FIRST DRIVE | The new 2019 BMW Z4 M40i is a true driving enthusiast’s car

With a back-to-basics approach and a weight-saving cloth roof, the Z4 M40i is aimed at those who appreciate the joy of driving

15 November 2018 - 16:50 By Mark Smyth
Making the Z badge great again
Making the Z badge great again
Image: BMW

Recently the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK banned a trio of automotive ads. One was for the latest Ford Mustang in which the poet Dylan Thomas was quoted with the immortal lines, “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” The idea was that you jump into a Mustang and shake off the boredom with a bit of a charge down the open road. All good, classic motoring stuff. 

The ASA didn’t think so, or rather the 12  complainants didn’t, who stated that the ads encouraged unsafe driving because they depicted driving as a way of relieving anger. They are probably all Toyota Prius drivers, they don’t get angry, they hug it out. 

While there are nannies out there who don’t believe the majority of us are grown-up enough to know right from wrong and who clearly want to tell everyone they can’t have a bit of fun, some carmakers are still producing cars for those who want to blast down an open road with the wind in their hair and a great piece of music blaring from the speakers as the exhaust rumbles behind them. 

BMW is one such carmaker. Honestly, I was not a massive fan of the Z3 or the Z4. The Z8 yes, the Z1 perhaps and you can read about our drive in both of these icons elsewhere in this issue but the 3 and 4, nah. Some loved them, clearly not the person who abandoned a Z4 coupé at  the Gautrain station in Sandton, but perhaps they just couldn’t handle it. 

Then there’s the new Z4, the one you see here and which I drove in M40i guise in Portugal recently. Now this one I like, and that’s because while it is stacked with tech, the new Z4 goes back to basics in many respects. 

New Z4 is a marked improvement over its predecessor
New Z4 is a marked improvement over its predecessor
Image: BMW

The most obvious thing from the outside is the return to a cloth roof, something that reduces the weight of the car by 40kg. When it arrives in SA in 2019, it will be 85mm longer than the last generation, although the wheelbase will be slightly shorter. It also has a wider rear track but perfect 50:50 axle load distribution. BMW’s Andreas Ederer says the axle geometry is similar to that on the M3 and it has an M-Sport differential as standard equipment. 

Under that bonnet sits a six-cylinder developing and 500Nm. BMW is claiming a 0-100km/h time of 4.6 seconds and a top end limited as usual to 250km/h. And it’s all through an eight-speed Steptronic gearbox, no manual.

The lack of a manual is a pity, because what BMW has managed to do in all the new packaging is create that near-perfect setup which makes you feel as  though the car pivots around the gearstick. It’s a wonderful feeling in a manual car but you lose that in an auto.

It looks the part even if the styling is a little controversial for some. It looks more, well, roadster really. There are elements that are a bit Mercedes, even more that are a bit overdone, but it all works well in my opinion.

The interior too is good. The digital instrument cluster probably works better in the Z4 than in the new 8 Series and there’s a good flow to the overall dash design. The driving position is also spot on.

On the road it still cruises well but it is even better at the grin-inducing stuff. On twisty back roads in Portugal it hit corner after corner after corner spot on, delivering a full dose of fun factor combined with a a good level of composure. You have to turn the Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) down a notch to enjoy it all properly, though, as the nanny systems can restrict you slightly.

Talking of nanny systems, the lane departure system is a nightmare. It fights with you constantly to maintain a German-precision spot on the road between lane markings. Move slightly around something and it tries to force you back, even to the extent that if you try to give a cyclist a 1.5m wide berth, the car pushes you to within inches of the cyclist. It’s bizarre — it can see the lane marking, but strangely not the cyclist. I turned it off. 

What is also bizarre is that the M40i does not make a bit more noise. Apparently it is on the limits of noise levels for this size of car but we are quite sure the F-Type and Boxster make more noise.

Ultra-wide kidney grilles are a defining feature of the new Z4
Ultra-wide kidney grilles are a defining feature of the new Z4
Image: BMW

“Nobody needs a car like that [a roadster], says Ederer. “It’s a car you want.”

In the case of the Z4, he’s quite right. But what if you want a coupe? Well, firstly, don’t rule out a BMW coupe version though BMW wouldn’t comment on the possibility.

However, a coupé is on its way on the same platform: the new Toyota Supra which was jointly developed with the Z4. Not surprisingly, Ederer is quick to stress that it is a BMW platform and that the development of parts was all done by BMW, saying only, “Toyota has its own design”. 

We haven’t driven the new Supra, so will have to wait and see. In the meantime, the new Z4 has plenty going for it. It’s not as pure as the Z8 or as characterful as the Z1, but it’s right up there with the Mazda MX-5 and Porsche Boxster in terms of driver appeal.

The new Z4 will reach SA showrooms in the first quarter of 2019  at an indicative price of R1,030,500 for the M40i and R755,900 for the entry-level sDrive 20i.