From £28,880
New BMW Z4 gets a folding hard-top and added sophistication and comfort
18 March 2009

What is it?

Previously pitched on the strength of its styling and sporting on-road attributes, this time around the BMW Z4 is being sold on its sophistication and added comfort. This move pitches it towards the Mercedes-Benz SLK and away from the Porsche Boxster.

The big news for the BMW Z4 is the adoption of a folding hard-top roof. BMW says the switch from fabric is in response to requests from customers. Accommodating the roof, which retracts in 20sec, has altered the dimensions of the Z4; the new model is 148mm longer and 46mm wider than before. But as the new roof boasts a flatter turret, the car’s height has been trimmed by 8mm, at 1291mm.

What’s it like?

Three versions of BMW’s classic straight-six engine will be offered with the new Z4. They include an entry-level 201bhp 2.5 litre with 184lb ft of torque in the sDrive23i, and a 255bhp 3.0 litre with 310lb ft in the sDrive30i. Our test car, however, was fitted with the range-topping twin-turbocharged 3.0 litre serving up 302bhp and a gutsy 295lb ft. All three models come with a six-speed manual gearbox, but BMW expects the optional six-speed automatic and the seven-speed double-clutch unit (as fitted to our test car) to prove most popular.

Despite weighing 1580kg (270kg more than the previous model), the sDrive35i has plenty of punch off the line and through the gears. It hits 62mph in 5.1sec and a limited 155mph, figures that make it quicker up the strip than a Boxster S.

The only real disappointment is the sound. With a pair of turbos muffling the induction and exhaust, it is hardly alluring.

The Z4’s wheelbase remains virtually unchanged at 2496mm, but its tracks have grown. It is all topped off by standard 17-inch wheels, but our test car ran on 19-inch alloys.

The optional wheels fill out the arches to great effect – especially when combined with the optional M-sport suspension package that lowers ride height by 10mm – but they do nothing for the overall balance. There’s little in the way of on-the-limit adjustability when you dial up sport plus mode to delay the onset of DSC (dynamic stability control); you get entirely predictable understeer, followed by the onset of roll oversteer at the rear when you step away from the throttle in constant-radius corners. It is foolproof but lacking in excitement. We suspect that 17-inchers will be the way to go.


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The steering is also not without fault. The Z4 sticks with an electro-mechanical set-up. A 14.4:1 ratio replaces the 14.2:1 of old and there are changes to the positioning of the rack. At 2.7 turns lock to lock it is not quick, but it is reasonably alert off centre. The major problem, however, remains a lack of feel. With the car set in normal mode, it is rather light. Switch into sport and/or sport plus and the weighting increases.

The ride is far better resolved, for the new Z4 has traded some of its renowned body control for a touch of added comfort. Body control remains impressive, but the primary ride has improved greatly, with a more composed action over a variety of surfaces. The roadster’s steel structure also resists scuttle shake with authority, even on badly pockmarked roads.

On the motorway with its roof up, the Z4 is much more refined than before. A larger rear window and rear quarter windows (that can be opened) also provide added visibility. The boot is also a useful 50 litres larger, too, at 310 litres.

Should I buy one?

The new Z4 is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But with its distinctive looks, classy cabin, strong performance in sDrive35i guise, refinement and increased luggage capacity, it is certainly going to make life harder for the SLK and Boxster.

The problem is that it is not quite as involving behind the wheel as its high-end price tag might have you believe. With this in mind, we await the arrival of the Z4 M with interest.

Join the debate


20 March 2009

[quote Autocar]The problem is that it is not quite as involving behind the wheel as its high-end price tag might have you believe. [/quote] So - ugly and dull.

20 March 2009

I didn't like the previous generation of this car, and from what I have read this one is going to do nothing to change my feelings about the Z4.

During development, BMW stated that they wanted to make it more appealing to women as they felt not enough of their current customers were female. I'm not sure what they decided to change to obtain this but the main sticking point in my view (the styling) isn't sufficiently different enough to do that.

Poor effort BMW.


20 March 2009

Is that a typo for 310lb ft in the sDrive30i? Truth is this BMW is not for the enthusiastic driver audience, more for the affluent retirees throughout the world.

20 March 2009

More nonsense spouted about the Z4.

First its Autocar rabbiting on about how the current Z4 sold less than TT but conveniently forgetting to mention the TT Coupe has 4 seats and therefore is available for thousands of company car drivers to select. Try comparing Z4 Roadster sales to TT Roadster sales and I think you'll find a different answer.

Then its someone claiming this car isn't more female friendly. Anyone who can't see how this latest incarnation has been made more female friendly must be blind. Try a metal roof, improving comfort, noise and warmth, try a much more luxurious interior, try toned down flame surfacing, try a softer ride. Read the article properly next time.

As for the styling - The people who criticise the Z4's styling are missing the point and are precisely the sort of boring sods who will buy a Mercedes SLK or a Boxster (great design evolution in that pig ugly model over the last 15 years !). Frankly if you don't get the design its because you don't get design. The sort of person who might buy a mock-tudor house in a lego land estate or a Civic Type R.

The only disappointment for me is that the 35i isn't more hardcore than the lesser powered variants. The female contingent is far more likley to buy the entry level (as they did with the Z4 2.0i). BMW could and should have cut loose a bit more on the 35i but then that might compromise an M version.

Me ?, I'll wait for the inevitable Alpina version with the Bi-turbo engine. That should be a hoot.

20 March 2009

Funny how another competent, stylistically devisive but otherwise wholly unremarkable mass market German roadster aroses such strong feelings. In fact, the only vaguely interesting thing as far as I can see is the model name - surely they could come up with something more concise and snappy than the BMW Z4 3.0 sDrive35i CC?

20 March 2009

I agree with originalguv comments in a way, i was never a fan of the old Z4 but this new one is very appealing in a number of ways. I can see myself driving this car to work everyday becasue it seems to be more comfortable to live with and on the roads. the metal roof also appels to me i know people go it makes it slow heavy and less fun to drive, that may be true in some aspects but on british roads we dont drive in a fun or exciting way. the roads are not what you call a race track. I can understand why BMW have made the new Z4 more softer, this is becasue to make it more of a everyday car, and i do like the new styling much more smarter then bm of past

20 March 2009

[quote originalguv]boring sods who will buy a.... Boxster (great design evolution in that pig ugly model over the last 15 years !).[/quote]

Having driven a Boxster I really don't know why so many people buy them. If it wasn't dull to look at, it was certainly to drive. And the interior was quite frankly a very cheap let down.

However, I've been fortunate enough to drive several 3.0l Z3, and Z4s and I can honestly say they're much more exciting to drive than the Porsche. Looks superb as I got the flame surfacing right away (follow every line see now it flows, it a work of a genius), and seem to use higher quality parts inside than the Porsche too. If I was buying one I'd buy the Z4 Coupe.

However, as much as I do like the Z4 Coupe, unfortunately being taller than average it would have been a pain to live with. Kept trying to convince myself I could live with it, visiting garages and trying different seat positions until I finally had to admit that I had to buy the 3 series instead. But that 3.0l engine is sweet.

20 March 2009

[quote RobotBoogie]surely they could come up with something more concise and snappy than the BMW Z4 3.0 sDrive35i CC?[/quote] I've only just managed to work out the old nomenclature, can't understand this new fangled system - can someone explain it please ?

20 March 2009

[quote originalguv]Then its someone claiming this car isn't more female friendly. Anyone who can't see how this latest incarnation has been made more female friendly must be blind. Try a metal roof, improving comfort, noise and warmth, try a much more luxurious interior, try toned down flame surfacing, try a softer ride. Read the article properly next time. [/quote]

I did read the article properly!

I am working on the basis of what I have been told by various women. There was never a problem with the previous models roof, warmth, ride or interior. Indeed the interior was one of the points that was singled out for praise. Their problems with the car (on the whole) was down to the styling and the phallic nature of the long bonnet and snouty nose. They perceived (and perceived is the important word) that it was a blokes car. From that point of view, nothing has changed.

I will agree, the car as a whole will be more attractive to most prospective owner because of the improvements, and that there will be some more "female" sales because of it, but the fundamental problem has not been addressed.

20 March 2009

It seems like BMW's tried the same trick Ferrari just did with the California - folding hard top and make it more refined and comfortable, try and get more women into the car without ruining the handling. It seems like they'll accomplish it all except the last part, where Ferrari still got the "don't worry its still a great car" reviews, the Beemer wont.

The few online reviews all seem to say the same thing - more comfy, slightly better to look at, but a lot heavier and less involving. I suspect that this will be one of those cars that will actually sell in more numbers than the old one, despite getting a distinctly average review from the large percentage of the motoring press who value handling ability above most other factors - especially is a supposed sports car like this.

People on his forum seem to get upset when BMW doesn't win everything nowadays - get over it. This will sell more than the previous car as it's less focused and aimed at a wider audience, but yes, that does make it a less accomplished handler and move it away from BMW traditional core values, just like the 5 series GT does. It's never going to win a handling competition weighing 250kg more than the previous car, and at roughly 1600 kg its 100kg more than a 5 series (523i weighs 1500kg) thats really heavy for a car this size!

As for the stuff about the Audi TT & company car lists - rubbish I'm afraid. Having supplied cars to most of the major fleets in a previous role for several years, it's the fact that it's a coupe and only has 2 doors that keeps it off the company car lists - no one in their right mind would try to squeeze a client into the back of a TT. The only company car buyers for the TT were the SME's whose owner drivers could have whatever they wanted, including the Z4, they just didnt want it.

The TT sold well (more in the UK than anywhere else) on looks, price and having a coupe version; the Mk1 in particluar was never a great handler but it still outsold the Z4, and got a lot more women buyers.

This new Z4 does exactly what BMW wanted it to do, turns it into a cruiser and moves it away from a sports car. This is bound to ruin the handling and mean it can't compete with the Boxster - it as the extra weight of 3 big men in the boot (or a baby elephant) more that the Boxster, because BMW wanted the folding roof. Why are people upset when Autocar points this out? - it is not a criticism, they are not insulting you or the car, it's just an unbiased comment, this is a car enthusiast mag / website after all. If you're upset about the car, or the entirely predictable reaction to it, blame BMW for changing its core values and target audience.


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