And joy-of-joys, we get a 6-cylinder!
BMW’s coming in with a 1-2 punch today, as after detailing its new flagship 8-Series grand tourer, they’ve now moved the spotlight onto the driver-focused and breathtakingly-pretty BMW Z4. Its extroverted exterior, designed by Australian Calvin Luk, speaks volumes about the sort of hijinks this car is more than happy to let you indulge, while the plush cabin reminds you that this is a premium car throughout.
“The all-new BMW Z4 is a triumphant return to our enduring Z-model heritage. It is a real statement piece for the brand, combining stand-out styling and impressive engine performance with handling dynamics to really please the driver. The BMW Z4 also appeals from a technology standpoint, with our latest ADAS systems & stand-out infotainment system. Best of all, it is a vehicle that rewards the driver.” – Vikram Pawah, Chief Executive Officer, BMW Group Australia
The Z4 ‘returns’ to Australia in 3-guises, with two 2.0-litre 4-pot models and one highly-desirable 3.0-litre inline-6. The 4-pot contenders are dubbed the sDrive20i and sDrive30i respectively, while the range-topper is the M40i. Prices start at $84,900 for the 20i, before rising to $104,900 for the 30i, and then topping out with the M40i at $124,900 (all prices are MSRP, without various on-road costs).
Design-wise, the Z4 debuts the first iteration of vertically-oriented BMW headlights, with a wide kidney grille sitting between. The grille itself now takes on a 3D-look mesh and is flatter in this iteration than before, which is underscored by large air intakes on the lower front bumper. The proportions of the thing hark back to cars like the BMW 507 Roadster, with the long bonnet and muscular stance, highlighted by the rising character line that begins at the large Air Breather vents down the side.
The rear features 3D taillights that are slim and wide, as per the norm with BMWs now, and helps to accentuate the Roadster’s natural athleticism. You’ll find dual tailpipes out back, trapezoidal in shape, to again emphasise the dynamics & agility of BMW’s latest small sports car.
We can’t talk about the design of the Z4 without mentioning the roof, which has returned to using fabric like the very first iteration of the nameplate (and distancing itself from the folding-metal hard-top that came with the previous-gem model). Operation of the roof takes only 10-seconds, and can be triggered at speeds of up to 50km/h. While it’s black as standard, you can get an Anthracite Silver effect soft top as an option, which certainly has us curious.
Most importantly, by going with a canvas roof, it no longer impedes on luggage space. As such, the 281L of space behind the rear seats is 101L bigger than the outgoing Z4, which was its biggest weakness. Score, BMW.
Step inside and you’re greeted by Vernasca leather upholstery, with accentuating Sensatec on the dashboard and door card tops. There are M-Sport seats fitted across the range, replete with bolstering and integrated headrests. Colour options are white, black, red, and ‘Cognac,’ ensuring that whatever exterior finish you go for, you can have a complementing cabin hue.
There’s plenty of tech inside, as is the case with modern BMWs, where you’ll find a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster paired up to an equally-sized central infotainment screen, with both powered by BMW OS7.0. With OS7, you gain things like natural-voice assistance, wider customisation options, and the integration of Connected Services, Concierge Services, and so on. You also get a heads-up display for the first time in a Z4, which is always appreciated.
Now let’s talk about engines.
The range starts with the Z4 sDrive20i, which is the baby 2.0-litre 4-pot. Here it makes 145kW and 320Nm, with the former available from 4500rpm to 6500rpm and the latter from as little as 1450rpm. 100km/h is hit from standstill in just 6.6-seconds, but with gentle driving, BMW says you can consume as little as 6.5L/100km.
Next on the list is the sDrive30i, the 4-banger we’d recommend if you’re allergic to straight-6s for some reason. It’s been retuned over the 20i and so here the same mill makes 190kW and (“a diesel-like”) 400Nm, which cues up 100km/h from naught in just 5.4-seconds without (officially) consuming any more fuel.
But the real engine you want is in the Z4 M40i, which offers a proper turbocharged inline-6 mill. With a water-cooled exhaust manifold, the turbocharger offers optimum forced induction at all times, complemented by the fuel injection system that shoves go-juice in there at pressures of up to 350 bar.
Power on the M40i is rated at 250kW and torque at 500Nm (which is curiously not defined as “diesel-like” by BMW), with the century sprint completed in just 4.5-seconds. Fuel economy doesn’t take a major hit either, with official consumption just 7.4L/100km.
All Z4 models come as standard with a tuned ZF 8-speed automatic, with launch control. And there are shift paddles of course, because we’d be screaming if there weren’t any.
The BMW Z4 offers a wide breadth of ability thanks to the standard-fit fastidiously-tuned suspension system, with a passive setup on the base model and M-Sport Adaptive ones on the 30i and M40i. You also get an M Sport Differential on the top model (optional on 30i) which allows for progressive mechanical locking of the rear diff. Variable sports steering is standard on all models too, which means near-telepathic levels of engagement.
The Z4 lineup runs 18-inch alloys on the base car, with unique 19-inch units for the 30i and 40i respectively. There’s no spare to be found in case that’s your thing, with only a tyre repair kit in the boot, a decision justified by the typically-Germanic pursuit of perfect weight distribution.
With the 3-strong lineup now available in showrooms, there’s a question we’re begging to ask. In the world of high-performance SUVs and the like, is there still room for cars like the Z4? This writer asks not to be misunderstood as to his mind there will always be a reason for flights-of-fancy like the Z4 (and Mazda MX-5 and Abarth 124 Spider and Toyota Supra) but, to the greater market, is the sun setting on the compact roadster?