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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a tattoo, the lustre of a sports car can fade over time, and if you keep it too long it can start to look daggy and outdated.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?
|BMW Z Models 2019: Z4 M40I|
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
3 years / unlimited km warranty
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Z4 M40I||3.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$86,900 – 109,890||2019 BMW Z Models 2019 Z4 M40I Pricing and Specs|
|Z4 Sdrive 20I||2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$56,000 – 70,840||2019 BMW Z Models 2019 Z4 Sdrive 20I Pricing and Specs|
|Z4 Sdrive 20I Design Pure EDT||2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$45,200 – 57,090||2019 BMW Z Models 2019 Z4 Sdrive 20I Design Pure EDT Pricing and Specs|
|Z4 Sdrive 20I EDT M Sport||2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN||$45,200 – 57,090||2019 BMW Z Models 2019 Z4 Sdrive 20I EDT M Sport Pricing and Specs|
|Price and features||8|
|Engine & trans||8|
Lowest price, based on third party pricing data