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Soft, strong and very long. Image by Mark Nichol.

Soft, strong and very long
The Z4 was always long, but this time around BMW has made it softer on the backside yet altogether stronger.


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| First Drive | Inverness, Scotland | BMW Z4 sDrive23i |

You'll probably have noticed that we've just driven the new BMW Z4, and if you've read Shane's first drive you'll know he loved pretty much everything about the newcomer. So why another review so quick? Well, the sDrive23i is the one that most folk will actually buy; it's the entry point of a three-pronged range and we've driven it on UK roads, manual gearbox and all. So, is the 'real world' version as good as its twin-turbo, twin-clutch automatic brother?

In the Metal

Before we get into this you should know that the new Z4 is a car developed with a reactionary approach, by which we mean BMW listened carefully to what people were saying about both the old Z4 and its rivals, and fashioned much of this car in response. Make of that what you will, but the result is as pleasing as it is conservative. The old Z4, BMW admits, polarised opinion largely because of its looks, so this one is 'softened' somewhat, especially at the rear. For me, it has lost something of the old car's edginess, though few would argue with its newfound aesthetic. The bonnet is still amusingly long and machismo, but the Z4 has also, arguably, adopted a broader, asexual appeal.

It also, of course, eschews a soft top this time around in favour of some sheet metal origami - another result of listening to Mercedes SLK buyers, who apparently believe a cloth roof is inherently less safe in terms of crash protection and security. Whatever the logic, the change has worked well, with the Z adopting an altogether more coherent roof-up shape this time around.

Inside there's more design by market research, and yet again it's to good effect: the glasshouse gets bigger for a more airy feel, the quality is improved, and even in basic specification the dash looks premium enough to impress any roadster buying stereotype you care to take out for a spin. Good work BMW.

What you get for your Money

Well, while we dare say you could tick less then five options and still leave the showroom with a perfectly well equipped and priced car, this is a showy Beemer - so that's not likely. Options are king. Thus, prepare to be scalped. For example, the tiny plastic wind deflector than nestles between the headrests costs... ready? £205! And if there's more than £4.50 worth of plastic and mesh there I'll eat my paisley headscarf.

At this end of the Z4 market, we'd advise you to stick as close as possible to the surprisingly generous standard spec (which gets alloys, a CD player, dual-zone climate control, dynamic stability control and Xenon headlamps), but possibly add leather to keep things premium while staying as close to £30k as possible. And actually, we'd find the adaptive M Sport suspension difficult to resist too. And sports seats. Damn. See what I mean?

Driving it

For all the talk of BMW moving the new Z4 more towards the 'touring' end of the market occupied by the Mercedes SLK, the softened newcomer can still easily be coaxed into behaving like a proper rear-drive hooligan when the mood takes you; this is a very satisfying thing to drive.

Sadly we weren't able to try a car without the optional M Sport adaptive suspension (£930), but we'd highly recommend it because it works a treat. Via Dynamic Drive Control (a switch on the centre console) the dampers can be set between softer and firmer settings comprising 'normal', 'sport' and 'sport+' modes. It alters the character of the car tangibly by also recalibrating the steering weighting and throttle response, genuinely giving the Z4 a multi-faceted nature. We're told the standard springs are set 'somewhere between' comfort and sport.

The generally softer ride might put those looking for an out-and-out sports car off, but really they'd probably be looking at a Porsche Cayman anyway. For the majority of the white leather sofa types this car traditionally appeals to, the Z4 strikes a spot on balance between handling prowess, comfort and ease of driving. There's loads of front-end grip, and while it's easy to get the back end to snap out, the eager traction control (which a purist might find a little too eager) ensures there's little chance of ending up the wrong way, even at higher speeds. Honourable mention goes to the steering too, which offers a satisfying amount of resistance without feeling artificial, and isn't hampered by any slack around the centre; it's a lovely thing to steer, basically.

We drove the 23i after spending some time with the 35i, which served to emphasise just how much torque that twin-turbo 3.0-litre has. However, as the memory of the range-topper began to fade it quickly became clear that the base-spec six-cylinder unit has all the shove you need - you just have to rev it harder to wring out the claimed 6.6-second 0-62mph time. It has a lovely smooth note too. And that old green chestnut EfficientDynamics means it returns 33.2mpg and 199g/km of CO2, which although good in itself is slightly disappointing next to the sDrive30i's identical figures.

Worth Noting

Diesel. Diesel's always worth noting these days, isn't it? Especially BMW diesels, which are, frankly, so unanimously good that even in a car like the Z4 you wonder why there isn't one in the line-up. Well, we asked the question and it's that classic 'business case' thing again - the same business case that dictates we get the arguably puzzling X5M and X6M partnership. See, an sDrive35d makes all the sense in the world, what with its majestic blend of fuel economy and crushing torque. However, because the USA is the Z4's biggest market by some margin (with 35 percent of worldwide sales, compared to ten for the UK), and because the Yanks haven't warmed to diesel yet, there may not be the financial justification to develop a car that we here in Britain would probably love more than an MP loves his expenses claim form. Still, we get the distinct impression BMW's UK arm is working hard on making it happen, so don't be surprised if it does.


BMW has hit the nail in the head with the new Z4. Detractors will lament the smoothing off of the outgoing car's ultimate dynamic and visual edge, but really all BMW has done is made it appeal to a far broader spectrum of people and make it an easier car to live with day-to-day. Like most recent BMWs, the polarising aspect is gone, replaced by common-as-muck, old-fashioned desirability. That might upset some people, but ultimately the Z4 is brilliant even in boggo form; it's comfortable, dynamic, good looking and, in an impressive symbiosis of engineering and marketing, runs away from the Porsche Cayman while simultaneously smacking the final nail in the SLK's coffin. Touché.

Mark Nichol - 15 May 2009    - BMW road tests
- BMW news
- Z4 images

2009 BMW Z4 specifications: (sDrive23i)
Price: £28,645 on-the-road (test car was fitted with optional extras)
0-62mph: 6.6 seconds
Top speed: 151mph
Combined economy: 33.2mpg
Emissions: 199g/km
Kerb weight: 1480kg

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 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.


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