BMW Z4 Review
The BMW Z4 is an upmarket soft-top sports car with a posh interior that’s packed with cutting-edge kit but it isn’t as exciting to drive as some less high-tech soft tops.
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The BMW Z4 is a grown-up sports car which strikes a good balance between being fun to drive and easy to live with every day. Sure, it isn’t as fast as a Porsche 718 Boxster around a race track or as economical as an Audi TT Roadster, but you’ll love its dramatic styling and high-tech cabin.
The old BMW Z4 wasn’t exactly memorable, but this latest car sets the record straight with its edgy front end, bulbous backside and doors with more creases than an origami swan.
If you’re hoping the BMW Z4’s cabin looks equally exciting you might be a bit disappointed. Everything feels lovely and plush, but you’ll find plenty of bits and bobs borrowed from the latest BMW 3 Series – it’s all very nice, but you’d hope a sports car felt a bit more, well, sporty.
At least the seats are really nice and supportive and you can get them finished in a range of leather colours from subtle black to in-your-face red. They’re really comfortable too, but it’s a bit cheeky that electric adjustment and lumbar support cost extra on all but top-spec cars.
You won’t have anything to complain about when you start fiddling with the BMW Z4’s infotainment system, though. It comes with two high-resolution screens as standard and responds to a range of voice commands that’d give Siri a run for its money. It isn’t just better than the systems in the Porsche and Audi, it’s just about the best infotainment system on the market.
Some soft-tops take you back to the bare-bones of what a sports car should be but the high-tech BMW Z4 takes a very different route
The BMW Z4’s soft top is also one of the best around. With it up, the Z4 feels just like a conventional hardtop to drive. Retract it – which you can do in just 10 seconds at up to 30mph – and you can still have a conversation with your passenger or listen to the radio at motorway speeds.
If that sounds like the sort of journey you do regularly, you can get the BMW Z4 with plenty of advanced driver assistance systems which make long trips feel like nipping to the shops. There’s even a feature that’ll accelerate, brake and steer for you on motorways.
If you’d rather be in control yourself – it is a sports car after all – the upgraded M Sport plus package will be a much more tempting option. This adds bigger brakes, lowered suspension and a clever differential to Sport models to make the Z4 feel right at home on twisty country roads. However, even with all this kit (which comes as standard on M Sport and M40i models), the Z4 doesn’t feel as agile as the Porsche 718 Boxster.
Sure, 340hp M40i models are pretty rapid and all versions have plenty of grip from their wide tyres, but no Z4 can match the lighter, more agile Porsche for outright cross-country pace and (more importantly) smiles per mile.
You shouldn’t let that put you off the BMW Z4, though – it’s still an extremely capable car that’s very easy to live with every day and comes with some seriously impressive equipment as standard. Check out the latest BMW Z4 deals or read on for our in-depth interior and specifications review sections.
There’s room in the BMW Z4 for a pair of tall adults and its boot is pretty roomy but storage space in the cabin leaves a lot to be desired
Just like the Porsche 718 Boxster and Audi TT Roadster, the BMW Z4 comes with just two seats. They’re very supportive, have a decent amount of adjustment and come with thickly padded bolsters to hold you tightly in place in corners.
There’s space for tall drivers to hunker down and get comfortable and the driver’s seat can be raised to give smaller people an equally good view out. The steering wheel comes with height and reach adjustment as standard to make sure you get an unobstructed view of the Z4’s digital driver’s display.
Top-spec M40i cars come with electric seat adjustment and adjustable lumbar support to help reduce backache on long drives. But, these only come as part of the rather expensive Comfort Plus pack in Sport and M Sport models.
The BMW Z4 has no problem catering for tall passengers but it isn’t quite as good as carrying the assorted bits and bobs we all end up filling our cars with. The glovebox isn’t particularly big, the door bins are so narrow you can barely fit a smartphone in them and the central storage bin under the front armrest isn’t particularly generous either. Although, it does come with a pair of cupholders, a USB port and a clever two-piece opening which lets you carry two tall bottles while still using it as an armrest.
You can also get the BMW Z4 with a wireless charging pad for compatible phones, but it’s an optional extra and the pad itself isn’t quite wide enough to accommodate the chunkiest modern phones.
The BMW Z4 has 281 litres of boot space – regardless of whether the roof is up or down. That’s almost exactly the same size as the Audi TT Roadster’s boot and the combined front and rear load bays in a Porsche 718 Boxster.
The boot opening isn’t particularly deep but it’s wide enough to lift in a set of golf clubs without any hassle. There’s room for a pair of small suitcases with space left over for a few soft bags. You get some tether points and an elasticated strap and you can pay extra to have a ski hatch fitted between the seats to let you carry long luggage poking through from the boot.
You’ll need to make sure you tie this down carefully though, or you may find it sliding forwards and hitting the gear selector when you brake hard.
The BMW Z4 is fast and pretty good fun to drive, but only if you pay extra for one of its more powerful engine – the entry-level 197hp 20i model feels a bit gutless.
The BMW Z4 is relaxing to drive on the motorway yet still puts a big smile on your face when you head towards quieter back roads. Alternatives are even more grin-inducing, however
You can get the BMW Z4 with three petrol engines, ranging from the 20i’s 197hp 2.0-litre turbo petrol unit to a six-cylinder turbocharged 3.0-litre engine in M40i models.
Entry-level 20i models accelerate from 0-60mph in a respectable – but by no means rapid – 6.6 seconds, making them only slightly faster than a diesel-powered Audi TT Roadster. The engine doesn’t feel strained when you’re cruising around, but neither does it encourage you to accelerate hard using all the available revs. Put your foot down to overtake slow-moving traffic and you’ll need to change down a gear before the Z4 20i surges forward.
When the 30i model goes on sale, it’ll feel significantly more spritely. This version comes with 258hp and takes a more athletic 5.4 seconds to reach 60mph from rest. As an added bonus, BMW claims it’ll return 46mpg – exactly the same as the 20i version.
If it’s more performance you’re after – the Z4 is supposed to be a sports car after all – you should consider the M40i. This version comes with a 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine producing 340hp – enough to blast this soft-top from 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds. That’s faster than a 718 Boxster S, but not quite as quick as the seriously speedy Audi TT RS Roadster.
Whichever model you pick, you get a smooth eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. Unlike the Audi TT Roadster’s slightly jerky unit, the BMW’s ‘box is smooth at slow speeds and changes gear impressively quickly when you pull on the paddles behind the steering wheel.
Were it not for its wider rear haunches, the BMW Z4 would feel just like a 2 Series Convertible to drive around town. The steering’s relatively light at slow speeds and the standard suspension does a pretty good job softening the blow of unexpected potholes.
Manoeuvre down a tight side street or attempt a particularly tricky bit of parallel parking and the Z4’s wide backside can make things a bit tricky. You don’t get a very good view out through the rear windscreen with the roof up either, but at least you get front and rear parking sensors as standard to help you avoid bumps and scrapes. Pay extra for the optional technology pack and the BMW Z4 can even park itself.
Another optional you’ll want to consider is the Comfort pack – it’s a little pricey, but it adds a much-needed wind deflector to help keep your hair in check and a heated steering wheel to make drop-top cruising possible in winter.
Without it, you’ll feel quite a bit of buffeting at motorway speeds, but when you close the fabric roof (which takes around 10 seconds and can be done at up to 30mph) the BMW Z4 is just as quiet as a conventional hardtop. You won’t hear much tyre noise either, even in M Sport and M40i models with larger alloy wheels and stiffer suspension.
Speaking of suspension, the lowered, stiffer setup you get in M Sport models makes them feel more nimble than the entry-level Sport version, but they still aren’t quite as agile as the lighter Porsche 718 Boxster. Go one step further into range-topping M40i territory and you get adaptive suspension which can adjust its stiffness depending on your driving manner and the road conditions, but you’ll only notice the difference if you’re an especially keen driver.
More obvious is the effect of the upgraded electronic limited slip differential – which helps maximise grip when you accelerate out of tight corners – and the extra stopping power afforded by BMW’s upgraded brakes. These come as standard in M Sport 30i and M40i models and can be had as part of the M Sport plus package for Sport versions.
Standard across the range is a system which pipes synthesised engine sounds through the BMW Z4’s stereo. It does a pretty convincing job disguising the constricted thrum of the 20i model but makes the otherwise sonorous six-cylinder engine in M40i models feel a bit disingenuous – especially when you’re blasting along an empty backroad with the roof down
If you spend more time cruising along than storming down country lanes, however, you’ll want to consider the optional driving assistant package. This bolsters the Z4’s standard cruise control feature with the ability to brake, accelerate and steer for you on motorways. This should help make the BMW Z4 one of the safest soft-tops on sale.
The BMW Z4 feels exceptionally well put together and comes with some of the fanciest tech of any car on sale but it doesn’t look all that different from a 3 Series inside