BMW knows that although the previous Z4 looked every inch the sort of two-seat roadster you’d expect Munich to produce, when it came to its dynamic capabilities it was a little, well, disappointing.
It was a car to enjoy being seen in, rather than to enjoy driving. Which is fine, if that’s your thing. But, as an Autocar reader, that’s probably not your thing.
It’s not really BMW’s thing, either. “We wanted a Z4 with more dynamic capabilities, one that was sporty and precise. A pure roadster, a pure driving machine,” says Florian Dietrich, a BMW driving dynamics expert.
In that sense, the third-generation Z4 doesn’t follow on from the previous one, as much as hark back to the original, which first went on sale in 2003. “The first generation of Z4 was sporty,” says product manager Andreas Ederer. “The second generation was comfortable. This [new one] can do both. The last version was a car to drive on a Sunday afternoon. This is a car you’ll want to drive on Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon.”
The brief, then, was to make the new Z4, particularly in range-topping M40i guise, a driver’s car. A Porsche Boxster rival. Actually, that’s still the brief.
The Z4 is due to go on sale in March next year, so the camouflaged M40i you see here is still a pre-production version, and BMW’s driving dynamics team is still refining it and honing how the various adaptive systems such as the Dynamic Stability Control work together.
But you sense a confidence that they’ve delivered on the brief, and that explains why they’ve invited a handful of journalists to BMW’s Miramas test facility in the south of France to drive the car at a relatively early stage. And, having driven it, the early impressions are that BMW has indeed delivered.
The engineering behind the new BMW Z4
To understand why the new Z4 is so different from its predecessor, consider all the major bits taken from the old one. “The only thing we carried over was the name,” says Dietrich.
Well, that didn’t take long.
The Mk3 Z4 is built on a new architecture, developed by BMW specifically for sports cars and shared with the upcoming Toyota Supra. Elements of the platform will also be used on future models, starting with the next 3 Series.
When they started work, the Z4 development team came up with a series of technical specification requests, and BMW management made Dietrich “very happy” by agreeing to all of them. As a result, the M40i has been developed as a package, starting from the ground up, with the use of the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres also fitted to the M3 and M4.