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BMW Z4 2019 review: sDrive30i

It's a wonder the Z4 exists at all in a world hell-bent on getting rid of roadsters.
EXPERT RATING
7.5
The BMW Z4 could well have been called the Z5. If it had followed the logic of the Z3 and Z4 that came before it, this new-generation model might well have adopted a new badge to accompany its new body, new chassis, new engines, new underpinnings and new technology. But it's not - it's still the Z4, but its very different, all the same.

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.

BMW Z4 2019: sDRIVE 30i M-SPORT
Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6.5L/100km
Seating2 seats
Price from$104,900

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

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.

LED lights are standard across the range. (image credit: Tom White) LED lights are standard across the range. (image credit: Tom White)

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).

The massive 10.25 inch multimedia screen is neat, and has built-in nav, but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. (image credit: Tom White) The massive 10.25 inch multimedia screen is neat, and has built-in nav, but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. (image credit: Tom White)

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.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

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.

The more you look at the Z4, the more you notice subtle design touches. (image credit: Tom White) The more you look at the Z4, the more you notice subtle design touches. (image credit: Tom White)

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.

The Z4 looks especially good with the roof down. (image credit: Tom White) The Z4 looks especially good with the roof down. (image credit: Tom White)

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.

The Z4's interior is sporty and comfortable all at once, it just feels like you could be sitting in an X5... (image credit: Tom White) The Z4's interior is sporty and comfortable all at once, it just feels like you could be sitting in an X5... (image credit: Tom White)

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.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

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.

Despite being a dedicated two-door, the Z4 has a big interior. (image credit: Tom White) Despite being a dedicated two-door, the Z4 has a big interior. (image credit: Tom White)

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.

The roof folds away into its own compartment, giving the Z4 an unprecedented storage area for a convertible. (image credit: Tom White) The roof folds away into its own compartment, giving the Z4 an unprecedented storage area for a convertible. (image credit: Tom White)

For a convertible – the Z4 is a practicality wizard.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   8/10

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.

It might only have four cylinders, but the 30i has no shortage of power. (image credit: Tom White) It might only have four cylinders, but the 30i has no shortage of power. (image credit: Tom White)

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.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

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.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

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.

I was a fan of the Z4's digital dash, It has a fast frame-rate, offers plenty of info and is configurable to your taste. (image credit: Tom White) I was a fan of the Z4's digital dash, It has a fast frame-rate, offers plenty of info and is configurable to your taste. (image credit: Tom White)

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 Z4's variable steering, combined with its cumbersome wheel gives this car a bit of a heavy feel at lower speeds. (image credit: Tom White) The Z4's variable steering, combined with its cumbersome wheel gives this car a bit of a heavy feel at lower speeds. (image credit: Tom White)

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.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   8/10

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. 

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   6/10

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.

Still only three years of warranty over at BMW and the Z4 will tell you when it's service time. (image credit: Tom White) Still only three years of warranty over at BMW and the Z4 will tell you when it's service time. (image credit: Tom White)

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.

Verdict

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.

Pricing Guides

$94,900
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$64,900
Highest Price
$124,900

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
M40i 3.0L, PULP $124,900 2019 BMW Z4 2019 M40i Pricing and Specs
sDrive 20i 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $80,455 2019 BMW Z4 2019 sDrive 20i Pricing and Specs
sDRIVE 20i DESIGN PURE EDT 2.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $64,900 2019 BMW Z4 2019 sDRIVE 20i DESIGN PURE EDT Pricing and Specs
sDRIVE 20i EDT M SPORT 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $64,900 2019 BMW Z4 2019 sDRIVE 20i EDT M SPORT Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.5
Price and features7
Design8
Practicality8
Engine & trans8
Fuel consumption7
Driving8
Safety8
Ownership6
Tom White
Journalist

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