BMW Z4 roadster review
"The BMW Z4 is a high-quality sports car that’s satisfying rather than truly thrilling to drive"
- Powerful engines
- Balanced handling
- High-quality interior
- Lacks excitement
- Old-fashioned feel
- M40i is automatic only
Verdict - Is the BMW Z4 a good car?
The BMW Z4 follows the classic sports car formula: it’s a two-seater convertible with a big engine up front and rear-wheel drive. It’s not an ultra-sharp driver’s car but a model that offers buyers stylish, roof-down fun with plenty of creature comforts. It’s a shame, however, that the facelifted version has crept up in price without making the Z4 more enjoyable to drive, or giving its interior tech a major overhaul.
BMW Z4 makes, models and alternatives
The Z4 was developed alongside the Toyota Supra, which is worth considering as an alternative if you want a more unusual sports car with a fixed roof. Other rivals include the Porsche 718 Boxster and the Alpine A110, though both of these models are sharper to drive and more focused on handling and performance than the BMW. The Audi TT won’t be around much longer, and the Mercedes SLC has already been retired.
The classic sports car layout, with the engine at the front and rear-wheel drive, means the Z4 has a bit of an old-school feel to the way it drives but that’s something many people will love. It reminds us of classics like the Jaguar E-Type – especially with the range-topping engine, which is a smooth and powerful six-cylinder petrol. The facelift ushered in a mesh grille, new colours and wheel designs, but only those in the know are likely to spot the changes.
That range-topping version is called the Z4 M40i and has 335bhp, so it’s very quick: 0-62mph takes just 4.5 seconds, which is the same as a Porsche 718 Boxster S. It doesn’t feel as agile or as involving in corners as the Porsche; the BMW feels heavier and less sharp. It is, however, great fun to cruise along on a scenic route with the wind in your hair.
You might consider the BMW Z4 alongside an Audi TT Roadster or a BMW 4 Series Convertible but it’s less practical than those cars and, especially in top-spec form, quicker and more rewarding to drive. The Z4 occupies a middle ground aimed at those who want a car that’s good to drive but one that still comes with comfortable seats, a relatively smooth ride and a well-finished interior.
Previously you could buy the Z4 with a 255bhp four-cylinder engine in the sDrive30i model, but this has now been discontinued. For the facelift, there’s still a 195bhp version called the sDrive20i or the top-rung M40i. While the sDrive20i isn’t as quick as the M version, nor is the engine as exciting, we actually found it more fun to drive in some respects, because the engine in the nose of the car weighs less, boosting agility.
The smaller engines are also more economical, with the potential for around 40mpg compared to just 35mpg for the flagship. There were rumours that an even more powerful Z4 M would join the range above the M40i, bringing even more power and improved performance, but as BMW concentrates on high-performance models like the BMW M2, this looks increasingly unlikely for the slow-selling Z4.
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.