Audi R8 VS BMW Z4
- Howling V10
- Amazing traction
- Looks more aggro now
- No high-tech safety
- Interior short on flexibility
- Didn't get to drive it on 'real' roads
- Exterior styling
- Relatively cheap
- Top-down joy
- Cheap touches in interior
- Overly firm ride
- Not as involving as you’d hope
There is typically no need for introductions when it comes to the Audi R8. But the 2019 Audi R8 isn’t the one you’ve come to know - its been sharpened up in terms of both its appearance, and its performance.
This heavily facelifted version of the second-generation Audi R8 keeps its high-revving V10 engine, and turbochargers have been kept at bay, too. It can’t hold off the march of progress for much longer, though - it’s almost certain this will be the last V10-engined R8… thankfully it has only just launched, so it should be on sale for a few years yet.
I got a chance to drive the new Audi R8 V10 Performance model in Spain at the model’s international launch drive this week - but only on Circuito Ascari race track.
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Buying a sports car is a bit like getting a tattoo - it’s not a sensible, practical or necessary choice, it’s an emotional one, and, if we’re honest, the most important factor is that it looks good, and makes us look good. At least in our own eyes.
Much like a tattoo, the lustre of a sports car can fade over time, and if you keep it too long it can start to look daggy and outdated. Fortunately, you’re not stuck with a sports car forever, and you can always buy a new one, so if you bought an old Z4, the arrival of this new one is very good news indeed.
Whether previous versions of the BMW roadster were pretty or putrid is a matter of debate but this new one - penned by Aussie genius Calvin Luk - is an undeniably impressive thing to look at. Fortunately Luk hasn’t included a Southern Cross or a boxing kangaroo in his design.
To make it even more tempting, this muscular-looking beast can even be yours for less than $85,000, a bargain for a BMW that looks this good. But if you want the go-fast versions, it’s going to cost you significantly more, of course.
So, is the new BMW Z4 as good as it looks?
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This iteration could well be the final Audi R8 with a V10 engine, and what a note to go out on. Emissions laws and the ever-present push towards electrification are almost certain to see the next-generation R8 take a very different tack to this model. Lucky, then, that this is the best R8 yet.
I know the final score doesn’t necessarily reflect that - but that’s because it falls short on ‘regular’ car things. Even so, it’s an epic machine.
Would you have an Audi R8 over one of its rivals? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
In summary, then, the new Z4 is a good car to drive, but not, sadly, a great one.
It’s strange, much like a DC movie compared to one from the Marvel Universe, all the parts seem to be present, and it looks fabulous, but there’s just a bit of magic missing.
And the ride feels a bit like sitting on Thor’s hammer.
Would you rather the soft-top Z4 over its hardtop Supra sister? Let us know in the comments.
Also check out Andrew Chesterton's video review from the Z4's international launch:
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
Wow, it was possible to make the Audi R8 even more attractive - the brand’s designers have gone and done it with this facelift, which sees a number of changes to the exterior styling that combine for a more aggressive, sharper look.
The ‘Singleframe’ grille now looks even more menacing, having been widened and flattened, and any trace of chrome has been removed. As the chief designer told us, a supercar is no place from chrome. There are three small slats above the grille, which hark back to the iconic Audi Sport quattro model of the 1980s.
Further, the front splitter is wider, the rear diffuser has been made even more prominent, and there are new oval exhaust pipe outlets - previously reserved for Audi RS models only.
My only ‘errr’ moment with the design is the mesh cooling section at the rear bumper, which appears a touch unfinished in combination with some colours, and it’s also very rectangular, meaning the new exhaust tips are at odds with it. But it all has a purpose, and applies to the regular R8 and the LMS racer.
There are three new exterior packages available, which change elements such as the front splitter, door sill trims (side skirts) and diffuser. On the base car, there’s a high-gloss black look; on the V10 Performance there’s a matte titanium look to these bits. Optionally, there’s a high-gloss carbon package.
Further, customers can get the badges and Audi rings painted in gloss black, while body paint colours now include 'Kemora grey' and 'Ascari blue'. There’ll be 19-inch and 20-inch wheels offered, depending on the model.
Inside, there’s been a bit less of a noticeable change. Check out the interior photos to see for yourself.
BMW refer to this new Z4 as a work of art, which is the kind of hyperbole we’re used to hearing from car companies, except that this time they’re not exaggerating.
Previous Z4s have been divisive bits of design, but surely there’s little argument that what Aussie-born crayon wielder Calvin Luk has come up with here is the best-looking Z car ever.
Well, the best Z4 at least. Luk was reportedly inspired by the classic looks of the Z8, which truly was a beautiful car. His Z4 is a lot more aggressive, with its sculpted bonnet and angry face, but it gets away with its muscularity.
From side on, the long-nosed silhouette is magnificent and from the rear, with its duck-tail like boot line, which is effectively a built-in rear spoiler, it is phat and fabulous.
The good looks are a very important win for a car like this, because you want one before you’ve even got in and started the engine, and that will make the cut-priced base model very tempting indeed, no matter how slow it might be.
Okay, so Audi claims “the driver sits in the new R8 like in a race car”.
Having been a passenger in the Audi R8 GT3 car the brand had on show, I can tell you that’s not entirely true - because while you do sit about 12 centimetres higher than that ground-hugging beast, the regulation R8 model is superbly comfortable.
What the brand is getting at, though, is that the focus of all the interior design is to serve the driver. As such, there’s no central media screen - instead, there’s a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster (Audi ‘virtual cockpit’) which is where the driver takes charge using steering wheel controls.
The system is crisp to look at, but it can be a little hard to get used to the controls, especially for sat nav inputs and so on. And that’s even with the central MMI rotary dial with touch pad.
But the other controls are great - I love the air-conditioning knobs, the gear selector and the switchgear, which all has a technical and beautiful finish to it. The steering wheel is a delight to hold, and the push-button starter is a real eye-catcher in red.
The seats in the cars we tested were superbly supportive and very comfortable, but the lack of adjustment of the fixed buckets means you might find yourself a bit too upright (if you get to spend more time in the car than we did).
And even though it’s a supercar, the R8 offers a level of practicality. Sure, the door pockets are virtually useless and there are no properly usable cupholders, but that gives you an idea to the intent of the car. There are, however, storage spots behind both of the seats, and there’s a centre storage area in front of the shifter and in the armrest.
And while the R8 has a mid-mounted engine, there’s still a boot: the R8 coupe’s rear cargo bay offers enough room for a suitcase or two soft smaller bags for a weekend away, with 226 litres of cargo capacity - according to Audi, that’s enough for a golf bag. There’s a secondary storage area under the bonnet, which adds an extra 112L of space. Don’t buy the Spyder if practicality is important to you, as it has even less storage space.
Just by looking at it, you’d assume the Z4 is as practical as a poisoned apple, but the surprising fact is that, as long as you never want to carry more than one passenger, it’s not that bad at all.
Unlike the obviously cheaper MX-5, for example, the cabin doesn’t feel like it’s been shrink-wrapped to your body and, on a sunny day, if you’re really keen to get a tan, you’d have to say its design very practical indeed.
Coincidentally, the move to replace the heavy and cumbersome steel roof with a fabric one has added exactly 10 litres to the boot volume, and it means that you get all that space regardless of whether the roof is up or down.
That’s very practical, and very clever, indeed. Although practicality isn’t, to be fair, top of the list of attributes that roadster buyers are looking for.
Price and features
It’s expected Audi Australia will again offer the R8 in two different specs when it launches in Australia around the fourth quarter of 2019.
That means a base model (if you can call it that) V10 variant, and a higher-grade V10 Performance grade with more power and torque. The latter is expected to be the bulk seller - the current V10 Plus model accounts for some 90 per cent of R8 sales. Maybe they’ll drop the base car - time will tell.
It’s too early to have a stab at pricing and specifications, because nothing has been confirmed as yet and we’d be on Audi keeping prices relatively stable or maybe bumping them up - hey, you’re getting more power for your money, after all!
But you can bank on goodies like LED headlights, auto high-beam lights, leather seat trim, DAB+ digital radio, sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 13-speaker sound system, auto headlights and wipers, push-button start and keyless entry and a fair bit more.
The V10 Performance model we drove had 20x8.5-inch front wheels and 20x11-inch rear wheels, with super grippy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.
For a guide, the current start price for the V10 is $366,340 plus on-road costs, while the V10 Plus (which will be renamed V10 Performance) currently lists at $402,430 before on-roads. Those prices are for the coupe - the Spyder convertible adds roughly $20,000 on both grades.
Considering some of the competitors, it is a little pricey - although it’s the cheapest way into V10 supercar ownership.
So, what are its rivals? Lamborghini has the Huracan (essentially an R8 twin - priced from $378,900 in RWD, or $428,000 for the AWD model), or you could take a look at a McLaren 570S ($395,000), Mercedes-AMG has the GT (from $261,130) and there are about 20 versions of the Porsche 911 you might consider (from $220,500). If the Spyder is more your go, I’d take a look at the Ferrari Portofino ($398,888), too.
The immediate impression of the BMW Z4’s pricing is that it’s a bit of a bargain, because it will no doubt be advertised as “from $84,900”, and it certainly looks like a lot of car, in terms of style alone, for that money.
Yes, it’s still a lot more than a Mazda MX-5, but in terms of a German roadster, that’s a tempting offer.
The trade-off is that the entry-level BMW Z4 sDrive20i is not exactly bristling with power, although its standard equipment list is quite good for the price (see below).
The Z4 sDrive30i has the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with more power, but costs a significant amount more at $104,900.
The range tops out with the M40i at $124,900, which is getting into large numbers, but its power figures are also hefty.
Standard specification for the entry-level Z4 sDrive20i surprisingly includes some of the things you might expect BMW to charge you for, like an M Sport Package (very much a non-mechanical package of M bits and badges), and an M leather steering wheel with multifunction buttons, plus a wind deflector, a head-up display, and heated M Sport seats with electric adjustment, covered in ‘Vernasca’ leather, and wireless phone charging.
You also get 18-inch alloy wheels, an eight-speed Sport Automatic transmission with paddle shifters (there’s only one gearbox option), a tyre-repair kit, because there’s no spare in there, a through-loading system for bulky items, cruise control with Braking Function, high-beam assist, LED headlights and Parking Assistant including Reverse Assistant.
In the dash, you’ll find a HiFi Loudspeaker System with 10 speakers and DAB digital radio, and Connected Package Professional, which allows you to access Apple CarPlay wirelessly. Which is clever, but it’s only free for the first year, and then you have to pay a subscription fee to use it, which is $179 for the next year.
Throw another $20K at your BMW dealer and the sDrive30i gets you an upgrade to 19-inch alloys, the Comfort Access package - which allows you to lock and unlock the car, and start it, using either the provided, credit-card-sized Digital Key, or via your smartphone, as long as it’s a Samsung.
You’ll also stop quicker with M Sport Brakes and ride better with Adaptive M Suspension. Your 30i also gets you Active Cruise Control with Stop & Go function and adaptive LED headlights.
The top-spec Z4 M40i has everything you get in the two models below plus M Performance engine and suspension tuning and an M Sport Differential to help you get all that power to the wheel where it’s needed, plus lumbar support in the seats, ambient lighting for the cabin and a harman/kardon Surround Sound System with 12 speakers.
Engine & trans
The new R8 retains the same 5.2-litre V10 (FSI) naturally-aspirated engine, but Audi’s engineers have wrung its neck to squeeze more power and torque out of it.
There are two tunes available - the regular version, which has 419kW of power (up from 397kW), and 560Nm of torque (up from 540Nm). It only comes with a seven-speed 'S tronic' dual-clutch automatic transmission, and comes with quattro all-wheel drive.
The claimed 0-100km/h time is just 3.4 seconds for the coupe and 3.5sec for the Spyder convertible. It tops out at 324km/h, or 322/km/h in the convertible.
The higher-grade version is by far the most potent R8 yet, with 456kW of power (up from 449kW) and 580Nm of torque (was 560Nm). Again, S tronic and quattro, and this time around with a 0-100km/h acceleration claim of 3.1sec for the coupe (3.2sec convertible). Top speed is 331km/h or 329km/h, depending on body type.
You’ve got three options to choose from here, two of them exciting, with the base model Z4 sDrive 20i offering effectively a detuned, 145kW and 320Nm version of the 2.0-litre, turbocharged four cylinder.
This might be enough for some people, and perhaps you shouldn’t expect too many fireworks when you’re paying less than $85K, but it’s not an exciting version of this clever powerplant.
The same engine can be found in the 30i, but it’s been given a proper tweaking to provide 190kW and 400Nm. This is far more like it, and is what you might call the sensible, sporting choice.
At the top of the range, the M40i offers a turbocharged version of BMW’s famous straight-six engine, and one that has been seriously fettled by the M division people to provide a very exciting 250kW and 500Nm. This one sounds fantastic and will make you yelp with excitement/fear when you put your foot down.
Something for everyone, then.
Don’t expect to see the official claimed fuel consumption figure on a regular basis. The number is 12.3 litres per 100 kilometres for the most potent coupe version, while the lower-power version uses a claimed 11.4L/100km.
The engine has cylinder deactivation for less intense situations, and there’s engine stop-start, too.
It uses 98RON premium unleaded fuel, and has an 83 litre fuel tank capacity.
Making sports cars with four-cylinder engines might still seem like madness to grumpy old men, but it sure does pay off in terms of fuel economy.
The sDrive20i claims a fuel figure of 6.5L/100km, with 148g/km of CO2, while the sDrive30i, which get more power and torque out of the same engine, somehow returns exactly the same fuel economy - at 6.5L/100km, with the CO2 only a smidge up at 149g/km.
Step up to the M40i, with its significantly larger engine, and the fuel cost isn’t terrible, at least in terms of the claimed, combined-cycle figure, which is 7.4L100km, with 169g/km CO2.
I can’t say what it’s like on public roads, but my stint on a shortened track at Circuito Ascari near Ronda in Spain left me grinning ear to ear.
And so it should, with the immense performance of the V10 engine - tested on track in the higher output R8 Performance spec with the full 456kW and 580Nm complement of grunt numbers.
Driving the R8 reminded me of that one time in under 11s rugby league when a much smaller defender managed to lift me up and dump be on the ground - an impressive effort, because I was heavy enough to be running around in under 15s. At that time, it took a second for me to realise what had happened, and was enough to leave me a bit short of breath.
The same sensation came to mind as I loaded up the throttle and threw myself at the horizon from the pit exit. Under a heavy right foot, the world around me started to blur and the first corner of the track suddenly approached after the crest. I had to try and remember what the lead car had shown me in the sighting laps prior, where to turn, how hard to get on the gas.
But I was distracted by the mind-bending physics I was experiencing, not to mention the theatre of the R8. The sound really is hard to beat - the howl of a high-revving V10, unmuffled by turbochargers, is something to behold when it’s enveloping you, and the fact the noise emanates from behind your ears almost makes you want to push it even harder.
1 – 6 – 5 – 10 – 2 – 7 – 3 – 8 – 4 – 9. That’s the firing sequence of the V10. Just thought you might like to know.
The gearshifts cut through the noise with prodigious sharpness, and when I chose the 'Performance' drive mode (which firmed everything up, enabled even more manic acceleration and disabled traction control) the shifts were brutal, often resulting in a shockwave through the car. It was some seriously good feedback for me as the driver, though it may not bode well for longevity…
There was tremendous traction from the quattro all-wheel drive system from a standstill, and across a long, banked corner on the track I felt super confident, pushing harder than I know I would have dared in a rear-drive car.
I managed to get a steer in both an R8 with the regular steering system and a model with the brand’s ‘dynamic’ steering set-up. Both have been retuned to be “more direct and precise throughout the entire speed range”.
I preferred the dynamic steering set-up which can vary the steering ratio based on the speed, and is “very direct” according to Audi - and even more so when Performance mode is engaged.
I found it to be super predictable at lower cornering speeds, and therefore more manageable to an amateur like me. One of Audi’s test drivers told me that he prefers the normal steering set-up, because at ‘really big speed’ it’s easier to predict.
The highest speed I saw was just a tickle over 200km/h, and I understood his take on it. Maybe normal steering for high-speed tracks, then? Or I just need to learn to drive faster…? Hey, no-one wants to be the guy who bins the $400k supercar on the very first rotation of about thirty over a two-week run of international journalists visiting to sample the newest, bestest and most expensivest Audi has to offer.
The models we drove were all fitted with the optional carbon ceramic braking package, which allowed the stoppers to resist fade for a lot longer - ideal for extended track time sessions, and they certainly stood up to my reliance on them on my few short stints on the track. They came in especially handy during a (very cool) night session where we were expected to remember the track layout about seven hours after our first outing.
It would have been great to drive it on real roads, because apparently that’s where the dynamic steering is most impressive.
The answer to the question of what the Z4 is like to drive is heavily influenced by which variant you choose/can afford.
The simple fact is that the base 20i model is something of a poseur’s special, with all the pretty mouth and none of the angry trousers, but it will still tempt some buyers, thanks to its $84,900.
It looks like a lot of car for that money, and in looks terms it is, but the 145kW and 320Nm version of the 2.0-litre engine feels like it’s being asked to do too much here.
A 0 to 100km/h time of 6.6 seconds is not exactly sports-car territory, but then not everyone who buys a Z4 is in a hurry, or a driving enthusiast, and you still get those outrageous good looks at the bottom end.
It costs you almost 50 per cent more to get the sportiest, angriest Z4 - the M40i - at $124,900, but in performance terms, there are light years between the two cars.
The M40i recorded a Nurbrurgring lap time of 7:55, which is three seconds faster than the truly fabulous BMW M2. That is a very serious time for a roadster and indicates just how seriously the M division took this project.
A 0 to 100km/h time of 4.5 seconds is equally impressive, so why, despite its snorting and snarling 250kW and 500Nm, and that fantastic, traditional straight-six sound, do I not love the Z4?
There’s not much wrong with it, to be fair, and it will get you from point to point very quickly and efficiently on a windy bit of road, but there’s just something lost in connection.
Largely it’s the steering, which feels less intuitive and less feedback-filled than the excellent new 3 Series, a car that recently suggested BMW had found its sheer driving pleasure mojo again.
Sure, it weights up around corners, but it feels a bit fake. Like a digitised version of what BMW M cars used to feel like. Again, it’s not terrible, it’s just a bit… flat.
And then there’s the ride, which is resolutely on the brutal side of firm. Even in Comfort mode, the Z4 - across all three variants - is jiggly and bouncy over rough roads, and will sometimes knock the oxygen right out of you over big bumps.
One of Porsche’s greatest magic tricks is being able to provide a ride/handling balance that makes you feel attached to the road, but not battered by that experience. The new Z4 falls well behind its Boxster rival in that sense.
Surprisingly, it is the Z4 in the middle - a car with a four-cylinder engine rather than a screaming six - that is the most enjoyable to drive.
With its 190kW, 400Nm and a 0 to 100 sprint of 5.4 seconds, this reasonably priced $104,900 Z4 30i is the Goldilocks of the range.
Perhaps it’s having slightly less weight in front of you, but this feels like the most balanced car of the three, and not only is it fast enough to excite, the fact that you can really wring its neck without suddenly finding yourself north of 200km/h makes it a more satisfying choice, somehow.
The Audi R8 hasn’t been crash-tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP, but Audi claims the car’s spaceframe chassis offers “high crash safety”.
You get a reversing camera and parking sensors (optional in Europe, expected to be standard in Australia) plus the R8 comes with six airbags, including dual front, front side and curtain coverage. Spyder models miss out on curtain airbags.
Top spec models are expected to get the excellent laser headlights (auto high-beam light up to 600 metres throw distance), and all models come with LED headlights.
There’s no ANCAP rating to go on for this car, and nor is there anything similar out of Europe to give us guidance, but you do get four airbags.
The concern, however, in terms of basic, modern safety technology, is that you don’t get something as basic as AEB in the entry-level sDrive 20i.
The two more up-spec Z4s get Driving Assistant Plus as standard, which includes Active Cruise with full Stop and Go function, which BMW considers to be “full AEB”, meaning it will bring the car to a standstill, automatically, when required.
The 20i, however, receives Driving Assistant as standard, which includes "autonomous city braking”.
“This slows the car, but doesn’t completely stop it,” according to a BMW spokesman. This is, quite simply, not good enough in a car that costs north of $80,000, and wears a premium, German badge.
There is no capped price service plan for the R8, and no pre-purchase plan like you can get on the rest of the ‘regular’ Audi range.
BMW is sticking with its not-very-industry-leading three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and says its customers are happy with that, rather than the five- or seven-year warranties some other companies offer.
Like all modern BMWs, the servicing requirements for your Z4 are controlled by the Condition Based Servicing (CBS) system, which means that “advanced algorithms monitor and calculate the conditions in which a vehicle is used, including mileage, time elapsed since its last service, fuel consumption and how a vehicle is driven”.
That information allows the car to decide for itself when an annual vehicle inspection or oil service is due.
BMW offers two fixed-price servicing plans, under its BMW Service Inclusive (BSI), which is available in two packages:
Basic - $1,373 for five years/80,000km - or Plus, which is $3,934 for the same time period.