Will a more refined GT-like Z4 prove as entertaining as its predecessor? Alisdair Suttie gets behind the wheel to find out.
Coincidence or Teutonic timing at its best? No one was saying at the launch of the BMW Z4, but just as Chris ‘all-angles’ Bangle heads into the blue yonder from BMW’s styling department the new Z4 shows its toned down rump.
Another similarity with the 6-Series for the new Z4 is a shift in focus away from the original’s uncompromising sporting bent. All the evidence you need for this is provided by the option of the new Adaptive M Suspension. This has three settings, ranging from Normal, through Sport to Sport +, and BMW says the most aggressive of these settings is equivalent to the standard ride comfort levels of the previous Z4. So, has the Z4 gone soft?
There are benefits to the new roof in the form of improved refinement with the roof raised, along with better security. It also offers increased vision thanks to a larger glass area, but we had the initial nagging suspicion that this Z4 has steered more towards a GT feel than the earlier car’s out and out sporting character.
Nestle into the cabin and there’s decent room for the two occupants and the driver has reach and rake adjustment for the steering wheel and plenty of scope for fine tuning the seat. However, we found the Z4’s seats just weren’t comfy enough for longer drives, were set a fraction too high and didn’t quite snuggle us the way a Porsche Boxster’s do. With the roof raised, and despite the light colour of the headlining, the Z4 feels a touch claustrophobic compared to a Mercedes SLK.
The 302bhp sDrive35i was the only Z4 on offer at the launch and was fitted with the seven-speed DCT double clutch gearbox. This ’box flicks between ratios in double quick time and is slick and seamless when left to its own devices in auto mode. The steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifts take a little getting used to, though they do come into their own on sneaky, snaky back roads to let the driver keep his or her hands on the wheel. That said, one of BMW’s engineers admitted he would have preferred a simpler system with a paddle on one side for upshifts and another on the opposite side of the steering column for down changes a la BMW M3. Once you get used to the paddle shifts, you can revel in the snarling bark between gears as the Z4 heads up or down the ’box.
The new Z4 models come with BMW Efficient Dynamics, so there’s brake regeneration to help charge the battery and give average fuel consumption of 30.1mpg for the 35i. Opt for the Double Clutch Transmission and economy improves further to 31.4mpg and emissions drop from 219g/km to 210g/km. There are similar gains with the other engines in the range.
Even in this sportiest setting and on the optional 19in alloys of our test car (17in alloys are standard), the suspension is just the right side of supple for all-day comfort. Choose one of the softer options and the Z4 morphs into a GT more akin to a Mercedes SLK instead of a serious Porsche Boxster rival. BMW reckons this Jekyll and Hyde potential opens up a broader seam of sales to mine, though we reckon there was nothing much wrong with the previous car’s set-up.
The new Z4’s ability to cover country miles with such enthusiasm shows BMW has not turned its roadster into a softy, it just takes a little tinkering from the driver with the DDC button to unleash the full potential and charm of the car. That said, the £37,060 price of the sDrive35i, plus £1810 for the seven-speed DCT gearbox, makes the Z4 an expensive choice, even if the new car had a broader appeal that should have both the Porsche Boxster and Mercedes SLK peering over their shoulders.