirrors also could’ve been a bit bigger. Storage spaces are limited, with one small glovebox, door pockets, two adjustable pop-out cup-holders, and a luggage trunk good for one small suitcase and a few cans of Coke. Front and side airbags are standard.
The manually-adjusted steering wheel is mounted off-centre by a few centimetres to the right for some reason, which we also noticed in the new 3-Series, but to a lesser extent. The only reason we can think of for this is to allow the right hand to be closer to the gear shifter, though not of much use in an automatic car with redundant paddle shifters. The navigation system has an automated pop-up screen that doubles as an entertainment hub, with some patchy television reception, a decent speaker setup and an unexpected DVD changer between the front seats. But there is only so much that can be packed into a little car before compromises are made. The basic navigation system uses just a simple knob and a couple of buttons for control, so we easily adjusted screen settings but never figured out how to enter destinations. The automatic climate control system uses just a set of simple knobs instead of any sort of display. And the rubbery radio antenna on the rump of the car does not retract.
Our tester was the Z4 3.0si Coupe, which meant that it packed the German marquee’s new-generation inline-six engine, pumping out 262 horses and 315 Nm of torque. These are respectable numbers from BMW’s traditionally smooth motor, but it sounds gruff in the Z4, tuned to be more raucous by BMW’s own admission, with a loud exhaust and a minimally-isolated engine bay. The engine noticeably lacks midrange grunt, but has a solid initial kick and pounds on the power at high revs. It powered our freshly-built car from zero to 100 kph in 6.4 seconds with the help of an optional six-speed automatic gearbox. The Z4 could possibly be faster by manually shifting the automatic, but the paddle shifters refused our inputs half the time for some reason. The standard stick-shifter was a little better at accepting our gear changes, but still ignored enough of them to be useless. We don’t know if this was a temporary technical glitch or a design flaw, but it was enough to make us leave the shifter in “D” and let the car do its own shifting. In sport mode, the automatic wasn’t bad at all, holding gears until redline and downshifting under braking, feeling thoroughly like driving a manual, but without our involvement. A mixture of aggressive runs and highway driving produced fuel economy numbers of 14.2 litres per 100 km, which is slightly above average for an engine of this size.
The Z4 is at its best when the road starts snaking. The car seems to eerily look forward to the curves, as it gobbles them up faster than what we can throw at it. With its squat stance, confident handling, lack of body roll and insanely wide tyres, it outran our benchmark chase car — our chase car being a 20-year-old modified Toyota Supra Twin Turbo no less. With 225/40 front and 255/35 rear tyres on 18-inch alloy rims, the rear-wheel-drive Z4 has virtually unlimited grip. In some respects, the Z4 can be a dull drive in certain ways, such as its resistance to powerslides, preferring to use its claw-like grip for mildly understeering instead, unless you go really crazy. In contrast, our manual Supra can be made to easily dump all its 300 horses through the rear rubbers for heart-pounding sideways action. But when grip-driving in track-like conditions, the Z4 is the clear king, with point-and-shoot ease of control, even with the stability control turned off. The computer-assisted four-wheel discs also provide strong braking power, with firm pedal feel and straight stops.
But such hardcore drivability comes at a price, and we’re not talking about the high price tag. This raw-to-the-bone sports car is not the most ideal commuter vehicle. There is limited wind noise at 120 kph, but there is tons of rumbling road noise at any speed. The ride is also very firm, for the most part. The suspension soaks up small road imperfections like a luxury car, but if the tarmac has more prominent bumps, the limited suspension travel causes the passengers to feel every up-and-down road defect, as it crashes over the bumps. The pedals and power steering are also firm, which is not so much of an issue, except for women and girly men.
The Z4 3.0si Coupe is a strong effort by BMW at building a true sports car, and much better than its predecessor. We couldn’t help thinking why anyone in the right state of mind would buy it instead of the 330i sedan, which is much more loaded with luxury and comfort while still being almost as fun to drive, all for the same price. But then we realised that the handsome 330i looks like a turd next to the Z4 Coupe.
Current Model Introduced in:
Test Acceleration 0-100 kph:
Observed Test Fuel Economy: