The BMW Z4 has brought stability to its maker’s sports car offering. For more than a decade before it arrived, Munich seemed only to be experimenting with various executions of two-seat good-time cars.
The Z1, Z3 and Z8 had plenty of novelty value, but none won enough commercial success to survive beyond one model generation (although that latter fact seems a bit bonkers when you think that secondhand values of Z8s have now risen well north of £200,000).
The Z4, on the other hand, has been successful enough to convince BMW to directly replace it not once but twice. The latest, third-generation version drops the folding metal hard-top of the second, but it's still slightly longer, wider and heavier than its immediate predecessor.
Chunkier or otherwise, though, BMW will tell you that this is an attempt to reverse the move made by its predecessor away from uncompromising driver appeal – to represent BMW’s traditional sporting DNA as best a modern front-engined, rear-wheel-drive roadster can and maybe even give owners of the four-cylinder Porsche 718 Boxster S greater pause for a silken six-pot reverie than it has managed before.
This is the car Munich has been developing in tandem with industry giant Toyota since 2013, of course – the platform sibling of the incoming Supra. That fact, more than anything, might be the reason why Munich hasn’t shrunk it down or changed it around too much, because doing so would only have made engineering the car on a common platform harder.
What BMW has done, however, is to entirely redesign the car’s suspension (struts featuring up front and, for the first time in a Z4, a five-link system at the rear). Lightweight aluminium components have been adopted to save on unsprung mass, while new subframe mounting techniques have been used at both ends and the tracks are wider – by a significant 98mm at the front.
At launch, buyers will be able to choose between 194bhp and 255bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engines in the 20i and 30i respectively. A 3.0-litre turbo straight six (M40i), with M Performance derivative status, glitters away temptingly at the top of the range and is endowed with 335bhp and 369lb ft of torque (which, Z4 fans will note, is actually no more grunt than the outgoing Z4 sDrive35iS had).
The headline version of the new car gets lightweight 18in alloy wheels as standard, as well as an eight-speed automatic gearbox, lowered and adaptively damped sport suspension, uprated brakes and a torque-vectoring electronic locking differential.