2019 BMW Z4 road test review
To every pair of eyes that lustily followed the 2019 BMW Z4 as it drove past (of which there were scores), the attraction was clear, and very present. It's red, it's low, and its striking with its aggressive styling and enough lines to make a ruled notebook jealous. They probably don't care that it shares its new CLAR platform with the new Toyota Supra, or that it uses aluminium suspension bits to make it a sharper handler, or that its wheelbase is shorter than its predecessor. But to the enthusiast, the BMW Z4 is a rarity - a two-seater convertible with sportscar credibility, and in this M40i trim, at least, part of the expectations of an M-division car.
So, what is it exactly?
The new BMW Z4 is, simply put, a roadster. A genre of open-top car that exists for the sole purpose of driving fun, without needing to go overboard with a huge engine. The last new Z4 came out in 2009, and that car had a folding hardtop, and while felt fun the last time we drove it, felt nowhere as sharp as it ought to be. So, with the new G29 Z4, BMW sought to rectify that by making its wheelbase shorter, giving it more a aggressive suspension setup with a 50:50 weight distribution, and an active rear differential. BMW also strapped in the B58 3-litre inline six, which usually goes into their most powerful non-M cars.
How does it look?
Sure, the Z4 gets a lot of attention, in a way that we don't often see, even for a convertible. And I get it, it's got the right proportions and the aggressively sculpted bumpers arrest attention. I do think it's a far better looking car from the rear, with the wide rear end really giving the impression that it has far more power than it actually does. From the side too, there's elements like the line from the fender and functional vent, leading to the tip of the spoiler, and mirrored in the upturned slash at the bottom of the door, that make it look like it's a fast car. But the longer I spent looking at it, the more I feel that a little restraint would've made the owner happier in the long run, even if it wasn't as visually arresting. For example, the arrow-shaped bulges on the hood, does the Z4 really need it to denote that that's where the power lies?
Drives as fast, then?
In this M40i spec, the BMW Z4 has a 2,998cc inline six-cylinder turbocharged engine, which has more than respectable numbers. With a single twin-scroll turbo squeezing out 345PS and 500Nm torque, we managed the 0-100kmph run in just 4.4 seconds! That's seriously quick, for not a whole lot of money. Not that you'd be very worried about fuel efficiency, but the Z4 returned 5.72kmpl in the city and 8.19kmpl on the highway. With a 52-litre tank, it should translate to anywhere from 260-420km on a tankful, but that's not taking into account you flexing your right foot all that much.
And you'll want to; the best thing about this engine is its torque-bomb character. That's because no matter what gear the ZF-sourced eight speed automatic is in, chances are, you're already in the thick of a wave of torque. Peak torque is from 1,600rpm and it stays flat all the way till 5,000 revs! This really does make it feel like it goes to supersonic really quickly, especially on a tight winding road. Even if you don't have the space to fully wind out the engine to its 7,000 rev redline, there's so much surge, that you find yourself having made quick overtakes with half the throttle's travel, with the brilliant gearbox shifting telepathically, and only when you need it to. Mashing the pedal all the way down has some interesting side effects - the rear squats, and squirms just a bit, and the Z4 magically lands you at the next corner. It can be so brutal, that you're left making corrections at the ultra-sensitive steering, even on a straight road.
That all sounds very exciting till you realise that the weight and feedback coming from the steering don't always add up. So while the steering feels light and a little twitchy in the Comfort drive mode, it feels even lighter at lower speeds in Sport or Sport Plus, only weighing up at speed, and not always weighing up the same way in a corner. This makes committing to different corners a little bit of a lucky draw, since you're never too sure of just how much grip is left. The good thing is you can bleed speed right till mid-corner, the brakes feel confidently strong enough to lean on, while are surprisingly easy to modulate. Ride quality isn't a sore point either, the suspension doesn't get upset over most surfaces, though in typical German fashion, the Z4 will thud over sharper joints. Comfort mode does remove some of the edge, and you'll probably climb out of the Z4 with a smile on your face, rather than a grimace. But, the most surprising thing about the Z4 is that it managed a 400km roundtrip largely scrape-free, without needing to criss-cross over all but the most hill-like speed breakers. It's also very tame to drive around at city speeds, giving you the ability to modulate the throttle easily in Comfort or Eco Pro modes, without having the car lurch forward.
The Z4's soundtrack gives you enough reason to enjoy the bursts of acceleration, with extra doses of pops and crackles on the overrun in Sport/Sport Plus mode, where the exhaust valves open up to add a little more heart to the straight-six's song. There's probably a fair amount being piped into the cabin too, with the Z4 sometimes sounding louder with the windows up, rather than down.
Speaking of the cabin
The way to enjoy the Z4 to its fullest is definitely with the fabric roof folded down, a feat it achieves in 10 seconds, and at speeds of up to 50kmph. There isn't a lot of buffeting till you hit about 120kmph, which is no mean feat considering there's only an air curtain/diffuser to reduce turbulence at the rear. Of course, driving around in 40 degree centigrade weather with the sun beating down isn't ideal, so we spent a fair bit of time enjoying the isolation offered with the roof up. With the roof up, the cabin does feel a little small. Don't get me wrong, you and your passenger will be very comfortable in the body-hugging seats, though if you're both carrying a smartphone, there isn't space for both. The centre stack could've used better space management (and a more premium feeling print on top), since the arm rest isn't very deep or wide.
The dash is laid out cleanly, with a 10.25-inch touchscreen up front and centre, and it boasts BMW's intelligent personal assistant which, like your smartphone, responds to voice commands. The digital dials have a unique part-hexagonal layout, and the opposed-layout needles look cool - at first. You quickly realise it's hard to keep track of what numbers are on the speedo/rev counter without looking directly at it, which kind of defeats the purpose, no? Though, BMW will help you fix this, with a colour heads-up display. The boot, at 281 litres, is large enough for a weekend's worth of luggage, but only if you give up the peace of mind of the 17-inch spacesaver in there.
Though the styling seems a little over the top, that's presumably what makes the BMW Z4 such an attention magnet. None of that matters from behind the wheel though, since it does need you to stay on top of it when you up the pace. It's a little unfortunate that the steering doesn't make you feel fully involved, but it makes all the right noises and at a price of Rs 78.9 lakh, ex-showroom, for the M40i variant we tested, it compares quite favourably against the more expensive Jaguar F-Type and Porsche 718 Boxster. For most, the sheer pulling force of the engine and sharp, agile handling will be enough to deliver the sportscar experience promised by the striking styling.
Also see: BMW Z4 Road Test Video Review
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