From £36,000
BMW's sporting offerings have lost their lustre in recent years. We have three months to find out if the new Z4 can turn that trend around

Our Verdict

BMW Z4 2018 review - hero front

BMW’s Porsche Boxster rival is better to drive than ever, although it still makes a better high-day open-top cruiser than a true sports car

21 October 2019
BMW Z4 2019 long-term

Why we’re running it: The sporting appeal of BMW’s roadster has diminished over generations. We want to find out if it’s back

Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

Life with a BMW Z4: Month 3

Removing the roof couldn’t be simpler - 9th October 2019

Steve Cropley’s criticism of the Z4’s ride has been ringing in my ears, but still there’s much to like about this two-seater. For top-down motoring, the roof mechanism couldn’t be easier to operate, even while rolling at slow speed. Flick the switch and hold until a soft bong tells you the process is complete, and the world opens up. All in a few seconds.

Mileage: 4897

Damien Smith

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A test of its grand touring credentials brings a pleasant surprise in Eco mode - 25th September 2019

Earlier reports of our time with BMW’s new Z4 have attempted to come to terms with the fact that it’s less a bona fide sports car and more an entry-level grand tourer. So, as the sun came out for the very last weekend of summer, that’s exactly how I treated it.

The Z4, it would seem, is not so easy to pin down, though. My ‘grand tour’ began with a 50-mile jaunt from Autocar’s London barracks out to deepest, darkest Kent, and by about the midway point, I’d decided the seating position was not going to encourage many owners to strap their skis to the back and point that gaping grille towards Chamonix. You sit low, as you would in its Porsche Boxster and Audi TT rivals, but not everything else comes down to the floor with you. The window line is rather too high for resting your arm, Ferris Bueller-style, and with the roof up, brave reverse parkers will quickly get on first name terms with the local chiropractor.

That said, visibility is generally very good, and that long bonnet is nowhere near as unwieldy as it might seem. If anything, it helps with abating any overriding awareness of your vulnerability between lorries on the motorway. The Z4 doesn’t feel like a small car, and even being boxed in by Eddie Stobarts wasn’t too intimidating.

Out of the traffic, the much-lampooned four-pot might not have the same characterful growl of BMW’s more potent straight sixes, but thinking of it as a hot hatch powertrain (it is, really, as a downtuned version of that fitted to the new 1 Series M135i) makes it easier to enjoy the warbly buzz emanating from the substantial twin pipes.

Sport mode amps up the volume slightly, meaning tunnels and motorway bridges quickly became a highlight of the evening commute, but the accompanying harsh accelerator response made it a button best left for the emptiest of B-roads. Even with just 242bhp to play with, the Z4 feels energetic enough to get you taken off your local PCSO’s Christmas card list.

It was frugality, however, that turned out to be the Z4’s really surprising party trick. Feeling bold one day, I set off for the Midlands with 121 miles of range showing on the dashboard – 20 fewer than I needed. Even as the gauge dipped below 90 and the traffic thickened, I remained determined not to pay motorway prices for fuel. Switching to Eco mode softens the throttle response, turns the speedo and rev counter a calming shade of blue and seemingly pops an additional 20 litres of unleaded in the tank. Consumption dropped sharply and I ended up making it to my destination with 75 miles still available.

Granted, the Z4 felt a lot more drowsy and overtaking manoeuvres were much less fun, but the resulting savings made it easier to justify a bit of a blast on the way home.

Practicality was another area in which the Z4 lost sports car points, but not necessarily to its detriment. I needed to transport a hefty load of catering equipment to a family friend’s birthday party and felt the presence of my tatty VW Bora might put a downer on proceedings. Thus, the BMW was pressed into service to carry untold quantities of saucepans, tablecloths and chafing dishes across 22 miles of glorious, potholed countryside Tarmac.

Not only did it swallow the lot (granted, it briefly became a single-seater), but even as I rushed to arrive before the festivities began, I didn’t spill a single teaspoon of my mum’s Thai green curry.

So would I swap the sDrive30i for its more potent M40i sibling? Nope, I’ll stick with the ‘cooking’ variant.

Love it:

Cruising economy Sport-mode shenanigans are thirsty work, but Eco mode works miracles on a long run.

Loathe it:

Interior Difficult to imagine enduring the Z4’s cosy cabin for the daily commute to and from work.

Mileage: 4407

Felix Page

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Can our sports car handle a weekend load on rural roads? - 11th September 2019

At a risk of over-sharing, bad memories of a previous-generation BMW Z4 taint my view of the German sports car. Having spent a week travelling to, from and around Cornwall in a first-generation model driven by an unsuitable boyfriend many years ago, my feelings about the car – a horribly stiff chassis and abominable run-flats – echoed how I felt about my relationship.

Fast forward 10 years: you’ll find a newer, wiser me and a newer, wiser Z4… hopefully. We’re two generations on from the one on which I reminisce: the run-flats are no more and BMW promises true sports car abilities plus more comfort.

Grabbing the keys for a busy weekend, my first concern was luggage space. I needed to fit in belongings for two for a festival and a wedding, plus 20 yoga mats (yes, really). Colleagues reassured me it would be fine. But the reality of most sports cars, including the Z4, is that space isn’t quite as it might be in, say, a Mini 5dr – which has a near identical boot size to the Z4. In the end, it was fine, but tight: we had a couple of bags in a footwell and a few things shoved behind the seats.

Starting in the speed-bump-ridden suburbs of London, I didn’t warm to the Z4’s unforgiving ride. In terms of suspension, there’s not much in it between the Z4 and my regular Mini Cooper S, although the Z4 seemed to hit particularly hard at the rear. Soon we were free of the capital, winding around the M25 and heading north. I had high hopes for motorway refinement but wondered whether a window was ajar, because of the wind and road noise. It’s not offensive, but I’d hoped for better.

As the weekend progressed, the Z4’s charms grew on me. Our first destination, the Festival of Beer in Silverstone, meant plenty of tracks and a grass car park. Thankful the rain had eased, the Z4 (driven at very low speeds) coped admirably with surfaces it simply wasn’t built for. Things got worse when we headed for our remote Airbnb. The owner’s instructions advised a route that avoided “a cart track, which is a bit hard on the suspension”. I’m grateful we listened, given the many potholes on our route.

The next day, I drove from Silverstone to North Bedfordshire on fun, rural roads. Our Z4 uses a 255bhp 2.0-litre petrol: it doesn’t have the shove of the most pokey sports cars, but the more you drive it, the more you find the mid-range power a perfect companion to quiet, winding roads – enough to make it enjoyable around corners but within a manageable comfort zone.

By the time we arrived home late on Sunday night, I wasn’t in the least fed up with the Z4. We also noticed plenty of glances on our travels. Was that a lack of awareness of this good-looking sports car or just admiration?

Love it:

A cosseting cabin Comfortable, neat interior, and still love the ease of use of the iDrive rotary dial.

Loathe it:

Cubbyhole shortfall Lack of easily accessible cupholders and bottle space in door pockets.

Mileage: 4809

Rachel Burgess

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Life with a BMW Z4: Month 2

Motorways, B-roads or race track? We go in search of our roadster’s spiritual home - 28th August 2019

The Z4 was in high demand around the Autocar office last month thanks to July’s sweltering weather – and because the onslaught of rain that would inevitably follow would instantly thwart any roof-down driving.

My turn behind the wheel had been booked well in advance, less to take advantage of the sun, more to coincide with our annual affordable performance car test (reverentially known as Junior Handling Day here in the office). It meant a chance to experience the BMW on track at Llandow Circuit in south Wales, and to find out whether a selection of the best hot hatchbacks going would give it cause for concern. It seemed a reasonable comparison, seeing how our Z4 30i shared both cubic capacity and cylinder count with much of this year’s field.

The outward journey mixed more engaging A-roads with longer motorway stretches, while stormy skies (and the new absence of toll booths, meaning there’s no longer an enforced stop) meant crossing the Severn was done with the roof firmly up. Happily, the mysterious door card rattle first heard by Lawrence Allan vanished just as quickly as it appeared, making for relaxing progress all round.

There’s some fun to be had at legal speeds, but push harder and the car’s weight becomes more noticeable. Things begin to get fidgety as the steering rack quickens off-centre, and this new-generation Z’s growth spurt means you pay more attention to the width of a narrow road than you might in a more playful Mazda MX-5. Longer stretches are where it feels most comfortable, with the fabric hood providing impressive isolation and the driving position ideally suited to eating up the miles.

With the roof down, the cabin is so well insulated from the wind that there was rarely a dry moment that I didn’t have it stowed away. I couldn’t match the 40mpg other staffers have seen on a cruise, though, but a figure in the high 30s by the time I reached the circuit was still respectable.

Was the Z4 transformed once on the track at Llandow? I’m not sure you’d call a circuit its natural environment (even if it did prove useful as an open-top camera car), but it generally delivered great pace and came alive when given the chance to use its entire rev range. Even the racier driving modes tend to shift up sooner than you’d expect in automatic, but there’s none of that once you take control of the ratios.

The wider margin for error granted by an empty track brought out a level of playfulness I hadn’t experienced on the road. Even without deactivating the stability control completely, BMW’s Dynamic Traction Control mode allows for a lot more wheel slip and a more entertaining, rear-driven balance than any of the attendant front-driven hot hatches could muster.

It largely sounds the part at full chat, too, with Sport Plus mode eliciting exhaust burbles on the overrun – although they seemed to come from the speakers behind the driver’s seat as much as from the rear of the car. BMW’s turbo four didn’t sound nearly as throaty as some of the gathered crowd but, given the 30i’s place in the middle of the Z4 line-up and lack of M division badging, that’s hardly a surprise. Those after an angrier note would need the six-cylinder M40i.

On the return journey from south Wales, a pit stop in rural Wiltshire revealed quite how practical a two-seater convertible could be. The roof doesn’t impede on boot space at all, and there’s more than enough room there for a couple of overnight bags. I even managed to squeeze in a coffee table without moving our bags onto my passenger’s lap. Scoot those seats forward a bit and there’s a decent amount of space behind them, too. The Z4’s cabin isn’t truly expansive, but it feels a lot roomier than those of rival two-seaters.

Love it:

Sensible soft-top Folding roof doesn’t eat into boot space at all, leaving plenty of room for luggage (and furniture).

Loathe it:

Thick-rimmed wheel Like most modern BMWs, the Z4’s steering wheel feels a little on the chunky side. Fine for cruising, less so for any meaningful feedback.


Mileage: 4343

Tom Morgan

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Life with a BMW Z4: Month 1

A trip to Goodwood highlights the Z4’s strengths - 14th August 2019

I managed to snatch the Z4’s keys for a (mostly) sunny weekend at last month’s Goodwood Festival of Speed. My thinking was that if I was going to be stuck in the festival’s usual morning traffic queues, I’d rather be doing so with the roof down and limitless amounts of vitamin D coursing through me.

As it turned out, I managed to dodge the worst of the snarl-ups so could enjoy the twistier route down and then back from the West Sussex event. In theory, then, this should have been a report where I revel in the latest Z4’s new-found lightness and agility, its rear-wheel-drive balance and its sports car qualities that make the mechanically similar Toyota Supra such a riot.

Instead, I found myself more satisfied with the refinement and comfort it offers. Whether that’s a good thing is up for debate, but to me, it is the Z4’s stand-out quality.

Much of the route from West Berkshire to Goodwood is fast dual carriageway. But the Z4’s design (along with a wind deflector as part of the Comfort Plus package) seems to deflect wind rather well with the windows up, meaning you no longer have to pretend to enjoy long roof-down motorway journeys that seem like a good idea at first.

Listening to music at such speeds is no hardship, either, thanks to the Harman Kardon audio. The US firm tells us the main focus when tuning the system was how it performs with the roof down and its ability to remain clear and crisp even at high volumes reflects that.

Just as impressive is the roof-up serenity. It’s not a Rolls-Royce, but it insulates you from passing trucks and city chaos pretty effectively for a roadster. The downside of this is that a rattle seems to have appeared in either the door or bottom edge of the roof mechanism and the absence of road din is exacerbating it somewhat.

It’s unfortunate, because the rest of the Z4 seems built to last. The interior is a little more minimalist and driver-focused than the company’s larger models but is no less plush, comfortable and tech-laden. My 6ft 2in frame is often a bit much for some two-seat roadsters. But there’s ample head and, particularly, leg room for me to stretch out and, unlike in a Mazda MX-5, settle down for whatever the A3 and M3 could throw at me. A couple of large weekend bags will sit with space to spare in the boot, too.

The weekend behind the wheel also uncovered the merits of our sDrive 30i’s four-cylinder engine. A detuned version of the unit found in the new BMW M135i, it so far seems to provide the perfect middle ground between performance, real-world efficiency and cost. A more hurried jaunt down to Goodwood saw mpg in the mid-30s, but that was coaxed up to and beyond 40 on the more leisurely, roof-down cruise back.

I bemoan the loss of more mainstream six-pot engine options as much as anyone, but in a car as nimble as the Z4, the lighter front end is welcome – and the four-pot doesn’t sound too bad when extended. A comparison between this and the full-fat M40i model would still be welcome, though, to see if its engine character wins out.

Love it:

Cruising comfort Excellent wind deflection means high speeds with the roof down are still comfortable and the interior is roomy and the seats well shaped.

Loathe it:

Rattly door Clunking sound in the door has been noticed by some but not all who’ve driven it. We suspect it’s a quirk of an early production car.

Mileage: 3699

Lawrence Allan

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App looks familiar... - 24th July 2019

BMW’s infotainment system in the Z4 doesn’t work with Apple CarPlay, instead requiring you to download a bespoke app. When I plugged in my iPhone lately, it offered to find one in the App Store for me – but came up with two suggestions: BMW’s app and one for the Toyota Supra. It’s a reminder the cars share more than just mechanical components…

Mileage: 3105

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An open-top sports car joins our fleet just in time for summer. First stop, rainy Wales - 17th July 2019

Conjure any image of a weekend of carefree coastal cruising in a stylish two-seat soft-top, and it will contrast sharply with the reality I was faced with soon after picking up the keys to our new long-termer: a snaking line of barely moving rush-hour traffic on a busy Friday evening, mixed with flashing overhead gantries warning of accidents and road closures on the M4 ahead. This wasn’t part of the plan…

Said plan was hatched by editor Mark Tisshaw after securing a BMW Z4 for our long-term fleet for the summer. Usually when we have a two-seat sports car on our fleet, its lucky custodian spends much of their working week fielding requests and pleas from colleagues to borrow it for the weekend. So Tisshaw suggested divvying up the weekends the Z4 would be with us among Team Autocar. To get the car for a particular weekend, you just needed to be doing something suitably interesting.

Having driven a prototype version of the fourth-generation Z4 in France last year, I was eager to find out how the finished version compared, so wanted to bag it for the first weekend. That happened to be the date of the Swansea Half Marathon, in my grandmother’s hometown, so I pitched taking the Z4 to South Wales, via my hometown on the coast of Somerset. It was the chance to try the Z4 on motorways and scenic Welsh roads, with a bit of summertime coastal cruising mixed in. The only snag was the need to run 13.1 miles while in Wales – but that was a problem for later, because for now I was at the head of the line for the Z4.

When our testers got their hands on the Z4, they determined it made for a stylish and comfortable cruiser while not quite the driving machine you’d hope for from a BMW sports car. While a little disappointing to hear, it seemed that refined usability of the Z4 might showcase itself better over an extended long-term test. So we opted for the sDrive 30i M Sport spec that perhaps best exemplifies such usage, with its 255bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine.

Our car’s £41,450 base price includes M Sport bodykit, wheels and seats, a black leather interior and the rather stylish San Francisco Red paint. On top were added the £1800 Technology pack (which comes with parking assistant, a head-up display and Harman Kardon audio system), the £1700 Comfort Plus pack (including a heated steering wheel, wind deflector and electric seats) and, perhaps most important, the £1950 M Sport Plus pack (which adds 19in alloys, an M Sport differential and adaptive sport suspension). Add in registration fees, and the on-the-road cost of our Z4 rises to £46,900. Quite a lot for a two-seater, that.

Mind you, it certainly looks the part (few cars I’ve driven lately have drawn as many admiring comments) and you also get a lot more than you did before: this is a substantially bigger car than previous-generation Z4s, as a chance encounter with one in a Swansea car park showed. The extra size is particularly useful when loading a weekend’s worth of stuff into the boot, which rivals that of a family hatch for size.

The cabin is just as spacious and a comfortable place to spend time, reclined in the cosseting leather M Sport driver’s seat. Which is just as well, because it wasn’t that long after settling in and pointing it in the direction of Somerset that things all began to go a bit wrong.

News of the aforementioned M4 closure came just as I was pulling onto it from the A329 (M) near Bracknell (or Barcknell, according to BMW’s sat-nav…). Progress quickly ground to a halt. Thankfully, the road wasn’t shut for long, but the resulting extra traffic meant about an hour of stop/start crawling alongside idling lorries. To keep their exhaust fumes out, I kept the roof closed, and once up to speed, it was impressive how quiet the cabin was. The refinement for a soft-top was hugely impressive.

While Friday night was a slog, a few family visits in Somerset on Saturday morning provided the chance to try the Z4 as nature intended: on country roads with the top down. It confirmed this was a car made for cruising, rather than pushing to the limit: not least because a brief trial of the Sport Plus drive mode proved it to be on the firm side for British roads, even a blast down a smooth section of the M5. More notable was how calm things remained in the cabin with the roof down at speed.

And so on to Wales. Well, eventually. The Highways Agency had decided to shut the Severn Bridge for maintenance, while also closing the M49 access road to the Second Severn Crossing. On a June weekend with plenty of holiday traffic heading south, the inevitable result was more traffic jams.

Still, eventually bridges were crossed, motorways were traversed, and Wales was reached. And it was worth it: few drives around Swansea Bay have been as enjoyable as in a Z4, top down, on a sunny afternoon. Certainly, that was more enjoyable (and less sweaty) than Sunday morning’s run down the same road during the half-marathon, not least because the sun had been replaced by grey cloud and a bracing headwind.

And, this being Wales and all, the rain – and lots of it – arrived just in time for the motorway drive home. The torrential downpour put paid to my plan to really test the Z4’s roof-down refinement by traversing the Second Severn Crossing topless (so to speak), but it showcased a different talent: in miserable conditions a soft-top absolutely wasn’t designed for, the Z4 remained hugely comfortable and assured. As an added bonus, even with my aching legs, the Z4 remained comfortable for another longer-than-anticipated journey.

First impressions, then, are that the new Z4 is a two-seater that requires fewer compromises than many to live with – even when traffic, roadworks and the weather conspire against it.

We’ve got plenty more weekends with the Z4. Hopefully, my colleagues will have more luck and get to try it in the conditions for which it’s really intended. And, if they don’t, I’m already thinking hard of ways to get my name back near the top of the list. Anyone know any good half-marathons in the south of France?

James Attwood

Second Opinion

I have vivid memories of the original Z4 3.0i my dad owned for a handful of summers. The fantastic noise made by the straight six led to more than a few top-down drives in less than ideal conditions – something I can’t see the new Z4’s four-pot doing. An open-top BMW should sound as good as it looks – perhaps exhaust tuning and some in-cabin sound augmentation will be enough to have our team braving the elements.

Tom Morgan

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BMW Z4 sDrive30i M Sport specification

Specs: Price New £41,450 Price as tested £46,900 Options Technology package £1800, Comfort Plus package £1700, M Sport Plus package £1950

Test Data: Engine 4-cyls, 1998cc, turbocharged petrol Power 254bhp Torque 295lb ft Kerb weight 1430kg Gearbox 8-spd automatic Top speed 155mph 0-62mph 5.2sec Fuel economy 46mpg CO2 139g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Comments
5

22 August 2019

Its lustre people...

22 August 2019

I will say it again, a long term review should be AT LEAST one year long, or even more. With that information, people who don't buy the first editions with birth defects can rethink if they want to buy such a car based on the objective review. Also, I understand the difficulty of execution that kind of test but it would be representative for many years ahead.  

22 August 2019

Can a magazine really be objective following 3months of free use of a £50k sports car in Summer, with zero depreciation, servicing, or insurance costs - and which has no doubt been given the once over by BMW's factory technicians?

Comments from a "real" owner might be more interesting and probably more revealing of the actual ownership costs.   

26 August 2019

Is someone on Autocar's staff actually requesting more fake engine sound??? Fake engine sound is one of the most grotesque frauds ever foisted upon cars, never mind cars from the company with "Motoren" as its middle name, and the self-proclaimed maker of the "Ultimate Driving Machine." Shameful.

24 October 2019

I like Most BMW cars...

 

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