We’ve had in our possession a 2000 BMW Z3 M Roadster since the beginning of 2008. It is as close as limited-income people like us can get to owning an exotic car without selling off kidneys and limbs. But in the past decade, the Z3 was replaced by the Z4, and then came a second-generation Z4 in 2009. So for a few days in 2010, we had in our possession a BMW Z4 sDrive30i. Ironically, the new mid-range Z4 now costs as much as the M Roadster used to cost a decade ago. So is a regular Z4 really at the same level as an M-tuned Z3 of the past?
Both the cars look phenomenal, and attract attention whether they are at Karachi Darbar or Burj Al Arab. It isn’t because they are particularly expensive, but more due to the fact that they look expensive, and will always be rare. While the Z3 follows the classical roadster theme of having long bonnet and a short tail, the Z4 is required to have a bigger butt to fit that folding hard-top. Our Z3 M has an optional hard-top that comes off in one piece and requires a garage for storage. The M also comes with more exhaust tips and wider rear wheels, hinting at better performance expectations.
Both cars are cramped, with the Z4 a little less so than the Z3, but there is still enough headroom for most adults, and tons of legroom due to the long bonnet. Both use similar grades of materials, with firm “soft-touch” trim, stitched leather and some hard-plastic areas. The Z4 has more useable storage areas, but the Z3 has the cooler sports seats.
The Z4 sDrive30i concentrates on comfort features that take away any feel of a sports car, such as an electronic parking brake, dual-zone a/c, Bluetooth, HID headlights, LED rear lamps, and even an automatic gearbox with vestigial paddle shifters. On the other hand, the Z3 M has a proper manual gearbox, a proper handbrake, a basic a/c and analogue gauges for all sorts of temperatures. Both cars have the basics, such as power windows, CD stereo, electric mirrors, side airbags and keyless entry. Oddly enough, the Z3 M has cruise control, but the mid-range Z4 does not.
The refined 258 hp 3.0-litre inline-6 in the Z4 sDrive30i always felt powerful enough, but not ferociously so. This motor has a decent kick at the low end and at the high end, but falters at mid-range revs. That automatic gearbox doesn’t do the car any favours in terms of driver involvement. However, the 321 hp 3.2-litre inline-6 in the M-tuned Z3 starts off conservatively, but speeds up rapidly as the revs rise, culminating in a 7,000 rpm scream-fest of clattering metal. This power is accessible through a stiff manual gearbox, and there is enough unintended wheelspin in 1st gear to wake up lazy drivers. The M is definitely the quicker car, but it’ll likely lose to the pricier Z4 sDrive35i turbo model in a straight line.
The new Z4 handles rather well actually, even if it has been supposedly softened up. There is very little body roll, and has tons of grip from the ultra-wide tyres, making it nearly impossible to casually swing the rear out if not up to speed. The moderately-firm steering is sharp and communicative. But the aging Z3 M is a beast to handle, with no discernible body roll and a rear end that swings on demand, compounded by slightly-thinner tyres and much lower weight. The steering is very firm, with tons of feedback, but slightly rubbery in turning feel, possibly due to age more than design. The old M has no electronic nannies to save incompetent drivers, unlike the new Z4.
The Z4 rides very firmly, and suffers from an annoying amount of wind noise. The M is even worse on both counts.
The Z4 is a better all-round car than the Z3, and makes for the better daily driver.
But hey, this is a sports car comparison. And the Z3 M is a classic throwback sports car. If all you really need is a boulevard cruiser, go buy a 318Ci convertible. The Blue Roundel sells those too.