What is it?
As an entry-level roadster, the new Z4 sDrive20i should be among the sweetest-handling cars BMW builds, and therefore among the sweetest-handling cars full stop. No pressure, then.
But as we’ve already learned, not least from spending time in a development prototype and subsequently during a drive of the top-billing M40i version, BMW has put its back into making the third-generation Z4 much better to drive than its tepid forebear.
There are plenty of changes. The suspension has been re-engineered with a higher proportion of aluminium and there’s a new five-link set-up at the rear. The engine sits closer to the car’s centre of gravity, which is itself lower than before, and the front track is 98mm wider – a colossal increase. At the same time, the wheelbase has shortened 26mm in order to stiffen the aluminium-and-steel platform shared with the BMW 5 Series and the new Toyota GR Supra.
Arguably of equal importance to all that is the fact BMW has done away with run-flat tyres, the new Z4 instead wearing Michelin’s truly excellent Pilot Super Sports. Too much grip? We'll come back to that, but this is fundamentally a promising layout: traditionally front-engined and rear-driven, with equal weight distribution and a driving position now closer the car’s mid-point.
As it stands and will probably remain, with hybrid and proper M versions looking highly unlikely unless some BMW board member has a change of heart, there are three engine options, all petrol and turbocharged. The sDrive20i model tested here and the sDrive30i each get BMW’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit, respectively tuned to 194bhp and 255bhp for 0-62mph times of 6.6sec and 5.4sec. At the top of the range sits the Porsche 718 Boxster-rivalling M40i M Performance, which takes a 3.0-litre inline-six, mates it to the same ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox and duly drops the sprint time to 4.6sec.
All cars are well equipped, but as a quick run-down, here's what spending a bit extra over the sDrive20i Sport's £37,000 list price can get you.
Both Sport and M Sport cars are fitted with 18in alloy wheels touting an attractive degree of tyre sidewall, although the latter also gets M Sport suspension, an M leather steering wheel, a relatively restrained bodykit and, in the case of the sDrive30i, M Sport brakes. The M Sport Plus Pack – available on the sDrive30i but not the sDrive20i – adds the same adaptive M Suspension you'll find on the M40i. The other significant option is the Comfort Pack, which includes a heated steering wheel (crucial in our eyes), a useful wind deflector and through-load access from the boot.