"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."
BMW's latest Z4 roadster is the best yet – and it gets a folding metal hard top instead of a cloth roof of the previous model. This means it is only available as a convertible, with the coupe resigned to the history books as of 2008. The current model has smooth, supple suspension, and a ride that is tuned for comfort – making it a decent long-distance motorway cruiser. That means the car is slightly less fun to drive quickly than a pure sports car like the Porsche Boxster, but it's much more relaxing to use on a daily basis. The clever roof can fold away in just 19 seconds and at speeds of up to 25mph. It shuts out a large proportion of engine, wind and tyre noise from the interior, but it takes up a large proportion of the boot space when it's folded down – limiting the car's practicality for a weekend away.
The Z4 gets responsive steering, powerful engines, and rear-wheel drive. All this, added to the low driving position and two-seat layout, makes it look and feel like a true sports car – but the reality is quite different. Because BMW has tried to make the car more comfortable on poorly surfaced roads, it lacks the fun of the cheaper Mazda MX-5, for example. There is a choice of four petrol engines, ranging from the 156bhp 2.0-litre sDrive18i, to the top-of-the-range 340bhp 3.0-litre sDrive35is. Even though the basic car is considerably cheaper and does 0-62mph in 7.9 seconds, it feels underpowered and much less fun to drive than the excellent 184bhp sDrive20i. The sDrive35is takes the place of the previous Z4 M and will do 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds. It feels very fast, but is expensive and if you want driving thrills you’d be better off with a Porsche Boxster.
The Z4 is about as comfortable as you could expect a two-seat sports car to be. BMW has deliberately chosen to make it glide over road surfaces as smoothly as possible and it's much more cushioned than many of its rivals. If you don’t need rear seats or much boot space, the Z4 is a very easy car to live with day-to-day, and is capable of making even the most monotonous trips enjoyable. The interior is wide, and offers good shoulder room, while the driving position is spot on and easy to get comfortable. Wind and road noise is hushed with the roof up – far quieter than in fabric-roofed cars.
There has only been one recall on the BMW Z4 since its launch in 2009 and should only affect a small minority of cars. It involved the electric power steering system, but all cars should have had the work carried out by authorised BMW dealers free of charge. Otherwise, reliability should be very good. The Z4 didn’t feature in the 2013 Auto Express Driver Power survey, but BMW does tend to fare quite well when it comes to owner satisfaction so you can rest assured you’re buying a high quality product. There is no Euro NCAP crash test data for the latest Z4, but the previous model managed four stars back in 2004 and BMW's record for safety is very good. Given the fact that every Z4 comes with stability control, traction control, ABS brakes and a load of airbags, we expect the car to cope well in the event of an accident.
The maximum boot capacity is 310 litres, which is about what you get from a supermini like the Ford Fiesta. However, if you want to enjoy the sunshine with the roof down, bootspace drops by 130 litres to enable the metal roof to fold into the boot. The interior is big enough to accommodate even very tall adults, though thanks to a load of shoulder room and plenty of adjustment in the seats. There's an optional ski hatch that feeds through from the boot to transport longer items and plenty of handy luggage nets dotted around the interior.
Value for money
It's certainly not cheap, but the Z4 is reasonably priced against its rivals, with the basic sDrive18i undercutting both the entry-level Porsche Boxster and Mercedes SLK. However, the Mazda MX-5 is more fun to drive and costs considerably less, so it's worth considering how much you’re prepared to pay for the BMW badge. Like all BMWs the options list bump up the price, but all cars get 17-inch alloys, air-conditioning, Bluetooth and DAB radio as standard. All but the basic 18i come with leather seats, climate control and automatic lights and wipers so if you want more equipment it might be worth considering a higher spec car.
Unlike the Mercedes SLK 250 CDI diesel, the BMW Z4 is only available with petrol engines so fuel station trips will be more regular. Drive enthusiastically, and you’ll be staring at large bills – especially with the top-spec sDrive35is with the 340bhp 3.0-litre petrol. What's impressive though, is that the quick sDrive28i is just as economical as the basic sDrive18i, with both returning 41.5mpg and 159g/km of CO2. All cars come with a three-year warranty and should be reliable even after that expires thanks to a decent performance in the Auto Express Driver Power satisfaction survey. Used prices should be strong too, even though there are plenty for sale on the second hand market.