Audi S5 VS BMW Z4
- Plenty of power
- Grip galore
- A safety and tech fest inside and out
- Ride could be too firm for the city
- Limited headroom in the back
- Fixed four-seat setup means you can't squeeze a third in the back
- Exterior styling
- Relatively cheap
- Top-down joy
- Cheap touches in interior
- Overly firm ride
- Not as involving as you’d hope
It's inevitable that Audi's S5 will spend the bulk of its time pouncing between traffic lights in Australia's clogged and cramped CBDs, but it's hard to imagine a better place to enjoy the hard-charging antics of this stunning Coupe than the sublime twists and turns of Tasmania's perfect blacktop.
Based on the also-very-pretty A5 Coupe, the S-stamped version adds a powerful 3.0-litre V6 engine, a quick-shifting eight-speed gearbox and some suspension trickery that glues the sleek Audi to the road surface below.
It's the fastest, most powerful and lightest S5 to date, and it's cheaper than the car it replaces to boot. And better still, we had an entire island neatly wrapped in perfect ribbons of tarmac to put it to the test.
The second-generation version of the S5 Sportback is set to appear in May, while the new S5 Cabriolet will follow later this year. For now, the two-door Coupe will lead the charge.
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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a tattoo, the lustre of a sports car can fade over time, and if you keep it too long it can start to look daggy and outdated.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?
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
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The kind of car that pushes back the autonomous argument, the S5 Coupe is a fun and frantic blast from the behind the wheel. Addictively powerful, sharp to steer and with the kind of endless grip that turns a twisting road into your own personal amusement park, the S5 injects a ton of fun into back-country blasts. It might be a touch uncomfortable in the city, but that's a price we're willing to pay.
Does a V6 turbo Audi S5 trump the previous V8 version? Tell us what you think in the comments 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.
Undoubtedly one of the better looking cars on the road today, the Audi S5 Coupe looks sleek and stunning from every angle.
Viewed front-on, the newly designed single-frame grill (it's now wider and flatter) looks slick and powerful, while a raised bulge in the bonnet (Audi calls it a power dome) hints at the performance lurking beneath it.
Side on, a body crease (so sharp it's like it's been cut with a laser) runs the length of the body, while the 19-inch wheels are perched at the furthest corners. Four burbling exhausts emerging from beneath the boot complete this perfectly painted picture of intent.
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.
Well, the hint is right there in the name. This might be a touch over 4.6m long, but that swooping coupe roofline eats away at your practicality, especially for rear seat passengers.
Up front, though, it's spacious and comfortable and built for purpose, with terrifically bolstered sports seats and a flat-bottomed steering wheel that's among the best in the business.
Shift to the back, and you'll find two seats (the middle one has been replaced by a weird plastic table), but there is plenty of legroom. Headroom, on the other hand, is a less positive story, with anyone who is 183cm (six-foot) or taller are sure to become well accustomed with the S5's roof lining.
There's a cupholder in each of the rear doors, matching the two for front seat passengers, and two ISOFIX attachment points in the back row. Backseat riders also get their own air-con controls, and a power outlet.
Boot space is what Audi claims is a class-leading 465 litres (up 10 on the outgoing car) and the rear seat is split 40/20/40.
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
Audi's new S5 Coupe arrives with a sticker price of $105,800, which is a touch over its most obvious competitor - the marginally slower BMW 440i Coupe.
The good news, though, is that you'll want for little, and can easily avoid Audi's infamous options list. Expect 19-inch alloy wheels that display the bright red brake calipers, illuminated door sill trims, nappa leather sports seats that are heated in the front, and offer pneumatic bolster and lumbar support, plus carbon detailing in the interior.
In-cabin technology is taken care of via Audi's awesome 'Virtual Cockpit' (a huge digital screen that replaces the traditional dials in the driver's binnacle - the Google Earth-overlayed navigation is particularly outstanding) along with a second, centred screen that feeds a 10-speaker stereo.
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 S5 Coupe's engine is an absolute peach, with a thick and steady flow of power that can make you forget a V8 version ever existed.
The turbocharged, 3.0-litre V6 is good for 260kW at 5400rpm and 500Nm from 1370rpm, channelled through a sensational eight-speed automatic gearbox and on to all four wheels. It's enough for a 4.7sec zero to 100km/h time and a limited top speed of 250km/h. But the sprint is only half the story, with the engine's mid-gear acceleration offering an insanely addictive rush of power when overtaking.
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.
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.
Addictive. The power delivery from that S5's V6 is rich and constant, and there's useable urge lurking all over the rev range. The sprint from 0-100km/h is enticing enough, but it's the way the car climbs from 90km/h, 100km/h or 110km/h when you plant your foot, a surging wave of power kicking you in the base of the spine as the S5 Coupe blasts you into the future.
The steering tune is bespoke to the S5, and it's the only model in the A5 range that arrives with adaptive dampers as standard fit, allowing you to dial firmness into the suspension, as well as tightening up the steering, gearing and throttle response.
As a result, it is an absolute joy to pilot through bends, sitting low and flat throughout before making use of its all-wheel drive to hurtle out the other side. It's the stuff involuntary smiles are made of, and you're unlikely to ever tire of it.
For day-to-day use, however, it sits just on the firm side of comfortable, which might grate on pockmarked city road surfaces, but the engine, exhaust and steering weight are all muted enough to ensure it can double as a quiet and composed commuter.
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.
Audi has thrown just about everything it's got at the S5 Coupe, and the safety list is extensive. Expect six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), which join a reversing camera, parking sensors, forward collision warning with AEB and pedestrian detection, a rear-impact sensor, cross-path assist and a driver fatigue detection system.
The entire A5 range was awarded the maximum five star ANCAP safety rating.
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.
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.