REVIEW | The 2019 BMW Z4 sDrive20i is a proper sports car
Explore this roadster's capabilities out on the open road and you'll walk away suitably impressed, writes Bruce Fraser
It’s always an interesting experience to get some insight from a leading figure in the automotive industry.
Last month I had the privilege of sitting down with BMW’s head of design, Adrian van Hooydonk, as he explained the time-consuming process involved in taking a car from the initial stages of the drawing board right through to production.
Important to remember is that a vehicle can take anything up to five years from conceptualisation to the assembly line and after that the first generation life-cycle can be another seven years. In other words, trends have to be predicted up to 12 years from when pen is first put to paper to remain relevant — and ultimately desirable — from a consumer viewpoint.
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It is a challenge facing not only the motor industry, but as Van Hooydonk explained, “it is the reason BMW has 700 designers of all nationalities working around the world looking into future trends and changes that are coming to society’’.
He also stressed the need to “stay in contact with other creatives — artists and industrial designers — and engage in discussions about the future’’.
Van Hooydonk’s words came back to me when first casting an eye over the all-new BMW Z4 Roadster sDrive 20i.
First launched in 2003, the Z4 has always fancied itself as a sports car, but never quite caught the imagination like rivals such as the Porsche Boxster. Today, the Z4 has upped its game considerably. To start with, the design has undergone significant changes. Always a subjective topic, design is critical nonetheless, as for many consumers it is the one element that can determine whether to purchase a vehicle or not.
The consensus in the office is the new Z4 has arrived in the sports car segment. As we like to say, “it’s proper.’’
Today the vehicle has a more rounded, distinctly sportier appearance. The wheelbase is shorter than previously, which helps with the vehicle’s handling and agility while it is also wider, which lends itself to better grip and a more purposeful appearance. Its weight is also down thanks to the fabric top which replaces the rather ungainly folding hardtop of the outgoing generation. It opens and shuts in just 10 seconds and at speeds of up to 50km/h and helps increase the boot space to a more-than-useful 281 litres.
I must admit I’m more of a fan of the fabric top compared to the folding tin roof. It just seems to provide an extra element of fun to the vehicle and the quality of the material used these days means noise intrusion into the cabin is minimal.
A distinctive feature at the rear are two large inlets that provide a nice contrast to the otherwise smooth lines.
On test we had the 2.0-litre model which was generous on the performance chart (145kW and 320Nn) so I can only imagine how potent the M40i version is. Editor Brenwin Naidu reckoned he managed to get it sideways at the racetrack, but I think it’s best to leave that there for the moment! When you get the opportunity to explore the capabilities of the Z4 on the open road, you walk away suitably impressed.
Tackle some bends at a slightly brisk pace and the suspension and new chassis manages to negate any hint of body roll. Our test unit did come with a number of features, but being a BMW it’s best to keep an eye on these as the cost to the base price of the vehicle (R755,900) can rise sharply. The cockpit has the stamp of BMW written all over it.
Anyone familiar with any of the other models in their comprehensive range will instantly recognise what is known as the iDrive, while the virtual instruments and the climate controls are pretty standard. BMW simply doesn’t do bad gearboxes and the Z4 is a case in point.
The 8-speed automatic transmission is the same as that found in siblings like the five- and seven-series and once again delivers on its promise of “a sporty and uncompromising drive’’. Feel like engaging a bit more with the vehicle, then the paddle-shifts let you play a tune to suit your mood. Sportier the Z4 may be, but the designers and engineers also knew this car will spend most of its time as an everyday commute so thankfully the suspension and ride is quite compliant and you won’t be looking up a chiropractor’s number after an extended stay in the seat.
To surmise, this new-generation vehicle is an improvement on many fronts. It is, as Van Hooydonk mentioned during our interview, “about looking forward but still being able to trace our history’’. I reckon the new BMW Z4 illustrates that pretty well.