Hot wheels: new BMW Z4 is a slender contender
Witnessing the launch of a small two-seater convertible is a rare experience these days. What used to be a staple – not to mention desirable – option within the manifests of most car manufacturers is fast being replaced by crossovers, soft-roaders and sports-focused SUVs. But deep in the bowls of the Bayerische Motoren Werke, the concept appears to be in rude health as the German automaker rolls out its latest iteration of the droptop Z4.
With ancestry dating back to 1936 in the form of legendary 328 roadster, the new Z4 is the latest instalment in a long line of soft top sports cars from the German powerhouse. Styled by Calvin Luk, one of the youngest designers in the marque’s studio and admirer-cum-owner owner of an original Z4, the new model is a simpler form than before. Luk has also taken the opportunity to reinterpret BMW’s classic ‘double round’ lights as stacked LED clusters, which sit above his re-imagined trademark kidney-shaped grille. First breaking cover as a concept at the exclusive Pebble Beach show in California in 2017, Luk’s signature design cues made it to the production model visibly unscathed.
Created in partnership with Japanese auto giant Toyota, the Z4 shares its platform with the forthcoming (and long-awaited) Supra. Breaking away from the heavy folding hardtop worn by its predecessor, the new Z4 favours of a neat, z-fold canvas roof. At the back, the Z4’s slender, L-shaped rear lights are a nod to its bigger sister, the i8, but also hark back to the iconic limited edition Z8 of 2000, which Luk cites as a key inspiration for the project. On the inside, the usual clean-cut BMW layout houses two 10.2-inch screens, focused around the driver, with one replacing the traditional instrument cluster and the other housing BMW’s new infotainment system. The Z4’s high beltline cocoons its occupants in the car’s cockpit with the driver sitting further forward than before. Luk claims the position is more driver-focused but despite the adjustment, the designer’s handiwork sees the Z4 retain its signature long bonnet and sporting silhouette.
With Porsche’s 718 Boxster firmly in its sights, the latest Z4 – and particularly the range-topping M40i – is a worthy adversary to Stuttgart’s offering. Out on the road, the M40i features the Munich manufacturer’s sweet straight-six engine – a turbocharged unit producing 336bhp – which delivers all its power through the rear wheels with a reassuring rasp, snap, crackle and pop from the exhaust. Foot to the floor, the Z4 will do 0-62 in 4.6-seconds and go on to a top speed of 155mph. Shifting through the gears is an eight-speed automatic gearbox, which features paddle shifters on the steering column – perfect for that oh-so-satisfying downshift to summon the power before an overtake. When choosing between Comfort, Sport and Sport+ modes, the latter hints at the Z4’s track-worthy capabilities, engaging pin-sharp handling and more immediate throttle response.
With the more muscular M40i capable of proving the Z4’s sporting credentials, the compact sports won’t gain a fully-fledged, tyre torturing M version. The M40i is the highest spec Z4 we can expect according to the Z4’s Product Manager Andreas Ederer. But BMW’s latest sports car is a hugely competent package. Happy as either a small sports tourer or as a track toy, the Z4 gives the likes of the Porsche Cayman or the topless Boxster something to think about.
With deliveries already started, the Z4 is a noble effort from BMW in a shrinking sector, as more drivers opt for the higher ride height, practicality and compromise of a sports SUV. Weighing in at half the price of the flagship i8, the Z4 is a safe bet for those looking for a small but perfectly formed sports car. §