BMW Z4 roadster
Price: £27,735 - £45,935
- Superb build quality
- Comfortable to drive
- Strong engine range
- Expensive to buy
- Limited practicality
- No diesel option
"With its responsive engine range and good looks, the metal-roofed BMW Z4 is an upmarket and desirable sports car that's very comfortable to drive."
The latest BMW Z4 looks the best yet, replacing the old cloth roof with a folding metal hard top and opting for a much sleeker design. That means that this latest Z4 only comes as a convertible, consigning the coupe to the annals of history. The BMW Z4 comes fitted with supple, smooth suspension that is much softer than its predecessor – the ride is clearly tuned for comfort, making it an accomplished motorway cruiser. Inevitably, that makes it less exciting to drive than a pure performance car such as the Porsche Boxster, but there's no denying that it's more relaxing to use on a daily basis. The roof folds away automatically but is a little on the slow side compared to rivals, though it can shut at speeds of up to 25mph. Once in place, it insulates passengers from the majority of engine, wind and tyre noise, but it uses up a large proportion of the boot space when it's been folded away – which severely reduces the car's practicality if you plan to use it for a weekend away.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Economical petrol engines but no diesel option
At best, you’re only going to get the Z4 to return 41.5mpg in fuel economy and emit 159g/km in CO2. Unlike the Mercedes SLK 250 CDI diesel, the BMW Z4 only comes fitted with petrol engines, you see, so petrol station trips will be more regular. Drive too enthusiastically (and who wouldn’t in this car?), and you’ll be staring at big bills – especially with the top-spec sDrive35is with the 340bhp 3.0-litre petrol, which returns 30.1mpg and emits a hefty 219g/km (that lands it in tax band K, so will cost £280 a year). What is more impressive, however, is that the fast sDrive28i is actually as economical as the basic sDrive18i, with both proving to be two of the most efficient in the range. All cars come with a standard three-year warranty and should be fairly reliable even after that expires, but obviously if you drive the Z4 to its capabilities, you’ll end up paying a lot for tyres and other consumables.
Interior & comfort
Easy to live with, the Z4 is a comfortable cruiser
There's always a trade off between performance and ride comfort, so any sports car will have a firm ride but better handling. The Z4, though, is about as comfortable as you could hope a two-seat sports car would be. BMW has focused on making it glide over most road surfaces as smoothly as it can, which means it is much more cushioned than many of its main rivals. In that sense, it's an easy car to live with day-to-day – especially if you don’t need to carry any rear passengers or much luggage in the boot. The interior is fairly wide, so offers decent shoulder room, while the excellent driving position is one of the car's true strengths and is very easy to get comfortable in. Wind, engine and road noise are quiet with the roof in place, with the metal roof proving far quieter any fabric-roofed rival.
Practicality & boot space
The clever roof eats into bootspace when folded down
Hands up if you think a two-seater sports car is going to be super practical. Well, anyone who sat on their appendages is well aware that practicality is not the prime criteria for anyone even thinking about buying a Z4. Having said that, it's not all doom and gloom, with it offering 310 litres of maximum boot space, which is very similar to what you’ll find in the boot of a Ford Fiesta or other superminis. However, if the sun comes out and you decide to drop the top to catch some of those lovely British sunbeams, then the metal roof folds down into the boot, cutting the capacity down to 130 litres, which isn’t going to carry much food shopping, let alone any luggage beyond a medium-sized squashy bag. You can get a ski hatch fitted as an optional extra if you need to carry longer items – like, well, skis. The two-seat interior is large enough to comfortably fit two adults – even those of the tall persuasion – with plenty of shoulder room and lots of adjustment in the seats. There are also lots of handy luggage nets dotted around the interior. Overall, the Z4 is pretty impractical compared to many of its rivals, with the roof taking 21 seconds to fold away and another 20 seconds to put back up, which is nearly twice the time it takes the Audi TT.
Reliability & safety
Strong reliability and lots of safety features
The Z4 is yet to make an appearance in the Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, but BMW itself placed 15th, a resounding mid-table result, in the 2013 survey's manufacturers rankings, down a single spot from its 2012 position. This is undeniably disappointing for a premium brand like BMW, with customers rightfully expecting a lot from it and certainly not thinking that it would be the worst performing premium car maker in the list. But BMW still has a power over Audi in many ways, while Mercedes – the highest-ranking premium manufacturer – offer a different set of priorities. Having said that, it was running costs and ride quality that really scored badly, which is something you would expect from a company focused on producing “the ultimate driving machine”. The Z4 has only had one small recall back in 2009 that affected the electric power steering system – and even then BMW carried out the repair for free at authorised BMW dealers. There is no Euro NCAP crash test score for the latest Z4 as yet, with the previous model only managing four stars back in 2004 (when the criteria was actually easier to pass). Since BMW's record for safety is very good, you can expect this Z4 to be much safer based on current industry standards, with every Z4 coming fitted with electronic stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes and a range of airbags - expect the car to cope well in the event of an accident.
Engines, drive & performance
The Z4 is comfortable but not very sporty
The Z4 looks and feels like a true sports car. But the day-to-day reality is quite different. It does get responsive steering, powerful engines, and rear-wheel drive, plus a low driving position and two-seater layout. But because BMW has made a concerted effort to make the car more comfortable on poorly surfaced roads, sadly it ends up lacking the fun of even cheaper rivals, such as the Mazda MX-5, for example. You get to choose from a range of four petrol engines, starting with the 156bhp 2.0-litre sDrive18i, and heading up to the top-of-the-range 340bhp 3.0-litre sDrive35is (with the M Sport model in between). The entry-level car may be considerably less expensive and capable of going from 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds, but it feels underpowered and is noticeably less engaging to drive than the excellent 184bhp sDrive20i. The sDrive35is replaces the previous Z4 M and can accelerate from 0-62mph in only 4.8 seconds, so it definitely feels very fast, but it really does break the bank and if you truly want driving thrills, we’d recommend looking at a Porsche Boxster.
Price, value for money & options
Basic model gets alloy wheels but no leather seats
You wouldn’t expect the Z4 to be particularly cheap – which is good, because it isn’t. However, it is reasonably priced compared to its rivals, with the entry-level sDrive18i undercutting both the equivalent basic Porsche Boxster and Mercedes SLK. But we think the Mazda MX-5 is more fun to drive and it costs a lot less, so you should consider whether you’re really happy to pay more for that BMW badge. And, as is common for all BMWs, the options list is a minefield of purchase-price-ballooning accessories, but all cars come fitted with 17-inch alloys, air-conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity and DAB radio as standard equipment, so do you really need anything else? Plus, every model but the basic 18i also comes with leather seats, climate control, and automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, so if you really must have more equipment we’d recommend picking a higher specification rather than turning to options. Resale values in the used car market should be strong, even though there are plenty for sale on the second-hand market.
What the others say
"BMW has improved the Z4 in nearly every area, and fitting a hard-top hasn’t affected its looks or dynamics. The sharp styling remains, and the two-part roof folds neatly to reveal a more roomy, higher-quality interior."
"The Z4 does do the boulevard cruiser thing particularly well. It's a doddle to drive, with an easy consistency to the brakes, steering and throttle; the cabin is snug and attractively laid out."
"Thanks to responsive steering and minimal roll in corners, the Z4 is great fun to drive on open and twisting roads. Like all BMWs, it is rear-wheel drive, but even with the more powerful engines, it's never unpredictable - instead feeling composed and reassuring."
Still not as great as a Porsche Boxster, but getting closer with every generation. New folding hard-top gives it the predictabilly slightly fat arse, but otherwise it looks as good as any other hard-top.
Last updated: 12 Nov 2013