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Driven: BMW Z4 M40i. Image by BMW UK.

Driven: BMW Z4 M40i
The latest BMW Z4 is easily the best Z4 yet. Shame about the looks, then...


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BMW Z4 M40i

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: largely everything - drives in a superbly cohesive and engaging manner, has a plush cabin, rides well, goes ridiculously quickly, isn't even that expensive

Not so good: it looks pig-ugly

Key Facts

Model tested: BMW Z4 M40i
Price: Z4 range from 37,115, M40i from 49,185
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged straight-six petrol
Transmission: eight-speed Steptronic Sport auto, rear-wheel drive
Body style: two-door roadster
CO2 emissions: 153g/km (VED Band 151-170: 530 in year one, then 465 per annum years two-six of ownership, then 145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 38.2mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.6 seconds
Power: 340hp at 5,000-6,500rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 1,600-4,500rpm
Boot space: 281 litres

Our view:

For a brand which is synonymous with phrases like 'Ultimate Driving Machine' and 'Joy of Driving' and 'Designed for Driving Pleasure', and for an automotive marque which has a thoroughly enviable back catalogue of stonking rear-wheel-drive performance cars to call upon, BMW has a record of making something of a hash of its out-and-out sports cars. Where its supersaloons and saloon-based go-faster coupes have traditionally trampled all the competition that dared come before them, on the other hand things like the Z1 (weird amalgamation of BMW Motorrad - motorcycle - instrument cluster dials, E30 3-Series platform, Z-link rear axle and a plastic body with doors that retracted into the sills), Z3 (made the retrograde step of using the E30's rear semi-trailing arm suspension instead of the E36's, and Z1's, more advanced Z-link) and Z8 (spaceframe chassis with E39 M5 running gear, yet surprisingly agricultural to drive, and its only claim to fame was being sawn in half longitudinally in shoddy James Bond clunker The World Is Not Enough) have all been curiously underwhelming. Meanwhile, the company's big coupes, such as the 6 Series and 8 Series, have always been dynamically a touch soft-focus, like a 1980s-inspired synthwave music video.

The Z4 is no exception to this 'BMW makes mediocre sports cars' rule. Now into its third generation, it most certainly hasn't been without appeal during its life, but neither has it ever set the world of the car enthusiast alight with firecracker handling. From Chris Bangle's (actually, Anders Warming's, more accurately, but Bangle was overseeing group design at the time) first-generation E85 flame-surfaced beauty, which just gets better looking with every passing day, through to the rather Americanised and flabby E89 Mk2, we've now arrived at the G29 Mk3 without any particular dynamic high points. Even the glorious-to-behold Z4 M Coupe kind of missed the mark, as most owners subjected them to a series of aftermarket mods - most usually, the wheels off the E46 M3 CSL or, at the very least, the E46 M3 CS, a front strut brace, bigger Brembo brakes with six-pot front callipers and also a stickier set of rubber.

So it therefore feels like damning with faint praise to say this Z4 M40i, the only 'hot' version we'll get of this generation of the long-serving roadster (apparently; don't go holding out your hopes for a Z4 M), is - by a couple of country miles - the best Z4 we've yet driven. And it's also, by extension, probably the best dedicated sports car to wear a BMW badge that we've yet had the pleasure of steering. Rather than having a too-brittle ride, numb steering and a slightly raggedy-edged chassis, reminiscent of the 'too much power for the suspension to contain' Z3 M Roadster and Coupe models, this is a car which feels beautifully all-of-a-piece. Make no mistake, 340hp and 500Nm are amply more than enough poke for a 1,610kg two-seater, so the Z4 M40i feels every bit as rabid as its on-paper figures suggest. It has plenty of grunt to overwhelm the rear tyres, too, and when slides come they feel progressive and enjoyable, rather than snappy and sweaty palmed.

That keys into the wider report on the BMW's handling, which is far more concise and rewarding than on any other Z4 before it, with a superb balance between ride comfort and body control making the M40i useable and decently brisk on all manner of road surfaces and types. The steering is not anything transcendental, in fact lacking for much in feel and controlled by another one of those comically fat BMW M wheels, but it's surprisingly nicely weighted and faithful, so you can control the Z4 M40i rather tidily on tight, intricate routes. However, with the impeccable ZF gearbox, the instant grunt and lovely noises of the 3.0-litre six-pot engine (and it does make some truly lovely noises), and the engaging chassis, you can have a shedload of fun in the M40i. It feels like a proper sports car; maybe still a bit more point-and-squirt and a gnat's less rewarding than a Porsche 718 Boxster, but well ahead of any other two-seater roadster with similar brawn that we can think of.

Thankfully, BMW's decision to go with a folding fabric roof this time around, junking the weightier folding metal roof of the Mk2 in the process, doesn't mean the Z4 M40i sacrifices much in the way of comfort or refinement. In truth, it's an exemplary shrunken-GT, with this nowhere more in evidence than while it was ticking off a long return journey to the English-Scottish border with incredible ease and aplomb, all while turning in 36.7mpg fuel economy, too. Remember, this is a six-cylinder petrol sports car with 340hp and a comfortably sub-five-second 0-62mph time, so to achieve close to 40mpg on a cruise makes a total mockery of the need for downsizing. And, indeed, as the only other two engines available are a pair of four-cylinder 2.0-litre jobs, then the M40i has a prestige within the Mk3 Z4 range all of its own. Given a 28.8mpg average over a 480-mile week with the BMW, and the fact it's not even breaching 50,000 in its basic form, we'd have no qualms about recommending this as the go-to model in the line-up.

Especially as you sit in a classic Z4 manner, low and far back, almost over the rear axle and looking out over a long bonnet. The interior is ergonomically magnificent and shot through with quality, although the jury's still out on the BMW digital instrument cluster, with its reversed rev counter and sometimes-difficult-to-fathom graphics. Nevertheless, having personally come close to buying an E85 Z4 3.0i Sport back in 2004, and having loved the (admittedly flawed) Z4 M in both its body forms, we're still happy to say the M40i is a truly brilliant sports car, almost without fault.

Almost. But not quite. If there's one thing we don't like about the G29, it's the exterior appearance. Good heavens, it's a gawky-looking machine, and this is obviously not the first BMW, not by a long chalk, of which we've said such a thing recently. Nor will it be the last, either, we suspect, as Munich's design language seems to want to be deliberately challenging and controversial right now. We realise that aesthetics are entirely subjective and you may well be looking upon the pictures of the Z4 M40i with something approaching lustful appreciation; we also don't mind admitting there were occasions, where we caught it in the right light and we were standing at the back of the car, when we were almost coming to terms with it - obviously, M Performance-spec helps, as big wheels and meaty air intakes and a purposeful stance and silvery details and bespoke mesh in the radiator grilles all help to bolster the visuals, but after a week with the Z4 we eventually came to the conclusion that it's still unremittingly ugly. The gawping face is a particular low point, the flanks are overly fussy and ill-resolved, and the rear number-plate recess makes the car look curiously buck-toothed... although the mental image of teeth in a bum is somewhat horrific, so we apologise profusely for that. Anyway, we don't like the M40i's appearance. And while we're happy to say that this Z4 is easily, mechanically speaking, the best yet, in terms of design it's hard not to come to the conclusion that BMW's roadster has been steadily getting more repulsive since its crisp, attractive form first appeared in 2003.

Despite this, we did really, really like the Z4 M40i. In fact, we loved it. And if we could have the M40i's underpinnings beneath the body of an E85, or - better still - an E86 Mk1 Z4 Coupe, we'd finally be looking at a top-notch BMW sports car here. What's that, you say? You can have these underpinnings in a coupe body? But just not a BMW coupe body? Hmmmm...


Audi TTS Roadster: down on power and cylinders to the BMW, it doesn't drive as sweetly as the RWD Z4 and the TT as a breed is doomed. However, the Audi is much prettier on the outside and its cabin/infotainment works better.

Porsche 718 Spyder: mesmeric as the range-topping Spyder, although you pay a heck of a lot more for it than you would for the M40i. BMW is nothing like as deft as the Porsche but still good fun.

Toyota Supra: well, we had to, didn't we? Here's the coupe version of the M40i. And it's an absolutely blinding sports car, arguably better to drive than the source/sister material and much nicer to look at.

Matt Robinson - 14 Nov 2019    - BMW road tests
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- Z4 images

2019 BMW Z4 M40i UK test. Image by BMW UK.2019 BMW Z4 M40i UK test. Image by BMW UK.2019 BMW Z4 M40i UK test. Image by BMW UK.2019 BMW Z4 M40i UK test. Image by BMW UK.2019 BMW Z4 M40i UK test. Image by BMW UK.

2019 BMW Z4 M40i UK test. Image by BMW UK.2019 BMW Z4 M40i UK test. Image by BMW UK.2019 BMW Z4 M40i UK test. Image by BMW UK.2019 BMW Z4 M40i UK test. Image by BMW UK.2019 BMW Z4 M40i UK test. Image by BMW UK.


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