BMW Z4 M40i Step­tronic

With the mar­ket for road­sters in re­treat glob­ally, has BMW left the best for last with the all-new Z4?

Car (South Africa) - - CREDITS -

The prob­lem with sporty drop-tops is that no one re­ally needs one. They’re a want; a he­do­nis­tic pur­chase for­go­ing the lux­ury of rear seats in favour of the need to brush your hair ev­ery time you pop down to the shops. This fo­cus has seen the mar­ket for these pocket-sized pleasers de­cline steadily over the last decade. Which leaves man­u­fac­tur­ers with two op­tions: ei­ther with­draw to fo­cus at­ten­tions on build­ing SUVS; or make peo­ple re­ally want your car. Like Porsche keeps do­ing with its ac­com­plished Boxster.

Now, while BMW is adamant it did not use the Boxster as the bench­mark for the new Z4, in a de­clin­ing mar­ket, the bat­tle is for mar­ket share and this means tak­ing on the Boxster at its own game. So, has the BMW Z4 come to play?

The Z4 is largely the re­sult of a tech­ni­cal part­ner­ship be­tween BMW and Toy­ota and, as such, shares its plat­form with the Supra (which we drove in Novem­ber 2018). It was the only way the com­pany could build the Z4 the mar­ket de­sired – with model-spe­cific com­po­nents – with­out crip­pling its cof­fers. But, this is no bad thing. BMW knew it needed a truly sport-fo­cused road­ster. That’s some­thing pre­vi­ous Z4s could never muster and this re­quired a fresh start.

And so I find my­self in an all-new Z4, a prover­bial blank can­vas shar­ing only a hand­ful of com­po­nents with its pre­de­ces­sor. And, more has changed: out goes the heavy re­tractable hard­top, re­placed with a fold­ing fab­ric unit which stows in 10 sec­onds and at speeds up to 50 km/h.

This not only frees up space in the boot (a com­par­a­tively gen­er­ous 281 litres re­gard­less of roof po­si­tion), but also re­duces and low­ers the car’s weight, which is re­ally what was needed. The ex­ten­sive use of alu­minium and steel con­struc­tion in the chas­sis and body sheds fur­ther ki­los, while the ad­di­tion of cross mem­bers and re­in­force­ments lends the new Z4 about 20% greater tor­sional rigid­ity. These are not in­signif­i­cant fig­ures and the re­sult is ut­terly sat­is­fy­ing. “hav­ing a rigid body struc­ture of­fered our en­gi­neers a solid base from which to build a truly re­ward­ing sportscar since we did not have to com­pro­mise ride com­fort with overly stiff dampers and sus­pen­sion setup,” ex­plained Oliver Jung, project man­ager for the Z4.

In com­fort mode, the ride is com­pli­ant. With the roof stowed

and the sun beat­ing down, there is no doubt the new Z4 is a great cruiser. The in­te­rior is cos­set­ing, driver-fo­cused and has a dis­tinct wrapped-around-you feel sim­i­lar to that of the Boxster. The fin­ishes are im­pec­ca­ble with an un­der­stated de­sign eas­ily trump­ing the Mercedes-benz SLC for tac­tile per­ceived qual­ity.

In essence, the BMW gets the same B58 3,0-litre twin­scroll tur­bopetrol straight-six as found in the M240i but here push­ing out 250 kw and 500 N.m. The stretched nose is ef­fort­lessly borne into the dis­tance, with am­ple thrust avail­able when re­quired.

Se­lect sport or sport+ and the Z4 is equally con­vinc­ing on twisty roads. The steer­ing and adap­tive M sus­pen­sion damp­ing be­come no­tice­ably weight­ier. It is 85 mm longer than the pre­vi­ous model and 74 mm wider but has a shorter wheel­base, and both front and rear tracks are larger. The re­sult is a re­ward­ing dy­namism that begs to be ex­ploited. The en­gine is punchy and ea­ger to hunt down the next bend. The brakes are neatly di­alled in and al­low for late brak­ing with­out get­ting out of shape. I’m par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with the front-end grip upon turn-in, build­ing masses of con­fi­dence as cor­ner fol­lows cor­ner on our Por­tuguese route. Mid-cor­ner, the Z4 is well be­haved with lit­tle body roll or flex, mak­ing it easy to for­get it lacks a solid roof. Driven in anger, the Z4 feels like a com­plete pack­age. It feels fun. And ca­pa­ble of more.

Which begs the ques­tion: what about a Z4 M? Of­fi­cially, an M is not on the cards. “For sure, the chas­sis can han­dle it but the cur­rent line-up does not in­clude this vari­ant,” Jung ex­plained.

How­ever, when ques­tioned on the rea­son­ing be­hind not in­tro­duc­ing an M de­riv­a­tive, the an­swers were less forth­com­ing and lacked clar­ity. This could mean some­thing … or noth­ing.

In South Africa, the range kicks off with the sdrive20i Step­tronic (2,0-litre tur­bopetrol; 145 kw/ 320 N.m) at R755 900 (in­dica­tive). The M40i is ex­pected to set you back just over R1 mil­lion when both vari­ants ar­rive in March.

In terms of pric­ing, the M40i un­der­cuts the SLC43 and Boxster GTS, which bodes well for its mar­ket per­for­mance. Hav­ing wanted to pro­duce the sporti­est Z4 ever, BMW has suc­ceeded. It’s a highly ca­pa­ble road­ster with agility and pre­ci­sion to spare. Is it a Boxster beater? Well, it is good enough to war­rant the com­par­i­son…

clock­wise from left 10,25-inch cen­tre dis­play can be cus­tomised to driver pref­er­ences; fixed rollover bars strad­dle an ef­fec­tive re­mov­able dif­fuser; new Driv­ing Ex­pe­ri­ence con­trol switch al­lows op­tion be­tween com­fort, sport and sport+; roof can be stowed in 10 sec­onds at speeds be­low 50 km/h; kid­ney grille has an in­tri­cate mesh de­sign; an­gu­lar ex­te­rior de­sign ex­tends into cabin.

clock­wise from left The new cloth roof comes in black as stan­dard and an­thracite with sil­ver ef­fects as an op­tion; boot ca­pac­ity re­mains 281 litres re­gard­less of roof po­si­tion; BMW’S fa­mil­iar and much-loved 3,0-litre twin-scroll­turbo en­gine good for 250 kw; 18-inch wheels are stan­dard with 19-inch­ers in var­i­ous de­signs avail­able as op­tions.

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