Did you know the 2019 BMW Z4 is three seconds quicker than the M2 around the infamous Nürburgring racetrack? Or that even the brand new, much faster and more refined M2 Competition beats it by just three seconds? Go on then, keep calling it a hairdresser’s car.
Here’s the thing about BMW’s latest outright sports car, it’s just that. A proper sports car. Yes, it’s a convertible and, yes, it’s absolutely ideal for when the weather is nice and you can thoroughly enjoy open-roof living. But when push comes to shove, not too many other cars can claim a lap time of under eight minutes around the Nürburgring while also offering the lifestyle benefits.
From the outside, the new Z4 is very much a traditional roadster, with classic proportions including an elongated bonnet and the passenger compartment located just ahead of the rear axle. There is a super wide but thin kidney grille to emphasise its stance, with a headlight design that has each light module on top of the other (not seen in any other BMW before). As a side note, this car is actually designed by an Australian called Calvin Luk, so while it's German, it’s also partly Aussie.
While the Z4 is futuristic in its design and technology (in fact, Z stands for ‘Zukunft’, which means ‘future’ in German), this is indeed the third generation of the Z4. Nonetheless, going back in time, BMW’s first roadster came in 1934 with the 315/1, followed by the 328 (1937) and 507 (1956). The Z1 came in 1987 before the now famous Z3 in 1996. From there, the absolutely (still) stunning and iconic BMW Z8 followed in 2000, and was finally relieved by the first-generation Z4 in 2002.
The second-generation Z4 came out in 2009, and it took BMW a full decade and financial support from Toyota (which pays BMW to build the new Supra on the same technological platform) to justify making the third generation. The reason for that being roadsters, or convertibles in general, just aren’t that popular anymore. Mercedes-Benz has all but dropped the SLK, and other similar models’ futures look a little bleak. Which is a shame, because when you get behind the wheel of BMW’s latest creation, it’s hard to understand why.
The new Z4 has gone soft-top to save weight and also simplify the process of the system’s operation, which makes it one of the fastest roofs in a convertible we’ve ever used – opening or closing in just 10 seconds at speeds of up to 50km/h. Being a soft roof, it also doesn’t compromise the boot space, so you have the same 281L of storage capacity regardless of the roof. If you want some trivia, that is more boot space than the new Toyota Corolla, which goes to show you how practical the car is.
The interior, in general, is very top-notch, employing the latest version of iDrive (7.0), which brings everything from 'Hey BMW' (think Hey Siri) to a credit-card-sized key that can replace the traditional bulky one (also works with Android phones).
It’s nice and comfortable while also presenting plenty of modern touches, but it’s a little generic in how it feels almost identical to every other new BMW... That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there is very little sense of uniqueness. In true roadster form, everything is angled ever so slightly towards the driver. I do like the M Sport seats that are standard, and although you feel very low once inside, it’s a nice place to be.
BMW will offer three different variants of the new Z4, ranging from Z4 20i, 30i and the (for now) range-topping Z4 M40i. The base 20i is powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine with 145kW and 320Nm of torque. That will do the 0–100km/h run in a respectable 6.6 seconds. It comes standard with a great deal of kit, most notably the M Sport package and 18-inch alloy wheels. It will set you back $84,900 (plus ORC), but you really need to option up the M Sport Plus package for an additional $3500 to get the adaptive suspension, 19-inch wheels and some other handy features.
Realistically, for the price, that is the best Z4 you can buy. Because while it's nowhere near as quick or sporty as the 30i or 40i, it presents a great balance of what it means to own a sporty roadster for a reasonable sum of money in a nanny state that is Australia.
But if you want to spend more, the Z4 30i can be had for $104,900 (plus ORC), which gets you a slightly uprated (mostly software) version of the same engine that brings power up to 190kW and torque to 400Nm. It will do the 0–100km/h dash in 5.4 seconds. The 30i gets the 19-inch wheels, Comfort Access package as well as M Sport brakes, Active Cruise with Stop & Go, adaptive M suspension and adaptive LED lights over the 20i. What it doesn’t get is the M Sport differential, which you really should fork out the extra $2600 for (since you’ve come this far).
If that’s not enough and you really want that sub-eight-minute Nürburgring car, then the only option is the Z4 M40i at a rather steep $124,900. For that, you get the B58 engine out of the standard M2, which is a 3.0-litre single-turbo (twin scroll) six-cylinder unit (not to be confused with the twin-turbo engine in the M2 Competition and M3/4) with a very mighty 250kW of power and 500Nm of torque. That will get your 0–100km/h time down to a red-light-smashing 4.5 seconds.
That extra $20K on top of the 30i really is for the engine and the M Sport differential, because other than that you’re just getting some aggressive body styling plus lumbar seat support, ambient lighting package, and an upgraded Harman Kardon sound system.
For the Z4 20i and 30i, the weight distribution is 50:50 front:rear, but for the M40i it's about 51:49, so there is an inherent weight difference with the bigger engine, but not all that much. It’s helpful that the soft-top has allowed a near 50kg weight saving, which makes the new car feel a lot nimbler than its predecessor. But not all is rosy in Z4 Land.
I loved punting this around country Victoria on the car’s recent launch, but also found ourselves feeling the overly firm suspension on the outback roads. It’s definitely suited to city life, but find yourself on a poorly surfaced road and it’s a one-way drive to a chiro. Look, you can live with it for sure, maybe, but it’s not what I would describe as comfortable.
Actually, that’s what dampened our mood towards the car. In typical BMW fashion, the German company has pushed the Z4 far to the side of sporty over comfortable, which makes perfect sense because that’s BMW’s entire ethos: to create the ultimate driving machines. But it’s hard to really justify that when you’re stuck in inner-city Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane and are pleading for a slightly softer ride.
On the plus side, the super-thick (almost too much so) steering wheel presents a very well balanced and highly responsive front end, meaning that the Z4 loves to conquer a twisty bit of road when it finds one. I found the 20i lacking a little in this department, not just on power but in dynamic competency, while the 40i really nailed the brief.
The main stumbling block stopping us recommending the BMW Z4 in its entirety is a car called the Porsche 718 Boxster. While the top-spec Porsche only has a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine (instead of a six in the M40i), it pumps out more power (and a little less torque), but more importantly it really threads the needle between comfort and sporty better than BMW’s offering.
In saying that, I love the BMW Z4. It’s not perfect and it’s not cheap, but if you want the aesthetically pleasing design of a modern German roadster with the latest technology and top-notch driving dynamics, look no further.