FIRST DRIVE | The New BMW Z4 is a true driver's car

New-generation roadster mixes pace, agile handling and ride comfort

04 April 2019 - 09:07 By Denis Droppa
New BMW Z4 offers hair-ruffling thrills.
New BMW Z4 offers hair-ruffling thrills.
Image: Supplied

Two-seater roadsters have been among the worst-affected casualties of capricious automotive market trends, with their sales plummeting in recent years.

It has led Mercedes-Benz to announce that it is culling its SLC (formerly known as the SLK) and there are also rumblings that the Audi TT may not be around much longer.

BMW and Toyota have decided the segment is not yet a lost cause, and to save development costs they’ve built their respective Z4 and Supra on a shared platform, with BMW also supplying the engines.

The new Z4 is the first to touch down in SA, with the Supra to follow later in 2019 , and BMW’s version of the roadster becomes available here in two models: the sDrive 20i and the M40i.

Priced at R755,900, the sDrive 20i is the entry-level point into BMW’s hair-ruffling family and it’s powered by a  2.0l four-cylinder petrol turbo with 145kW and 320Nm outputs for a claimed 0-100km/h time of 6.6 seconds.

At R1,030,500 the range-topping Z4 M40i provides more pace and snarl with its 3.0250kW/500Nm TwinPower turbo, taking a claimed 4.6 seconds for the 0-100 dash.

Both send their power to the rear wheels through the latest-generation eight-speed Steptronic Sport auto transmission.

The Z4 M40i has laid down its high-performance marker by lapping the Nurburgring in under 8 minutes. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Z4 M40i has laid down its high-performance marker by lapping the Nurburgring in under 8 minutes. Picture: SUPPLIED

To appease those who feel the partnership might somehow have cheapened the Bavarian end of the deal, I found no Toyota DNA discernible in the Z4 when driving it at last week’s media launch.

This roadster is all BMW in its feel and sophistication and driving dynamics. The cockpit presents a premium vibe and all the switchgear and upscale leather-and-metal finishes hail from Munich.

The touchscreen infotainment system and the digital instrument panel represent BMW’s latest driver interfaces, while the familiar iDrive controller remains.

Wrapping the two-seat cockpit is an edgy new body that, whether it’s universally liked or not, is at least unlikely to draw unkind “hairdresser” comments. It flexes aggressive visual muscles with its crouched stance and bold geometric contour lines.  

The car is longer and wider than its predecessor, and the new-look mesh-design kidney grille is low and wide to enhance the crouch, while the slit-eyed tail lamps are reminiscent of a medieval knight’s helmet.

Perhaps roadster purists might accuse the design of being somewhat busy, but one can’t accuse the new Z4 of lacking presence.

The fabric soft top takes just 10 seconds to fold up or down, at driving speeds up to 50km/h. When up, the well-insulated roof keeps wind noise muted enough for driver and passenger conversation to take place at regular speaking volume, even when chasing speed.

It’s all BMW inside and there’s no Toyota-sharing visible. Picture: SUPPLIED
It’s all BMW inside and there’s no Toyota-sharing visible.  Picture: SUPPLIED

Ah, speed. The previous Z4 was very much a driver’s car, not just a poseur’s special, and the new car takes this further with a new double-joint spring strut axle at the front and a five-link rear axle that are designed to strike the right balance between agile handling and ride comfort.

A further nod to driver appeal is the variable sport steering with adjustment of both power assistance and steering angle to suit various driving situations.

My time behind the wheel of the Z4 M40i at the Cape-based launch revealed a car that ticks the necessary driver-satisfaction boxes.

That straight-six thrusts forward with great verve and an entertaining vocality, especially with the sports setting engaged in the Driving Experience Control. The Adaptive M Sport suspension, M Sport brakes and electronically controlled M Sport differential (all standard) help turn a mountain pass drive into a satisfyingly high-spirited affair.

The Z4 hustled through the unforgivingly tight and bumpy Bain’s Kloof pass with particularly impressive self-assurance, not just in its corner-hugging agility and steering with that typical BMW meaty feel, but in the yielding nature of the suspension. What could have been a spine-jarring experience turned out to be a settled and confident ride on those bumps, and that roofless body felt solid, without any noticeable flex or jitter.

A terrific chassis to go with an appealingly powerful engine.

Keeping it on a safety leash are stability control and ABS brakes, along with standard driver-assistance systems such as collision warning, lane departure warning and automatic emergency braking. The list  of extra-cost options include active cruise control, lane change warning, rear collision prevention, rear view camera, a head-up display, and even a parking assistant that parallel parks the Z4 for you.

Distinctive mesh grille adds visual aggression.
Distinctive mesh grille adds visual aggression.
Image: Supplied