8
BMW’s Porsche Boxster rival is better to drive than ever, although it still makes a better high-day open-top cruiser than a true sports car
  • First Drive

    BMW Z4 M40i 2018 review

    BMW’s Porsche Boxster rival is better to drive than ever, although it still makes a better high-day open-top cruiser than a true sports car

What is it?

The BMW Z4 has brought stability to its maker’s sports car offering. For more than a decade before it arrived, Munich seemed only to be experimenting with various executions of two-seat good-time cars. The Z1, Z3 and Z8 had plenty of novelty value, but none won enough commercial success to survive beyond one model generation (although that latter fact seems a bit bonkers when you think that secondhand values of Z8s have now risen well north of £200,000).

The Z4, on the other hand, has been successful enough to convince BMW to directly replace it not once but twice. The latest, third-generation version drops the folding metal hard-top of the second, but it's still slightly longer, wider and heavier than its immediate predecessor. Chunkier or otherwise, though, BMW will tell you that this is an attempt to reverse the move made by its predecessor away from uncompromising driver appeal – to represent BMW’s traditional sporting DNA as best a modern front-engined, rear-wheel-drive roadster can and maybe even give owners of the four-cylinder Porsche 718 Boxster S greater pause for a silken six-pot reverie than it has managed before.

This is the car Munich has been developing in tandem with industry giant Toyota since 2013, of course – the platform sibling of the incoming Supra. That fact, more than anything, might be the reason why Munich hasn’t shrunk it down or changed it around too much, because doing so would only have made engineering the car on a common platform harder.

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

What BMW has done, however, is to entirely redesign the car’s suspension (struts featuring up front and, for the first time in a Z4, a five-link system at the rear). Lightweight aluminium components have been adopted to save on unsprung mass, while new subframe mounting techniques have been used at both ends and the tracks are wider – by a significant 98mm at the front.

At launch, buyers will be able to choose between 194bhp and 255bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engines in the 20i and 30i respectively. A 3.0-litre turbo straight six (M40i), with M Performance derivative status, glitters away temptingly at the top of the range and is endowed with 335bhp and 369lb ft of torque (which, Z4 fans will note, is actually no more grunt than the outgoing Z4 sDrive35iS had). The headline version of the new car gets lightweight 18in alloy wheels as standard, as well as an eight-speed automatic gearbox, lowered and adaptively damped sport suspension, uprated brakes and a torque-vectoring electronic locking differential.

What's it like?

It’s pleasing to note that the car industry’s elongated dabble with the folding metal hard-top is now mostly over. Cloth hoods are lighter, simpler and easier to package, all of which makes them a much better fit for any sports car. They seem to be able to seal a cabin at speed almost as well as a hard-top would these days.

They also reaffirm the central point about any convertible, it seems to me, via that sense of visual impermanence. A cloth hood on a sports car is like Gene Kelly’s fedora, or an umbrella over the barbeque: it’s a joyous thing. When it’s up, you can tell it’s only up under sufferance, and it’ll be down again to let the sunshine in and the good times roll before you know it.

The new Z4’s roof is nicer to look at than most. BMW supplies it in black as standard, but our test car’s came in anthracite grey with a silver fleck that made it look a bit like designer denim. Squeeze underneath that hood and you’ll find a driving position that isn’t set quite as far back as the Z4’s once was. It used to feel as if you were sitting right on the rear axle, with acres of metalwork out in front of you. That’s not quite true of the new version; you’re usefully closer to the middle of the wheelbase, positioned low and nicely out of the wind, and with plenty of room for your legs and elbows.

The Z4 features BMW’s new-generation ‘Live Cockpit Professional’ digital instruments and its ‘BMW Operating System 7.0’ infotainment set-up. It’s also the first Z4 with a head-up display. The latter is optional but probably worth having, because those new digital instruments aren’t as easy to read at a glance as they might be.

You’ll need to keep a wary eye on that speedo, too, because the Z4 M40i can certainly stretch its legs. The car’s turbo straight six pulls with lots of guts and great throttle response from low crank speeds, and keeps pulling with smoothness and freedom in its delivery as well as with force. BMW’s preference to dial in contrived engine noise in the car’s more dynamic drive modes might be a bugbear for some, but drop the Z4’s roof and the foible becomes less annoying than it might be in a saloon or coupé, with more genuine exhaust and induction sound reaching your ears through the fresh air rushing around your head.

And what of the rest of the driving experience; should those 718 Boxster owners get ready to jump ship? I dare say some will - but I wouldn’t be in a mad rush.

The new Z4’s ride and handling are both greatly improved compared with its predecessor. It’s now a car with fine body control and a chassis that combines trademark BMW rear-drive handling poise with lots of lateral grip and traction. The car’s handling is accurate and composed, it has usefully good high-speed stability and it’s plenty of fun to drive. But it does feel quite sizeable on the road, and the agility and supple tautness that you hope to find in any truly absorbing sports car are notable by their absence.

As with so many BMWs, it takes familiarity and effort to find an Individual-mode combination of powertrain, suspension and steering settings that is to your liking. Even when you’ve found it, you won’t find a car that’ll entertain quite as well as the very best £50,000 driver’s cars. The Z4 steers with precision for the most part, but it's a bit short on tactile feel, and the car can dive into tighter corners with a gathering off-centre pace that’s a touch unsettling at first.

The chassis’ preference is for an assured hold on the road whose margins of lateral grip can be hard to gauge. Meanwhile, the car’s ride feels so tightly damped at times that it leaves little room for fluency – something that might discourage you from sticking with the car’s sportier driving modes.

Should I buy one?

The new BMW Z4 will probably make a better buy for people looking for a fast, luxurious, two-seat roadster-cum-cruiser than for those looking for a really compelling sports car. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

It's still not quite representative of BMW at its very best, but it's certainly a car that’s getting warmer, better and generally nearer the mark as a driver’s car, by the generation.

BMW Z4 M40i specification

Where Lisbon, Portugal Price £49,050 On sale Now Engine 6 cyls, 2998cc, turbo, petrol Power 335bhp at 5000-6500rpm Torque 369lb ft at 1600-4500rpm Gearbox 8-spd automatic Kerb weight 1535kg Top speed 155mph (limited) 0-62mph 4.6sec Fuel economy 38.7mpg (combined) CO2, tax band 165g/km, 34% Rivals Porsche 718 Boxster SAudi TT RS Roadster

Join the debate

Comments
30

6 November 2018

I am sure BMW will have more compelling variants to come at a later date, but for now I can't see anyone in Stuttgart losing any sleep over yet another 'middling' effort from BMW.

7 November 2018

This is the result.   At least they tried, but it's psychotic design with lines and features at random rather than carefully thought out as the Bangle Z4.

 

Let's hope it's just German styling and Japanese engineering.   Sadly, it's probably a BMW engine...

 

JD Power - BMW last in reliabilty.

 

7 November 2018
Symanski wrote:

This is the result.   At least they tried, but it's psychotic design with lines and features at random rather than carefully thought out as the Bangle Z4.

 

Let's hope it's just German styling and Japanese engineering.   Sadly, it's probably a BMW engine...

 

JD Power - BMW last in reliabilty.

 

Didn't you have an issue with your BMW engine once?

6 November 2018

Crikey, that thing makes the Bangle era BMWs look good.

I doubt Porsche will be too worried about their Boxster sales..

7 November 2018

This car is going to sell by the truckload, it may not be as dynamically adroit as a Boxster at 10/10ths, but for 99% it will be entertaining enough, throw in a much more attractive and better equipped interior than the spartan Porsche, and the Boxster is in trouble.

I personally like the looks too. I would guess the 4 cylinder models will be the sweet spot too.

7 November 2018
The M40i comes with 19” wheels as standard , in the UK at least.

7 November 2018

Very beautiful car. Please is there a way i become a dealer for your company in Africa. We need these products. Keep up the good job.

 

Posted via MTV NAIJA

MTV NAIJA

7 November 2018

List price it 50k for this model. I’ll take a Porsche or an F type of the money thanks.

7 November 2018

Odd styling. I can see why BMW employ their caricature styling for the saloons if this is what happens when they otherwise let their hair down. 

The upper headlight level adds unnecessary height to the front end, spoiling the otherwise low front end. 

The bonnet depressions are weird as the bonnet has to rise up to be able to drop back down. 

And worst of all it looks like the front, side and rear elevations were designed by 3 different people and then joined together. No feature lines seem to continue from one elevation to the other leaving you with an oddly square and unathletic design. 

Oh, and if you draw attention to a particular design feature in the text, in this case the folding hood, pls could you try to ensure there’s a photo of it. Thanks. 

 

 

You're not stuck in traffic - you are traffic!!

7 November 2018

A two seat sporty roadster should not weigh over 1500kg! That's way too much and will impact cornering agility, no matter how good the chassis. Surprised BMW allowed the weight to get this high!

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week