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BMW 4 series


BMW Z4

Summary

BMW 4 series

BMW's new 4 Series blasted onto the world stage with a chonky schnozz on it that only a mother could love. If BMW didn't want anyone to look at the rest of the car, it did a cracking job of it, because everyone had something to say about the big gnashers now grafted to the 4's front end.

I was nervous about it, too, because the 4 Series has always been so elegant and the current 3 Series - on which it is based - is quite nice to look at. It also threatened to overshadow just how good a car the BMW 4 should be, based as it is on the excellent 3 Series.

And, of course, one also had to wonder if a sports coupe like this would be any good around town. Limited vision? Hard to get in and out of? A true four-seater, or just a squishy 2+2? So many questions. 

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.4L/100km
Seating4 seats

BMW Z4

I remember the first Bond film I ever watched.

I was about eight or nine years old, and it was GoldenEye on VHS. In that film, Pierce Brosnan drove a BMW Z3 convertible, which obviously oozed cool.

I didn’t know at the time that it was just a little bit weird that he wasn’t driving an Aston Martin for the entire duration of the movie, but it didn’t matter, that drop-top Beamer with its radar and missiles imprinted itself on my mind.

As such, I’ve always had a soft spot for BMW’s 'zed' range, so I was quite keen to helm this new one as it came through the CarsGuide office, especially since it shares its underpinnings with the new Toyota Supra.

So, is the new Z4 a case of never meet your heroes? Or did it make me feel a little bit like a secret agent? Read on to find out.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.5L/100km
Seating2 seats

Verdict

BMW 4 series7.8/10

The BMW 420i is a terrific car if you're after a bit of style and sophistication. Not everyone will warm to your car's nose, but if you get it de-chromed, like this white one, it really does look pretty good. It's a car that uses very little fuel, moves along smartly and is brimming with a decent amount of tech, even if it could do with a bit more safety gear at this price. 

I reckon this car is settling well into the automotive landscape and ignoring it because of a few loudmouths think the grille is too big would be a terrible waste.


BMW Z47.5/10

The Z4 didn’t make me feel like Peirce Brosnan’s 007. It’s way too serious – a proper gritty reboot. Maybe it’s meant for Daniel Craig. Either way, its brave design makes it one of the best-looking BMWs of recent memory, and it’s a tech- and comfort-fest that the Bavarian automaker should be proud of. I just wish it was a smidge more fun behind the wheel.

What do you make of the Z4’s looks - Is it an icon or too far from BMW’s roots? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Design

BMW 4 series

The internet exploded when it became clear the big kidney grille was for real. To be fair, BMW did itself absolutely no favours by ensuring the photos of the 4 Series made the twin grille look Easter Island statue sized. 

And it persisted in doing them naked, without number plates to break up the look. In the flesh, it all works, the nose is striking but not completely overblown. 

BMW coupe elegance reigns supreme in profile, however, with excellent proportions, and even in base form the wheels are the right size. The slim tail-lights and sculpted tail complete the look. It's a car I think most people love looking at. Hardly anyone mentioned the grille.

The cabin is excellent, as are all of the newer BMW interiors. It's not really a base model, given the price, but the mix of Alcantara and synthetic leather is very pleasing. 

The big screens for the media and instruments headline the cabin with high-tech style and while it's not avant-garde, it's sharp and feels premium, which is just as well.


BMW Z48/10

The Z4 is a sight to behold. It’s brave, especially for a BMW, it even betrays the brand’s strongest styling pillars, making its own way with its more horizontal grille design, flat body and curved out rear.

It’s more than that, though. In black, this car looks sinister, brooding. The more you look at it, the more you notice tiny details - the scooped-out sides, or the way the entire rear seems to flick up into the integrated spoiler. I couldn’t get enough of staring at it – it manages to look even better with the roof down.

That’s probably when it hit me. To my eyes, at least, this is the most stunning BMW in years. Sure, the X7 is a sight to behold due to its sheer dimensions and borderline offensive grille, but the Z4 is the opposite. It’s subtle, it hides its details away in its silhouette.

It’s designer, Calvin Luk (an Australian no less), was inspired at least in part by the Z8 – another Brosnan bond car – and you can see the Fisker design reflected in the Z4’s low, flat grille and almost bulbous rear.

Inside, sadly, the Z4’s strong design doesn’t quite play out. There’s no wily Fisker touches here, just a standard set of BMW switchgear. While it all works well, it just dumbs down the Z4’s character.

The big, chunky steering wheel in particular is a let-down. It’s the same wheel that sits in the brand’s X5 SUV, and it feels right there, but not here in a convertible where you’re so close to the ground. A smaller wheel would not only suit this car better, it would make it feel just a smidge more alive. I miss the three-spoke M sport wheel from previous-generation BMW cars.

I do like the dash, which is seemly carved from rhomboid shapes - a theme that rolls into the doors, screens, and vents elegantly. I’m normally not a fan of gloss plastics and chrome touches, but in the Z4 they’re all tastefully applied.

The seats, too, are lovely. I’m not sure about the contrast bright-red leather our car came with, but they’re nice and close to the ground and have excellent trim that you seem to sink into just enough to be comfortable and sporty all at once.

It’s a slick place to be, I just wish it felt less like you were at the helm of an SUV and more like you were driving something that looks this damn good.

Practicality

BMW 4 series

As a sports coupe, it's hardly a practical all-rounder but it's not a squishy 2+2 either. The rear seats are sculpted for maximum headroom and have the added bonus of holding onto rear passengers. 

Six footers won't be super-comfortable but it's bearable for short trips. There are two ISOFIX points back there, too. 

The front seats electrically fold out of the way for ingress and egress, but it's not an elegant process.

Front-seat passengers score two cupholders and bottle holders in the doors and a black hole for your phone and its wireless charging pad.

The boot takes an impressive 440 litres and the rear seats split and fold like good little soldiers.


BMW Z48/10

The Z4 is a convertible, so it’s naturally compromised on space. As far as convertibles go though, you’ll be hard pressed to find one you can fit more stuff into.

The Z4 is wide - the same width, in fact, as a 5 Series - and this carries into the cabin. There are only two seats, but those seats are wide, and occupants will find themselves with luxurious amounts of airspace for their arms, as well as excellent leather-trimmed and padded surfaces for landing elbows on.

Legroom is also great, as the seats have a surprising amount of rail-travel on them, so that even taller folk won’t struggle to fit their limbs in.

A genuinely impressive characteristic of the Z4 is much head room there it is. Despite its low-slung looks from the outside, the roof towers over my 182cm tall head when I’m inside, so this isn’t one of those convertibles that feels like braking too hard might simply decapitate those above six-foot tall.

In terms of storage areas you get some long but shallow trenches in the doors, a bay with connection ports and a Qi wireless charging pad under the air-conditioning controls, a glovebox (hey, not all convertibles have them) and a trick centre console that houses two deep cupholders inside.

There’s also a netted shelf behind the seats that could fit small bags, and given the length of the cabin, you could even fit laptops and the like behind the seats provided you haven’t used the full extent of the seat’s rearward movement.

The boot is deep, wide and long for a drop-top, and offers a total of 281-litres which is more than some popular hatchbacks. It even offers tie-down points and netting either side. To top it off, the fabric roof folds away into its own compartment, so the boot space is unaffected if you choose to drop the lid.

For a convertible – the Z4 is a practicality wizard.

Price and features

BMW 4 series

The 420i starts at $71,900. That's a fair bit of money, I think you'll agree.

You get 19-inch wheels, a 10-speaker stereo, LED headlights with auto high beam, head-up display, power front seats, lighting package, auto-parking with reverse assistant, synthetic leather and Alcantara interior, 'Live Cockpit Professional' (fully digital dash), wireless phone charging and digital radio.

The massive 10.25-inch touchscreen may be smaller than the 12.3-inch digital dashboard, but it still looks huge. BMW's Operating System 7.0. is a cracking set-up, and you can control it via either touch or the 'iDrive' rotary dial on the console. It also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both of them, wireless. You don't read that every day.

You also get 'BMW ConnectedDrive', with some remote services that last for three years. The subscription includes things like the endearingly weird 'Caring Car' and the far less weird real-time traffic information.

The 4 Series is available in eight colours. 'Alpine White' is the only freebie while 'Black Sapphire', 'Arctic Race Blue', 'Portimao Blue', 'San Remo Green' and 'Mineral White' are $1538 each (or part of the 'Visibility Package'). 'Tanzanite Blue' and 'Dravit Grey' are a hefty $2962.

My car for the week had the $6300 Visibility Package (metallic paintwork, sunroof, BMW Laserlight, Ambient Light, which is worth it for the amazing Laserlights alone), the $2860 'Comfort Package' (lumbar support, electric boot, heated front seats, 'Comfort Access' with 'BMW Digital Key') and an $800 black pack. All this took the price to $81,860.


BMW Z47/10

The Z4 isn’t cheap, but it plays in a field of expensive Deutsche drop-tops. Our car was the mid-spec 30i which comes in at an MSRP of $104,900 (before on-road costs).

For that you’ll get a more highly tuned version of the base 20i’s four-cylinder turbocharged engine, producing 190kW/400Nm, 19-inch alloy wheels, M Sport brakes, Adaptive M suspension, and adaptive LED headlights.

That’s on top of the already impressively-specified 20i’s kit which includes dual 10.25-inch screens – one for the multimedia functions, the other as a digital dashboard, a head-up display, full Vernasca leather interior trim, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power adjustable and heated front seats with memory function, dual-zone climate control, 10-speaker 205W stereo, a Qi wireless charging pad, and adaptive cruise control as part of a marginally upgraded safety package (more on that in the safety section).

It’s a pretty plush set of equipment, although a challenging value proposition as the almost-as-well-equipped 20i starts from $84,900, a full $20k cheaper.

Rivals for this 30i model? You’ve got the soon-to-be-discontinued Mercedes-Benz SLC300 ($102,500), all-wheel drive Audi TT S quattro ($105,661), and, at a stretch, the entry-level Porsche Boxster ($122,960).

Of course, being a premium European car, there is an extensive options list. Our car was fitted with the excellent and probably-worth-the-money M Sport differential ($2400), as well as the rudely priced M seat belts (literally just the M pattern embroidered in - $560!) and interior ambient lighting package (lovely, perhaps not worth $550).

The Z4 is only offered in five colours, three of which – including our car’s Black Sapphire – come at a cost of $2000. The red interior, surprisingly, is a no-cost option.

If you’re keeping track that brings the car you’re looking at here to $110,410. Not cheap, and it doesn’t have six-cylinders - but given its other attributes explored later in this review, the fact that it still manages to undercut an entry-level Boxster is actually reasonable.

Engine & trans

BMW 4 series

The 420i’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, codenamed B48, spins up 135kW/300Nm. Driving the rear wheels through an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, you'll go from zip to the 100km/h mark in 7.5 seconds, which is brisk, if not staggering.


BMW Z48/10

Welcome to the age of ridiculously powered four-cylinder turbo engines. Despite a capacity of just 2.0-litres, the engine in the Z4 30i produces a whopping 190kW/400Nm.

That’s probably enough for a car this size. I’m keen to drive the six-cylinder, but surprisingly it seems to offer diminishing returns for extra cylinders offering a 60kW/100Nm power boost for an extra $20,000. Perhaps a six-cylinder is the way to go in a BMW, and given this car’s other seriously sporty attributes, it might be the only way to make it a bit more… fun. More on that in the driving section.

All Z4s are rear-wheel drive, using an eight-speed torque converter automatic. Sorry, no option for a manual this time around.

Fuel consumption

BMW 4 series

BMW's official combined-cycle figures seem to be slowly moving towards reality. The 420i's sticker figure of 6.4L/100km was met with an indicated 6.8L/100km, which was excellent going for almost exclusively suburban and urban running. 

It's a solid result, but being a BMW, it's premium unleaded only for its 59-litre tank.

With my generally unsympathetic (but not psychopathic) right foot, that means a real-world range of over 800km between fills.


BMW Z47/10

It’s claimed that the Z4 will drink just 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres on the official combined cycle test, but I found that sticking my foot in occasionally resulted in a slightly more realistic sounding figure of 8.4L/100km.

That’s still a great fuel consumption number for a car like this, and perhaps one of the strongest benefits of having just four cylinders.

A discerning vehicle, the Z4 will drink nothing less than the best-quality 98RON unleaded to fill its 52-litre tank.

Driving

BMW 4 series

One of the main things that sets a BMW sedan or sedan-based coupe apart is that they're good everywhere, except perhaps in quicksand. 

As the platform has matured and BMW's persistence with run-flat tyres has yielded improvements in tyre construction, the 3/4 Series platform (and many others - the internal name for the platform is CLAR) has once again become the benchmark for ride and handling.

For some people reading this, that's a lot of blah blah blah but the main point is, it's a terrific thing to drive whether you're dawdling along in traffic, dealing with traffic calming or bombing down your favourite deserted road.

The Bridgestone tyres on the 420i aren't as ultimately grippy and sticky as the alternative rubber on the 430i but they work well in town and are quiet on the 80km/h roads so prevalent in Sydney. 

The steering is absolutely lovely, providing just the right weight at any given speed and throwing in the road feel to inspire confidence.

Ride around town is compliant but with the whiff of fun if you decide to push things outside of the city. 

Its capabilities are still more than worthwhile day-to-day, however, because the way it handles the need to duck in and out of spaces in traffic is extremely handy.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder is as smooth as rival Audi's. It doesn't sound like much (with a few vestigial pops in Sport mode) but it's certainly got the power to get you out of sticky situations and a transmission that's willing to play ball, whether in Sport or Normal.

Without the adaptive suspension of its 430i and M 440i brethren, this is a very smooth, easygoing sports coupe, with just enough sportiness to keep you interested, if you're that way inclined.


BMW Z48/10

A car that looks this good better live up to the promise behind the wheel, right?

For the most part, the 30i does, but it’s a victim of its own performance credentials and luxuriousness.

See, a drop-top should be fun-packed, you should feel close to the road, connected. Sadly, a combination Z4’s excellent suspension and not-so-excellent SUV-like interior separates you too much from the surface below.

An advantage, of course, is the refinement on offer. The Z4 is easily one of the quietest, most refined convertibles I’ve ever driven, but it’s a little too insulated.

I can’t help but feel like it’s all business and no pleasure. It feels a little more like I should be cruising to work on the autobahn and a little less like I should be flinging it around corners on a tight B-road.

It feels almost wrong to drive it in a T-shirt. It’s serious and doesn’t want you to mess around, it wants you to wear a suit and tie.

This grand-tourer style feel is one that will keep a lot of buyers in the premium space happy, but I’m of the opinion that BMW will have that segment well and truly covered by the new 8 Series. If the budget allows.

Regardless, the 30i’s four-cyl engine feels like any six-cylinder would have a few years ago. It’s got a surge to it in the straights that’s quite satisfying, and it responds via the exhaust with an angry tone that makes it feel a little more alive, especially with the roof down.

This feeling was all helped along by our car’s M active differential which simply won’t let the fat tyres at the rear slide unless you’ve got high-speeds and loads of tarmac to play with – for better or worse.

The Z4 also has ‘variable sport steering’ which reacts to the car’s speed and position of the wheels to adjust the input ratio. It’s good when you’re at speed, but the weight and response of the steering can make the Z4 feel bigger than it actually is at lower speeds. 

The suspension is firm, and can be a little bouncy over rough surfaces, but seems well suited to the Z4’s chassis.

Other than those notable characteristics you’ll find that the Z4 is wonderfully tuned in terms of its inputs, everything is slick and smooth, suited perfectly for long meandering drives.

Safety

BMW 4 series

The 4 Series comes with six airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, reverse cross-traffic alert and reversing camera.

The 4 Series hasn't been tested by ANCAP or Euro NCAP and the 3's five-star rating can only be a guide because of the very different structure of the 4. 

Sports cars rarely fare well in the sometimes complex rules so carmakers tend to keep them away from the clutches of crash testers.


BMW Z48/10

Convertibles and safety don’t often fall in the same sentence, unless its one where a concerned relative is trying to convince you not to buy one.

In any case, the Z4 benefits from four airbags (dual front and dual side), as well as the expected electronic stability controls. That optional M Sport differential will have the added bonus of preventing any unexpected slip and slide at the rear.

On the active side the Z4 gets ‘Driving Assistant’ which includes forward collision warning (FCW), lane departure warning (LDW), rear cross traffic alert (RCTA), and rear collision warning. The 30i grade also gets 'active cruise control with stop & go' which allows for full auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection. Not on the spec sheet, but apparently present in the car I drove was some form of traffic sign recognition (TSR) and lane keep assist (LKAS).

A nice high-res reversing camera displayed on the massive touchscreen is a welcome standard addition.

Considering the meagre safety specification of most convertible cars, the Z4 30i shines with a half-way decent active safety suite. But you can forget ISOFIX child-seat anchor points. There aren't any. 

Ownership

BMW 4 series

BMW offers a ho-hum length of three years and 100,000km of warranty coverage. Mercedes has gone to five years so one wonders why BMW (and Audi) hasn't joined its German rival.

Servicing is entirely reasonable at $1650 for a five-year/80,000km package that covers the 12 month/16,000km servicing regime. 

At $330 per service, it includes things many carmakers don't, such as brake fluid and spark plugs. 

You can go full noise with the 'Plus Package', which costs $4500 and chucks in brake pads, rotors and even windscreen-wiper replacement. That doesn't seem like terribly good value to me unless you drive like a lunatic.


BMW Z46/10

If recent quotes are anything to go by BMW is set to stick by its lacklustre three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, as it says its customers simply aren’t interested in five years (or longer) when it comes to warranty coverage.

It’s a shame, as even Volkswagen has upped its warranty to five years, and Mercedes has considered a 10-year coverage plan in the past.

In terms of servicing, there are two fixed-price plans available – the suspiciously cheap ‘Basic’ plan which comes at a cost of $1373 for five years (or $274.60 per year) and the more realistic-sounding ‘Plus’ which costs $3934 over five years (or $786.80 per year).

Like every other BMW, the Z4’s computer tells you when its service time: how often it needs maintenance will depend on how often – and how hard – you drive it.