Allan was more impressed, although perhaps he tempered his expectations more: “I didn’t expect an out-and-out sports car. It did a decent job of balancing refinement and cruising ability without feeling all at sea on the twisty bits.” He added that the engine was “stronger than its output would suggest, though it lacks aural character”. He also praised the car’s all-round refinement, especially with the roof down. Even in open-top form, the cabin remained an amazingly calm place at motorway speeds.
What Team Autocar did agree on is the car’s biggest bugbear: its ride. “It can be stiff in the sportier drive modes, and hardly like driving over pillows in Comfort mode,” said Morgan. Tisshaw said “the ride defines so much of it – it’s not really acceptable. It needs to be softened off considerably.” Cropley went even further, complaining about the ride quality “on any road with bumps”. He added: “I fundamentally disliked it.” Ouch.
While Cropley was set in his viewpoint, several of the Autocar team admitted theirs changed over time. The Z4 grows on you – perhaps because you move past your preconceptions of the car. “It was a car without a good first impression, yet the more you drove it, the more you liked it,” said Tisshaw. Burgess also said that “it grew on me: it seemed the perfect level of power for some tame enthusiasm on rural roads”.
As Page put it: “As a year-round daily driver and occasional coastal shuttle, it offers just about the right combination of engagement and poise to entertain.”
Ultimately, perhaps the biggest problem with the Z4 is that views have been shaped by the expectations placed on it by BMW. Because the Z4 isn’t a bad car: if you don’t mind the ride, it’s a fine, stylish cruiser, with a comfortable, refined interior and head-turning style. It’s just perhaps not a true driver’s car.
“It’s not a disgrace as a roadster, but it’s no Porsche Boxster,” said Allan. Burgess agreed, noting that at our car’s £46,900 asking price, “you’d buy a Cayman for that money”. Tisshaw perhaps summarised that mild frustration the Z4 left us with best: “It remains very much one for poseurs, but Toyota has shown there’s real quality in the chassis. A Z4 coupé could go some way to addressing the ride issues – but then the Z4 coupé is the Supra…” Or, to put it another way, if we ever add a Supra to our long-term test fleet, the queue for the keys has already started.
A front-engined, rear-driven roadster should be more engaging than this, and we wouldn’t pick the Z4 over a Boxster. But still I can see the appeal for a premium soft-top that delivers comfortable cruising, decent fuel economy – and lacks the Porsche badge connotations.