• Available for £25,000
• 2.0-litre petrol turbo four or 3.0-litre turbo straight six, rear-wheel drive
• All three models perform well and economically
• Used M40i ‘six’ isn’t that much dearer than a ‘four’
• There are better-handling roadsters
• Looks great at low speed in the right colours though
What happened to Z cars? We’re talking about BMW’s Z cars here, not TV’s cheesy police series of the 1960s and ‘70s. For BMW, Z stood for ‘Zukunft’, the German word for ‘future’. Back in 1989, the first Z – the door-dropping E30-based Z1 – seemed like a more-than-worthy lead-in to what we all hoped was going to be an exciting new sub-brand. Sure, it needed a bit more power than the 2.5 straight six could offer, but that didn’t stop the Z1 becoming a classic that today is hardly ever found for less than £40k.
Four years after the Z1’s short run ended in 1991, the E36-based Z3 arrived. This was BMW’s first mass production roadster. Joji Nagashima’s styling was divisive, and the way it went wasn’t inspiring either. But the car’s appearance in the Bond movie Goldeneye got it off to a good start, and in the end nearly 300,000 Z3 convertibles and coupes were sold.
Towards the end of the Z3’s production run BMW added another Z to the range, the Bangle/ Fisker-designed 4.9 litre S62 V8-powered Z8. Again, the faux-retro looks were a bit Marmite and it was hardly showered with plaudits by road testers but, like the Z1, it still managed to achieve classic status. Current (2023) prices start at £150,000 and commonly shoot past the £200,000 mark.
The Z8 died in 2003 after just two years’ production, but there was better news for open-top BMW fans that year with the launch of the Z4. Powered by a variety of four- and six-cylinder engines, the E85 Z4 also became available as an E86 coupe and then (in M guise) with the S54 straight six from the E46 M3.
In 2009, the gen-two E89 Z4 was released. At this time BMW moved the Z line to Germany from South Carolina, home of both the Z3 and the gen-one Z4. By making the new Z4 a retractable hardtop, BMW did away with the need to produce separate convertibles and coupes, but by the time the gen-three G29 Z4 came out in the summer of 2018, BMW was not alone in having fallen out of love with these often troublesome steel hardtops. As a result, the G29, revealed at the 2018 Paris show, was soft-top only. Built at the Magna Steyr plant in Austria, alongside the gen-five Toyota GR Supra, it was put forward as a genuine driver’s car focusing on maximum agility, dynamism and steering precision. In the best BMW tradition it was rear-wheel drive with a lot of extra track width compared to the outgoing Z4. Multilink rear suspension appeared on a Z4 for the first time.
The engine range comprised two versions of a 2.0-litre turbo ‘four’ – with either 197hp and 236lb ft in the 20i or 258hp and 295lb ft in the 30i. The 3.0 turbo straight six in the M40i put out the same 340hp and 369lb ft as the old gen-two Z4 sDrive35iS. All three engines were simultaneously up for a giggle and gratifyingly fuel-efficient. At launch, BMW’s usual eight-speed ZF Steptronic Sport auto was the only transmission. In spring 2019 a six-speed manual was added for the 20i. These manuals were available in some markets but not, we suspect, in the UK. There are no manual G29s on any UK selling sites.
For the two ‘fours’ you had the choice of Sport or more aero-encrusted M Sport trim levels. Sport came with smaller tyres and a slightly more compliant suspension setup. M Sport had different wheels, an M steering wheel, better audio speakers, and (on the 30i) M Sport brakes. The M40i had all that plus adaptive M suspension and a limited-slip differential that could separately be had on 30i Z4s as part of the Track Handling package, one of various Z4 option bundles covering stuff like trim, comfort, lighting and tech (including a head-up display). The only M40i choices you had to make were on wheel and tyre size and brake caliper colour (red or blue). Every Z4 had heated leather M Sport seats, LED front and rear lights, dual-zone climate control and Live Cockpit Professional. Wind deflectors were a £170 option.
By the way, in case you’re wondering about the ‘missing link’, a Z2 was indeed on the cards for a while. Touted as a cheap, small-engined, front-wheel drive MX-5 rival for the mid-2010s, the proposed 2 was well out of chronological order, but it didn’t matter in the end because the project was squished in the mad rush to build more SUVs.
The jury’s still out on whether the Zukunft promise of the Z1 has ever really been fulfilled in subsequent Zeds, but the current 2019-on G29 is the best developed of the line and presents itself as an interesting prospect for buyers looking for a touch of that old-school sporting BMW vibe, in the straight-six M40i at least.
How much will a used one be? Well, don’t expect to get much change out of £33k for entry-level M40is. These will tend to have at least 40,000 miles on them. At the top of the M40i heap (low-mile ’22 cars) you’re looking at £50-£52k. More hearteningly, £30k will get you into a 30,000-mile 254hp 30i. Higher mileage (50k-plus) examples of the 194hp 20i – the most popular model in the UK – start at around £25,000. Now we’re talking – but are they worth it at that? Let’s have a look.
SPECIFICATION | BMW Z4 (2019-on)
Engine: 1,998cc four/1,998cc four/2,998cc straight six
Transmission: 8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 197@4,500-6,500/ 258@4,500-6,500/ 340@5,000-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 236@1,450-4,200/ 295@1,450-4,200/ 369@1,600-4,500rpm
0-62mph (secs): 6.6/ 5.4/ 4.5
Top speed (mph): 149/ 155/1 55
Weight (kg): 1,480/ 1,490/ 1,610
MPG (approx. combined): 38/ 38/ 33
CO2 (g/km): 137/ 137/ 162
Wheels (in): 17/ 18
On sale: 2019 - now
Price new: £40,745 (20i)
Price now: from £25,000
Data given is for 20i 197hp/30i 258hp/M40i 340hp
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
The M40i’s turbo straight six is a lusty unit with plenty of lunge from low rpm and no objection to higher revs. This variant delivers an impressive 0-62mph time of 4.5 seconds, which is faster than a 718 Boxster and only a whisker behind the Boxster S.
No G29 Z4 is slow, mind. Even the 197hp version knocks out a not-to-be-sniffed-at mid six-second 0-62 time. Not everyone is a fan of the piped-in artificial engine noise created by the ASD system, but if the weather is right you could change the mix of fake vs real noise to your advantage simply by dropping the hood. Even the 20i makes the odd exhaust crackle, although post-June 2020 cars might sound quieter as a result of a factory ECU change.
There have been a fair few reports of a flat spot or throttle hesitation from both four- and six-cylinder engines when pulling away from stationary or from a crawl. This is irrespective of how long the engine has been running. Not just on the Z4, either, but also its ‘twin’ the GR Supra. There’s still no real certainty as to the cause, but various ideas have been put forward, including dodgy fuel or issues with the high-pressure fuel pump, throttle position sensor, DME engine management system, DSC stability control valve timing, and gearbox software.
More than one owner has said the hesitation problem appeared after a brake safety recall to sort out incorrectly manufactured brake discs. Maybe another update was done at the same time, which upset the applecart. Intermittent long-cranking times have also been noticed on some cars. Apart from this, the G29’s engines seem to be behaving themselves. A recall was issued in late 2019 for an out of spec engine counterbalance shaft crankcase bushing.
On servicing, you could either go for a pay-monthly plan or a ‘service inclusive’ plan. For the pay monthly plan, you pre-paid for whatever services were expected based on your estimated annual mileage, paying extra if your service requirements exceeded your monthly payments. On a Z4, the default pay-monthly amount was £25. The M40i was termed an M Performance rather than a full M-car, so it shouldn’t qualify for the higher £45 monthly fee.
On ‘service inclusive’ you paid a lump sum up front to cover your service needs (barring brake pads, discs, MOT costs) for the first four years. For the Z4, this is currently given as ‘from £911’. The more services your car demanded during that period, the better value for money ‘service inclusive’ would be. Obviously, costs at non-dealer specialists will all be somewhat lower. Minor services took in oil, oil filter, and cabin filter. Majors added engine intake filter and spark plugs. Brake fluid changes were three years from the build date and then every two years thereafter.
BMW promised that the gen-three Z4 would be a driver’s car. That is kind of true, but only as long as all the roads you are driving on are very smooth. The G29 certainly represents a big step on over the gen-two Z4, but no matter how much fiddling you do with its various driving modes, your choice is always slightly compromised in the UK by the stiff ride.
The option of Adaptive M Suspension with electronically controlled dampers gives you two modes, Comfort and Sport, but the ride is quite rigid even in Comfort. On the drive modes, Eco Pro will always use the Adaptive suspension's Comfort damper setting. Comfort drive mode will always use the Adaptive suspension's Comfort damper setting. Sport and Sport Plus drive modes will always use the Adaptive suspension's Sport damper setting. Sport Individual mode will always use the settings you selected for that mode. When you select the Adaptive drive mode, the actual drive mode used will vary, based on the Adaptive algorithm that looks at throttle aggressiveness, steering angle inputs and GPS information. Hope that’s all clear? We’ll be asking questions later.
Scuttle shake is well restrained, the electronic steering is speed-sensitive and okay-ish, and lightweight aluminium is used extensively in the suspension. Cars that have been lowered using aftermarket springs can throw up ride height warnings. BMW’s ISTA-D diagnostic tool will generally recalibrate the ride-height sensor. Stones can get caught up in the brakes, causing a shocking din. Along with the brake recall mentioned in the Powertrain section, there was also a recall for a fuel tank leak and another for a potentially faulty steering tie rod.
The G29 is 85mm longer overall than the previous Z4, despite having a 26mm shorter wheelbase, which can give it an over-hangy sort of look from some angles. The standard Z4 roof is black fabric but options such as silver-flecked grey were available. Annoying roof squeaks are sometimes heard from behind the driver’s head or from the front at the screen. These are perhaps more pronounced in cold weather or, according to one owner, when a heavy passenger was in the car (!). One BMW suggestion as to the cause was the de-bonding of certain trim panels. Adjusting the trim, adding foam tape and re-lubing the roof mech usually puts things right.
The roof is quick to deploy (10 seconds or so at up to 31mph) but at least one owner has had an issue with the roof stopping in the first six inches of downward travel. This problem was linked to error codes for the windows and the various modules getting a bit mixed up as to the order in which operations were supposed to be carried out. Opening and closing the windows would usually reboot the roof. There is a manual roof release, but it isn’t always accessible depending on the position the roof when it stopped. Some owners found that the windows on their overnight-garaged cars had dropped to the halfway point.
Automatic door locking and unlocking sometimes doesn’t happen as it’s supposed to when leaving or approaching the car, usually a comfort entry sensor issue. Dip and fold on the door mirrors can intermittently malfunction. One owner had the electrics on both replaced, only for the fault to reappear three months later. On returning to the dealer the fault had somehow fixed itself.
Accident-damaged Z4s aren’t uncommon. With its less than plush chassis you can easily imagine someone hitting a mid-corner bump too quickly and having an off. ‘Frozen’ paint panels are notoriously hard to match. Headlight condensation can occur, but it normally dissipates quickly. We’re not sure if the G29 had this but the owner’s manual for the previous E89 Z4 contained a reassurance that transient misting was perfectly normal for this type of ‘atmospheric venting’ headlight.
There is plenty of class and quality and also plenty of room inside a G29 Z4, even for long-legged passengers, despite the driving position being more centralised front to rear than the gen-two’s. Maybe there could have been more storage space behind the Z4’s heated seats, but the impressively large 281-litre boot makes up for that and most of us would probably prefer to have our valuables out of sight rather than on display.
Talking of displays, BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional digital instrumentation and 10.25-inch centre dash screen look good on first acquaintance but picking up info from them sometimes demands more than a cursory glance from the driver. Both screens can accumulate light scratches even with a careful cleaning regimen. Random sat nav zooming can be annoying until you find the automated-zoom disabling key in the settings menu. Sometimes the sat nav will say you are somewhere you aren’t. A reflash usually fixes that. Notifications for recommended routes will come up unbidden and these can be difficult to delete.
Some owners have problems with the climate control failing to provide cool air through the dash and floor vents, or warm air anywhere. Replacing the IHKA control module – the main control for the climate system – is the usual fix. For one owner, total failure of the radio, sat nav, and voice control turned out to be a duff amplifier. This took three months to sort out because of the worldwide chip shortage, and BMW refusing to give the car back to the owner in that time because the fault had also affected the SOS button.
Noises from plastic interior trim pieces and occasionally around the audio head unit on certain road surfaces have been reported. Driver’s side windows can rattle. Bluetooth, Android phone, CarPlay and Alexa connections can become glitchy after smartphone/ speaker updates. A complete iDrive restart (holding the power button down for 20-30 seconds) will normally sort that. Phones charged on the wireless pad can also get very hot.
The Z4 is now in its third iteration. Thoughtfully developed into what is now an accomplished, and capable two-seater, it’s handsome enough in the right colours to make you want to look back at and admire it before and after every drive. If you’re looking for a ‘pure’ sports car, a used Porsche Cayman or Boxster might be better suited to your needs, but in G29 guise, BMW’s classy roadster has a lot going for it if you’re more into stylish boulevardier-ing than you are in outright cornering speed.
The most affordable Z4 on PH Classifieds at the time of writing was this 25,000-mile 20i Sport from the model’s first sales year in the UK (2019). Priced at £25,789, it has small wheels but given the firmness of the suspension that might well turn out to be a blessing on UK roads. £28,600 would put you into the cheapest 258hp 30i on PH, namely this 15k car. That’s a good price for one of these.
The cheapest M40i on PH as we went to press also happened to be a 2019 First Edition car in Frozen Orange metallic with the anthracite/silver fleck hood, Vernasca black leather and Harman Kardon audio. It’s highish miles at 41k but that’s reflected in the £32,768 price. The next cheapest M40i was this red 2020 car with 42k miles at £33,000.
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