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BMW Z4 (2009-2017) Review

Sporty convertible has frugal and powerful engines

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Our expert reviewers haven’t tested this car yet – come back soon for their verdict
  • Handsome styling
  • Metal folding roof
  • Comfortable interior
  • Small boot
  • Rivals are more involving
  • The Porsche Boxster exists…

£30,025 - £48,505 Price range

2 Seats

30 - 41 MPG

Review

Overall, BMW’s distinctive Z4 gets pretty good reviews from the experts. Unlike the previous model, which was offered as either a soft top or a coupe, the latest model is a convertible with a folding hardtop roof. Effectively then, you get the best of both worlds: the security of a coupe combined with the open-top fun of a cabriolet.

It’s sharply styled and a pleasant enough to drive, but not as involving as rivals like the Porsche Boxster so not quite the enthusiasts’ car the motoring press was hoping for. It does however, have it’s charms, so it’s well worth reading on to see what the testers think.

BMW is reportedly working with Toyota to develop a shared platform that will underpin the Z4’s replacement. Take a look at how this new BMW Z5 could look in our full price, specs and release date article.

Testers are positive about the Z4’s innards, now a much more refined and upmarket interior than the previous Z4. It’s attractive and well laid-out, with a comfortable, low, driving position. One or two testers suggest that the wheel rim is perhaps a little too thick, which is a issue raised with many BMW models. It divides opinion, so it is best to try it for yourself.

Also unlike the previous Z4, this model is a drop-top only, but with a folding metal roof to mix the best of both worlds. It disappears behind you in 20 seconds, though does reduce the boot space from 310 to 180 litres. With the roof down, testers say there is both too much wind buffeting and scuttle shake.

Unfortunately for BMW, despite being a far more involving car to drive than the previous model, the Z4 isn’t quite up to challenging the Porsche Boxster’s handling and balance. However, it’s still a decent drive, and it’s certainly a comfortable cruiser. On rare occasions, when equipped with larger diameter wheels the Z4 can be caught off-guard by bumps, but in general, ride quality is praised.

Overall, testers find it fun to drive, but lacking that element of interaction and excitement you’d hope for from a sports car, especially one with the BMW badge up front.

All Z4s are available with either a six speed manual gearbox, or one of two automatic ‘boxes, depending on the model. The top 35is model can be supplied with a dual clutch auto, which offers lightning fast shifts via paddles mounted behing the steering wheel. Lesser models in the range, meanwhile, are equipped with a smooth shifting eight speed automatic, which suits the character of the car well.

There is a choice of three engines in the Z4, from the “entry level” 20i sDrive with 184hp, to a twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight six which offers 340bhp. When equipped with the optional dual clutch transmission, the more powerful (and confusingly titled) 35is sDrive gets to 60mph in 4.8 seconds and hits the limiter at 155mph. The 35is is very quick, sounds great and has a fast-shifting dual-clutch gearbox.

Sitting between these two models is the 28is sDrive, which thanks to a twin-turbo 2.0-litre engine will take only a few tenths longer to hit 60mph than the 35is, yet is nearly 10mpg more economical. Even the basic Z4 is a decent drive according to testers, but the engine needs to be worked hard, and lacks a little character. On the plus side, it does achieve over 41mpg.

When crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2015, the Z4 scored three out of five stars. The reason it lags behind the rest of the five-star BMW range is that it doesn’t have the latest active and passive safety systems such as automatic city braking, blind-spot alert or lane assist.

Nonetheless, the actual scores for passenger and driver protection were on par with other BMW models, so it should still be plenty safe in the event of a crash. It just won’t help you avoid it.

The range kicks off at under £30k for the 20i sDrive, which is an important psychological barrier and will make the basic model seem good value. That price puts it on par with the Audi TT 2.0 TFSI roadster, and cheaper than the equivalent Mercedes-Benz SLK.

Regardless of which engine you choose, fuel economy and emissions are very respectable, which means low running costs.  Equipment levels are high, and the optional fixed price service plan that BMW offers can further sweeten the deal. Residuals are strong, too.

However, the further you creep up the Z4 price range, more involving rivals like the Porsche Boxster become a consideration. The lure of added driving involvement and the Porsche badge seem like pretty good reasons to overlook the BMW.

Conclusion

It’s fair to say that some testers are a little disappointed with the Z4’s softer side and most would pick the Porsche Boxster over it, but at the same time, it’s still a good car. It’s plenty quick enough, refined, and well-built, and the strong economy means that it can even be justified as a moderately sensible purchase.

If all you’re after is a stylish cruiser with a premium badge, rather than something that behaves like an out-and-out performance machine, the BMW is certainly well worth considering.