In-depth Reviews

BMW Z4 roadster

"The latest BMW Z4 offers good, old-fashioned fun, but lighter rivals are more exciting"  

Carbuyer Rating

3.9 out of 5

Used car deals

Pros

  • Powerful engines
  • Balanced handling
  • High-quality interior

Cons

  • Lacks excitement
  • Old-fashioned feel
  • M40i is automatic only

BMW has put the Z4 badge on two very different cars in the past. Both were, ostensibly, sports cars, but the second generation redefined itself as a refined, luxurious cruiser with a folding hard-top roof. This third-generation Z4 goes back to basics, with an engine range topped by a big, powerful six-cylinder engine, rear-wheel drive and only a canvas top for protection from the elements.

At least that's how it looks on paper. In fact, the Z4 – a car developed in parallel with the latest Toyota Supra and sharing much of that car's structure – is anything but basic. Every version is lavishly equipped and quite different to many of the other sports cars you can buy today; the Porsche 718 Boxster is a lighter, simpler machine and the Alpine A110 is positively featherweight by comparison.

BMW's loyalty to the old Z4 formula has up and downsides. Like the Toyota Supra, the Z4 harks back to the days of butch British and American sports cars such as the Austin Healey 3000 and AC Cobra, with lots of power up front, drive to the rear wheels and little in the way of sophistication. Of course, there's lots of standard equipment and a first-class finish inside and out, but the Z4's driving manners are rather more basic than today's sports car drivers have come to expect.

The range-topping BMW Z4 M40i has a 335bhp, six-cylinder turbocharged engine and its 0-62mph time of 4.5 seconds is a match for the Porsche 718 Boxster S. However, while the Boxster feels almost an extension of your own body, the Z4 is a rather more physical car to drive and needs to be bullied through bends. It's a totally different experience to that delivered by the minimalist Alpine A110 coupe.

In many ways, it's better to compare the Z4 to its more traditional rivals, namely the Mercedes SLC and Audi TT. Judged against these the BMW has a raw, focused feel that many will appreciate. Only the long-running Nissan 370Z can match the muscularity of the Z4, but the Japanese coupe is outclassed by its German rivals in every regard other than outright speed.

The Z4 is best regarded as an indulgent two-seat convertible with greater enthusiasm for twisty roads than a BMW 2 Series Convertible. It's not as imaginatively designed inside as you might hope from a sports car, but the same is true of the Audi and Mercedes, against which the Z4 now has the most modern look. There's masses of standard equipment, too, and even more available at extra cost.

At launch the M40i tops the range, with the less powerful four-cylinder 255bhp sDrive30i and 195bhp sDrive20i available if you don't need the full 335bhp, or prefer a manual gearbox – the M40i is automatic only. With less weight over its nose, the sDrive20i actually feels sweeter to driver, with sharper steering, handling and braking, making it our pick of the range - even if it isn't as fast in a straight line.

The smaller engines are also more economical, with the potential for 39.2mpg compared to 33.6mpg for the flagship. It's possible that an even more powerful Z4 M will join the range later, bringing even higher power with running costs to match.

Overall, the latest BMW Z4 is exactly what you'd expect a Z4 to be. Its maker proclaims it as the sportiest, most driver-focused Z4 yet, and that's certainly the case. However, the world has moved on since the Z4's old-fashioned roadster recipe was first published, and greater driving excitement is delivered by its lightweight, turbocharged four-cylinder rivals.

Ultimately, it seems the Z4 is living in the past. While many will applaud the way it treads such a familiar sports car path, it doesn't have the sense of occasion you'll find in the retro-flavoured Ford Mustang. It falls into the category of 'sporty all-rounder', rather than being the ultra-sharp Boxster-beater some had been hoping for. At least in sDrive20i guise it's cleaner and more precise to drive, making the cheapest BMW Z4 also feel the most relevant to today's drivers.

Most Popular

Cupra Formentor SUV review
Cupra Formentor SUV front 3/4 cornering
Cupra Formentor
13 Oct 2020

Cupra Formentor SUV review

2020 Volkswagen ID.3 hatchback: base model starts at under £30k
Volkswagen ID.3 - front 3/4 view - 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show
Volkswagen ID.3
14 Oct 2020

2020 Volkswagen ID.3 hatchback: base model starts at under £30k

Audi Q8 gains plug-in hybrid versions with 28-mile electric range
Audi Q8
14 Oct 2020

Audi Q8 gains plug-in hybrid versions with 28-mile electric range

More on Z4

Show me:
Best convertibles
Best cars
2 Jul 2020

Best convertibles

The best convertibles aren't just toys for the summer, they can be used all year round. Here's our definitive guide to the drop-tops that offer the be…
New BMW Z4 2019: price, specs and release date
BMW Z4
26 Feb 2019

New BMW Z4 2019: price, specs and release date

BMW announces full launch line-up for all-new Z4 sports car
BMW recalls 300,000 cars in the UK over stalling issue
The BMW badge isn’t inspired by an aircraft propeller
BMW 1 Series
9 May 2018

BMW recalls 300,000 cars in the UK over stalling issue

BMW is recalling popular models built between 2007 and 2011 over fears they can cut out
Used BMW Z4 buying guide: 2009-2016 (Mk2)
BMW Z4 roadster
3 Jan 2018

Used BMW Z4 buying guide: 2009-2016 (Mk2)

The second-generation BMW Z4 offers coupe comfort and roof-down fun
BMW Z4 Concept showcases new roadster’s looks
BMW Z4 roadster
17 Aug 2017

BMW Z4 Concept showcases new roadster’s looks

Officially a “design study”, the new BMW Z4 Concept is thought to closely resemble the 2018 BMW Z4
BMW Z4 roadster (2009-2016)
BMW Z4 roadster
28 Jul 2016

BMW Z4 roadster (2009-2016)

“The BMW Z4 is stylish and good to drive, but it’s starting to feel dated and the lack of a diesel option limits its appeal.”
Watchdog: Customer cancels Type R after unexplained delay
Honda Civic hatchback
27 Oct 2015

Watchdog: Customer cancels Type R after unexplained delay

Honda unable to provide a delivery date to customer due to mystery parts shortage
Free sat nav for all new BMW models
BMW 1 Series hatchback
3 Sep 2015

Free sat nav for all new BMW models

The desirable equipment is now standard across the range