BMW Z4 M40i

Bavar­ian drop-top be­comes true Boxster ri­val


BMW SNIFFS AN OP­POR­TU­NITY for its third-gen­er­a­tion Z4 road­ster. In its rein­ven­tion, specif­i­cally in M40i range­top­ping guise, it could well plug the gap­ing hole in six-cylin­der road­ster en­thu­si­asts’ lives left by the demise of the flat-six Porsche Boxster and Cayman. Yeah, we know there are boosted V6 ver­sions of the Jaguar F-Type and Mercedes SLK, but those cars can’t hold a can­dle to the lat­est Porsche 718’s chas­sis. Can the Z4’s? BMW cer­tainly thinks so. The pre­vi­ous Z4 was a soft pud­ding of a car, but you get the sense that the en­gi­neers in the com­pany were given more of a say this time around. The new model is 85 mil­lime­tres longer, 74mm wider and 13mm taller; while the front and rear tracks have been in­creased by 98 and 57mm re­spec­tively. So far, noth­ing too un­usual, but then you’re told that the wheel­base has been short­ened, giv­ing the Z4 an all-square stance on the road, with the chas­sis team’s eyes firmly set on the cen­tre of the tar­get marked ‘agility’. To make the most of the lay­out, BMW fo­cused on the rigid­ity of the body, cre­at­ing the stiffest struc­ture of any open-topped car it has yet pro­duced. On top of that, the lardy, high-mounted fold­ing hard­top of the pre­vi­ous Z4 was binned, in favour of a light new fab­ric roof. That not only re­duces over­all weight, it also helps bring the cen­tre of grav­ity down and, as a side ben­e­fit, it neatly folds away (at speeds of up to 50km/h) in front of a much-en­larged boot space (in just 10 sec­onds). It’s black as stan­dard or An­thracite Sil­ver as an op­tion. The lat­ter works par­tic­u­larly well on the Z4 M40i, which gets the usual Cerium Grey de­tails found on a BMW M Per­for­mance Ve­hi­cle – though they’re ad­mit­tedly lost when put up against the Frozen Grey paint­work of the test car. Still, your eyes will be too busy di­gest­ing the weird new kid­ney grille mesh up front and the pro­trud­ing aero­dy­namic breathers be­hind the front wheels to worry about trim colours, though we reckon there’ll be univer­sal ap­proval for the mus­cu­lar rear end and high-tech LED lights. The keen-eyed will note there are mixed tyre sizes front and rear, which is the case across the whole Z4 line-up – and again re­in­forces our sense that the en­gi­neers were lis­tened to for this car’s de­vel­op­ment. There’s more tech­ni­cal good­ness


un­der­neath as stan­dard in the M40i, in­clud­ing Adap­tive M Sport sus­pen­sion with elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled dampers, M Sport brakes and, per­haps most im­por­tantly of all, an M Sport dif­fer­en­tial on the rear axle. All Z4s send their power to the back through the lat­est de­vel­op­ment of BMW’s ex­cel­lent eight-speed Step­tronic au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. This comes with tac­tile gearchange pad­dles be­hind a high-qual­ity three­spoke M-branded steer­ing wheel in the M40i. The rest of the cabin is neatly styled and beau­ti­fully put to­gether. You sit down low with plenty of ad­just­ment in the seats and steer­ing wheel. While the new Z4 is civil with its multi-layer roof in place, you buy a road­ster to drive it with the wind in your hair, right? What’s more, you’ll want to do that to let your ears have un­hin­dered ac­cess to the ex­haust note. It’s a sonorous tune that only a straight-six could sing, even a tur­bocharged one. There’s 250kW of power from 5000-6500rpm and this en­gine re­ally does en­cour­age you to go look­ing for it all with a pur­pose­ful, yet cul­tured snarl, the soft lim­iter not kick­ing in un­til 7000rpm. Not that you need to use that much of the rev counter, as there’s a chunky 500Nm of torque pro­duced from 1600-4500rpm, mak­ing the M40i feel rapid re­gard­less of en­gine speed or gear se­lected. That’s es­pe­cially the case if you choose Sport or Sport Plus driv­ing modes, as ev­ery­thing sharp­ens up no­tice­ably, ban­ish­ing mem­o­ries of the pre­vi­ous Z4 to his­tory. The Sport Plus set­ting is par­tic­u­larly ag­gres­sive in terms of throt­tle re­sponse and gear selec­tion. The best news though, is that the adap­tive damp­ing never turns the car into a den­ture-loos­en­ing mess; sure, it ramps up the firm­ness and body con­trol in the Sport modes, but not at the ex­pense of com­po­sure over rougher sur­faces. This means you can still use the Z4’s per­for­mance to the full, even when not on a smooth road. In Com­fort mode it’s re­laxed, too, mak­ing for a good long-dis­tance cruiser. Last, but cer­tainly not least, is that M Sport dif­fer­en­tial, a fully ac­tive unit, the op­er­a­tion of which is mapped to the driv­ing modes. In Com­fort mode, this at­tempts to keep the rear of the car sta­ble at all times, while en­hanc­ing trac­tion. It does that to a cer­tain ex­tent, though even so, if you’re clumsy with the throt­tle on the exit of a dusty or damp junc­tion, there’s a mo­men­tary twitch from the rear, en­sur­ing you know which end the power is be­ing sent. On the move it’s never ner­vous, how­ever, and it takes a lit­tle provo­ca­tion to push be­yond that ini­tial move­ment, es­pe­cially on dry tar­mac. The dif­fer­en­tial al­lows for a more ‘dy­namic’ stance on the exit of cor­ners if you’re in one of the Sport modes, as you’d hope, and this re­veals a de­li­cious bal­ance to the whole car. You can re­ally lean on the out­side tyres and get on the power in­cred­i­bly early, let­ting the dif­fer­en­tial do its thing. What’s more, on the ap­proach to a cor­ner and on ini­tial turn-in, it can also help make the Z4 feel ‘pointy’, adding to the over­all sense of agility. No doubt the vari­able sport steer­ing adds to that, as it’s a vari­able as­sis­tance and ra­tio sys­tem. Feed­back isn’t bad, though would be bet­ter with a thin­ner steer­ing wheel rim. The brake pedal is re­as­sur­ingly firm, even af­ter a spir­ited drive, al­low­ing you con­fi­dently mete out as much brak­ing force as you need. And con­fi­dence is a word we’d use to sum­marise the new BMW Z4 M40i. This is an in­cred­i­bly pol­ished prod­uct from the Ger­mans, mix­ing qual­ity with the lat­est in­te­rior tech­nol­ogy and the usual de­sir­abil­ity of a drop-top road­ster with rear-wheel drive. BMW has man­aged to in­cor­po­rate all of that while giv­ing its new Z4 a chas­sis that is clearly de­vel­oped with the en­thu­si­ast in mind. Es­pe­cially so in the M40i. Still want that Boxster?

RIGHT Lat­est-spec 3.0-litre turbo six pro­duces 250kW/500Nm and sounds like a sport­ing BMW should

BE­LOW The elec­tri­cally op­er­ated fab­ric roof can be opened or closed in 10 sec­onds at speeds up to 50km/h

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