BMW Z4 M40i Steptronic
With the market for roadsters in retreat globally, has BMW left the best for last with the all-new Z4?
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.