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Trans-four-mation. Image by Richard Newton.

BMW's redesigned Z4 incorporates a stylish folding hardtop and a whole lot more; it's better to drive than ever before.


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| First Drive | Alicante, Spain | BMW Z4 |

When the original Z4 replaced the Z3 it moved BMW's roadster up a class, warranting comparison with the Porsche Boxster. Enhancements throughout its life cycle kept it in the game, as did a coupé version. BMW has now combined the two cars in one thanks to a slick folding hardtop, though that's only the beginning of the makeover.

In the Metal

BMW has retained the overall proportions of the first Z4 in the redesign, but has transformed it from an interesting shape - but not one you'd call pretty - to a highly attractive and muscular sports car. The long bonnet and wheelbase remain though the stubby tail appears more elongated and elegant. Shapely rear lights and sculpted wings add muscle and a sporty stance.

One of the major talking points of the car is its new aluminium folding hardtop. Folding hardtops work particularly well on two-seat cars, as the roof itself is not very big. It's therefore relatively easy to make it look good and stow away. The new Z4 looks fantastic roof up or down and though there's obviously weight and practicality compromises to be made - in comparison to a fabric top - it's worth it in our book.

The interior of the Z4 is virtually unrecognisable from its predecessor's. While the original car's cockpit began as a lesson in minimalism, the new car focuses on quality and tactility: it's beautifully put together. Although there's more room and better visibility than before, the Z4 still feels, how shall I put it, cosy. Saying that, the driving position is perfect. Take a close look at the new switchgear and knobs too, as they'll be on the next 5 Series.

What you get for your Money

Three models will be available at launch, all featuring BMW's unusual new nomenclature: sDrive23i, sDrive30i and sDrive35i. Prices start at £28,645 and rise to £37,060 (€53,100 to €75,350 in Ireland). All models receive 17-inch alloys, a 'Dynamic Driving Control' chassis system, adjustable DSC, two-zone climate control, six airbags, Xenon lights and the ability to drop the roof remotely from the key fob.

New options worth thinking about include the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddles on the steering wheel - and several modes of operation - and the Adaptive M Sport suspension.

Driving it

There's a delicacy to all of the new Z4's controls that make it a pleasure to drive, whether you're popping down the shops, on a long journey or taking it out for a thrash for the sake of it. Despite BMW's insistence that the new Z4 was developed to be more comfortable and more grown up than before - in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience - it doesn't take long to discover that this is an exciting car to drive, one you really would get up early on a Sunday to take down your favourite road.

Admittedly, our first experience of the new Z4 was in the range-topping sDrive35i, fitted with the DCT dual-clutch transmission and Adaptive M Sport suspension. These options have a considerable influence over the personality of the car. BMW's DCT transmission is genuinely engaging to drive - much more so than most of the VW Group's implementations of its DSG equivalent - and actually saves fuel and reduces emissions. That the gearchange speeds are tied into the Dynamic Driving Control makes a lot of sense, though we'd still prefer simple left-for-down, right-for-up gearchange paddles on the wheel. Why use that convention on your M-cars BMW, but not elsewhere?

Throttle calibration, steering assistance and gearchange strategy (for the DCT, if fitted) are all adjusted according to the setting of the Dynamic Drive Control, as is the damping and ride height if the Adaptive M Sport suspension is specified. Normal mode is fine for around town and long distances, Sport for when you're in more of a hurry and Sport + when you really want to test the car's mettle. In Sport + mode, the quick-acting, but no-messing, traction control takes a break and is substituted by a more relaxed electronic nanny that is happy for you to slide the rear-end a little before gently pointing out that perhaps it's time the throttle was eased off. Off course you have the option to tell them all take a hike too, which leaves power slides - and your destiny - in your own hands.

The Z4 immediately feels like it wants to play when you take it onto a twisty road. We love that sense of immediacy and the delicious interplay between the steering wheel, throttle and rear wheels, but we can't help but think that it may be a little unnerving for some buyers. This was exacerbated by dusty Spanish surfaces, but no doubt a wet and greasy road would feel the same. Admittedly, there is loads of communication through the steering and your own rear-end as to what's going on and in their default mode the electronics are quicker acting than most drivers.

Another factor affecting grip in the sDrive35i model is that its considerable 295lb.ft of torque is on tap from as low as 1,500rpm. Allied with the twin-turbo's 302bhp, this car is almost worthy of an M badge. The naturally aspirated models may turn out to be less intimidating to the uninitiated.

Worth Noting

As an enthusiast, it's a little disheartening to listen to BMW say that one of its key goals for the new Z4 was to make it more comfortable. Nonetheless, it's a fact of life that the majority of roadster buyers have little interest in the on-limit handling characteristics of their car. So, according to BMW, the new Z4 on standard suspension has significantly softer damping than its predecessor. Specify the Adaptive M Sport suspension and the Normal setting is even more comfortable. Switch it to Sport and it's stiffer than the standard car, but still less so than the original. Only when you go for Sport + does the new Z4 get firmer than the first version. The ride height is also dropped by up to 10mm in this guise.


It's true: the folding hardtop is a selling point (shared with the Mercedes SLK) in the two-seat premium sportscar class, but that's far from the most interesting thing about BMW's new Z4. Dramatic changes have been implemented inside and out, the result a more desirable car than the first Z4 ever was. There's a new range of engines and a superb dual-clutch gearbox too, while new technology such as Dynamic Driving Control and Adaptive M Sport suspension allow the driver to customise the car to their mood. Still want that Boxster? Or was it a Cayman?

Shane O' Donoghue - 27 Mar 2009    - BMW road tests
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- Z4 images

2009 BMW Z4. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW Z4. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW Z4. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW Z4. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW Z4. Image by Mark Nichol.

2009 BMW Z4. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW Z4. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW Z4. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW Z4. Image by Mark Nichol.2009 BMW Z4. Image by Mark Nichol.

2009 BMW Z4. Image by Richard Newton.

2009 BMW Z4. Image by Richard Newton.

2009 BMW Z4. Image by BMW.

2009 BMW Z4. Image by BMW.

2009 BMW Z4. Image by BMW.

2009 BMW Z4. Image by BMW.

2009 BMW Z4. Image by Richard Newton.


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