Attractively packaged and feels resolutely assembled, but hit and miss dynamically

What is it?

This is the new BMW Z4 sDrive23i, now fitted with a folding hard top instead of a fabric roof. BMW is up-front about the reason for this: the Mercedes SLK has one too and BMW’s research suggests that it costs the Z4 sales.

On first impressions, though, the previous Z4’s character seems to have survived the change of roof. The new car is more accommodating – it’s a smidge wider but over 120mm longer – yet feels similarly minimalist and driver-focused inside. Material quality is good, although without iDrive a rather obvious dash-top cubby bluntly reminds buyers that they didn’t delve too far into the options list.

What’s it like?

Our first UK steer in the Z4 is in the sDrive23i, the range-starter and powered by a 2.5-litre straight six. It’s a free-spinning unit and revs happily to 7000rpm, though it’s not without some inertia.

When mated to the six-speed manual ’box of our test car, with its solid and precise but heavy shift, it doesn’t make for easy rev-matching when blipping downshifts. The noise it makes is refined and smooth more than aurally stimulating, but it still feels like an impressive drivetrain.

Dynamically the Z4 is on the ‘pretty good’ rather than ‘outstanding’ side of things. All Z4 flavours come as standard with 17-inch wheels, with bigger sizes optional, and with Dynamic Drive Control, with which one can choose between three settings of, well, sportiness, I suppose.

However, even on our test car’s standard 17-inchers and in DDC’s normal mode, the ride could get a little harsh over poor surfaces, with slightly loose body control. Moving through Sport and Sport+, things get both tighter and harsher, coupled to a sharper throttle and weightier steering.

Like its predecessor, the new Z4 has an electrically assisted power steering set-up, and it could use more linearity just off straight ahead. The very first few degrees do too little, the next few too much.

Once on lock it becomes more alive and precise, though. Then the Z4 reveals its inherent fine balance and poise, and starts to become a proper driver’s tool.

Should I buy one?

The BMW Z4 is good, but it hints at its dynamic talents too infrequently for the package to be wholly convincing.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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spqr 10 February 2010

Re: BMW Z4 sDrive23i

Driven all 3 new Z4 engine variants now. Impressions are that all are far more solid and classy than the old Z4 (of which I owned 2 over the years), more secure handling (not always good in a sports car of course) and a far superior ride (which is always welcome in any type of car). 23i - BMW have re-invented the Honda S2000 (without the nasty handling characteristics) with this one, revvy engine enough poke but you really have to keep in near the redline to access it, occasionally caught out trying to over-take if the engine revs drop. 30i - as above but more action lower down the rev range and even more characterful snarling from the engine than in the 23i, probably quick enough for most drivers in Speed Camera Land effortless over-taking and still good on fuel. 35i - harder engine note, louder than the others, stupidly fast and quite wonderful with it. No it isn't a Boxster but as a Mercedes SL-alike quicker than all but the AMG models, smaller and vastly cheaper. Downside for all Z4s -price. List prices are not too bad (but still a bit steep) but the options prices are ridiculous £2000+ for sat-nav, cd changer only with a top-end stereo upgrade at over £1200 on a £35000+car?! Verdict a 30i please.

Orangewheels 21 May 2009

Re: BMW Z4 sDrive23i

Seems like BMW admitting defeat on the ultimate driving machine front - maybe we will see a change of mission statement from BMW soon?

ThwartedEfforts 20 May 2009

Re: BMW Z4 sDrive23i

The Colonel wrote:

The car I drove will be in the region of £42k, and I think that's on the steep side, though the dealer tells me half of his orders so far are for the 35i with DCT

So about 2 then :)