BMW Z4, BMW Z4 on the road: which’s the best of them all roadsters?
It all started very early, uh very late. After travelling hundreds of kilometers with David onboard the Mini Cooper S following the first two days of the Tour Auto 2019, I joined the BMW table at the rally’s dinner.
Up at 5:30 am, I knew it was going to be a short night. One more time. A few minutes later, verdict comes. Wake up at 4:30 tomorrow morning.
Because it’s a very good cause, I was in the hotel parking lot on time and ready to go. But by the way, where are you ready to go? Going to lead the Tour Auto on board the BMW Z4, of course!
Behind the wheel of a brand new BMW Z4
My eyes still glued, I boarded the new BMW Z4. Even though I was up early, I must admit that I barely recognized the car when I got inside. I know it’s red, a slightly orange/red that suits it very well. I quickly learned that it’s the “San Francisco” red in tribute to the famous Golden Gate Bridge. What a great choice. The color is always different according to the light, it’s just splendid. Further, it fits Z4 body very well. You probably already know this bodywork, it’s inspired by the astonishing 2017 BMW Concept Z4.
Then, what I immediately noticed wa space onboard. It immediately surprised me. Roadster + space = error 404.
I’m not used to such spacious roadsters. I know the classic English roadsters, the Japanese youngtimers or the recent Italian and German roadsters, and this is the very first time that my 1.90 m aren’t a problem. The car isn’t particularly low, on the contrary for a roadster, but I feel quite low because hood and doors are high on the front and on the wings. You are well surrounded, as if you were in a cocoon.
As on board of many roadsters, everything is at hand’s reach, it’s quite magical. After a few hundred meters, I feel at home in the car. The driving position is ideal, you feel like in a small sports car. With an extremely easy handling, a discreet engine sound and leather upholstery on the seats, the atmosphere is very cosy.
Curse! Curse! I realized that the analog speedometers I loved so much had disappeared. They have been replaced by a coreless display and gauges that indicate speed and RPMs rather unclearly. Inspired by aircrafts (and video games), the design is perhaps too far from the BMW’s sporty and premium universe we all know.
Some will tell you that it’s a luxury roadster. Yes and no. Yes, because you quickly understand that the new Z4 is not an oldschool roadster. A roadster puts pleasure before practical aspects and there you have pleasure AND practical aspects, which is very unusual. Even in the M40i version, the Z4 is dynamic and comfortable to drive (and these are top-of-the-range features for a car, thanks to Maserati which launched its 3500 GT, GranTurismo, in 1957). And no, because after an excellent first impression, you can discover some hard plastics that are not very pleasant, soft leather that seems fragile and black lacquers that attract dust even through closed windows. Too bad for a car that is mainly used with the roof open.
“Cool/fast”: the way you have to drive the new BMW Z4
Driving on the splendid roads of Central France, I feel a compact and agile Z4 when we drove through the villages. And that wasn’t obvious under its mini 8 Series convertible looks (admit that you noticed it, there’s a little more than a family air). Like all modern cars, they are getting bigger. The Z4 G29 has increased in length by 8.5 cm, 7.4 cm in width compared to the last Z4 E89. It also lost a little more than 2.5 cm of wheelbase and 45 kg (to reach 1535 kg probably by adopting the soft top). Come on, do us a favor for the next ones, put them on a diet to sculpt a nice summer body please.
Under the hood we have a nice 3.0 in-line 6-cylinder, and that’s very cool. It makes me happy. When I cross small villages, I have a discreet car, or almost, because everybody, turn their heads when they see the red dress of the roadster. At low RPM, it has a lot of torque, it’s soft and creamy, perfect for cruising without asking too many questions. Which is one of the main uses of a roadster. Ten points for Gryffindor.
Then when I get the urge (or you have to follow the professional drivers like Ari Vatanen, François Chatriot and Jean-Michel Venturi who lead the rally), you go up in RPM and it’s a completely different car. The engine goes up, up, up, up in rpm, up to 7000 RPM without ever getting tired (almost) and it seems to enjoy it (and so do I). A sound that is both metallic and muffled then comes out of the exhaust to delight the music lovers that we are. That’s also what a real roadster is. In 21th century, you can even make some cracklings. Fake cracklings of course. With a clever pedal stroke you can do it as you want. Quite exhilarating fact if it is not too present, and that’s just enough with the Z4. Ten more points for Gryffindor.
A 340 HP and 500 Nm roadster!!
On the small and magnificent roads of Mont-Dore the car is lively and balanced. I then adopted the technique of the leading drivers of the Tour Auto, I quote the “cool – fast” driving method. In other words, I can’t follow them at all (the biggest problem is my rally driving skills, but I’m getting better). However, during special stages and with 340 HP, 500 Nm and a 0 to 100 in 4.6 s, the car is very efficient while giving a real feeling of safety. Thanks to a perfect weight distribution, you can feel a well-designed, reassuring and balanced car. Even if the chassis and suspensions are a bit soft: GT style.
Oh by the way, I forgot to tell you that it has a turbocharged in-line 6-cylinder engine, “it may be a detail for you, but for me, it means a lot” (France Gall, famous French singer). This means that the engine whistles even if the exhaust covers most of this noise. It also means that at high revs you lose the turbo effect a bit and the 6-cylinder seems blander than it really is, even if it has a lot to give. So I don’t blame BMW, I know that CO2 emission standards force manufacturers to turbo-charge their engines, but what a shame. An atmospheric engine is so noble. Less 100 points for Euro 6c and 6d standards. Thanks God, the 6-cylinder remains a gasoline engine and for that BMW, you got my eternal gratitude! Indeed, the car is only available with petrol engines. Halleluja!
Anyway, yes it’s true, I enjoy driving the new Z4 on small roads despite an automatic gearbox that is not quite good but not bad either, and a steering system that is just too GTish (no feedback at all). Now you’re thinking I haven’t tried the Sport + mode. Indeed, until now I was in comfort mode as a regular client.
The BMW Z4 M40i, almost a M car
Leading BMWs and I, we drove the stages of connection (and also the special stages) to ensure Tour Auto participants’ safety. So we have to be the first to get up, the first in the road and the first to the finish line. It’s all about timing, devotion to the cause (I devote myself) and cars.
When I arrived at the start of a brand new stage, I decided to push the limits. I pressed the Sport button and then Sport + (yolo). Now the exhaust changes tone. The opera cat becomes a karaoke tiger. Let me explain. The discreet metallic sound, just the right amount of sporty sound that came out of this in-line 6-cylinder engine, becomes a very elaborate, fat and flashy sound. It’s very funny, yeah, but it swears a little bit with the top-of-the-range GT spirit of this new convertible. It now makes a supercar sound, or almost. However, I got a solution: you just have to drive above 5000 RPM if you want it to stop backfire in Sport + mode. Easy (wink).
On the road, and especially mountain roads (which are not always clean), the car is may be too hard in Sport + mode (wow, that’s very, very rare). Indeed, you feel body movements on bumpy or damaged roads, which are accentuated by the lack of feedbacks from the steering (even if it’s better than in Comfort mode). The result? You can feel the weight of the beast much more.
Let’s be clear, Sport mode won’t change anything about your trajectory, the car is riveted, but it jumps and ricochets on the suspension side and it’s not very pleasant. On a road that is as beautiful and smooth as a baby’s skin, it’s totally up to it. In Sport + mode the car goes from corner to corner without blinking at any speed. You enter, you pinch yourself in the middle to see if you are still here and when you come out you have a big smile. It’s totally crazy, it offers a really amazing grip in all weathers, especially for a roadster. Icing on the cake, you got a 6-cylinder engine.
A modern roadster or a GT without a roof
First and foremost, you can drive top open in the rain! What a good idea. In the new BMW Z4, no neck heating (because who cares?), but from 80-90 km/h you don’t get a single drop of water. Tested and approved. If you’re cold, you put a little heating in, I don’t care much, but future customers do. As always, problems start when there is a red light. But even more annoying, you have to go under 50 km/h to close the roof while driving. That’s pretty fast, but enough to be rinsed for a few precious seconds before enjoying the canvas, not 1, not 2, not 3 but 8 layers thick above your head. It could seem to be a very painful experience, but in fact it’s the closest thing the new Z4 share with an oldschool roadster. Except at the time you should get out of the car and put your top by hand. A real ritual! Which becomes a good couple experience if time has turned abruptly. If your couple survives this, it will endure everything, anyway that’s also the joy of driving with wind-in-hair.
Back to reality, roof opens and closes by itself, thanks to an electric drive (21st century magic). However, the anti-roll net is a piece of plastic that I have to place manually. Seriously? Not to mention the plastic “hoops” that are placed behind my head. From a distance they are pretty, but when you have to turn to put the net on, you will also have to touch this piece of hollow lacquered plastic. And that’s not amazing.
Many people welcome the return to the origins of the roadster with this famous soft top. I can understand. On my side, I notice that a hardtop option is missing. Because canvas is super cool as a softop but not for everyone. Whether a hardtop (like we did in the 60s or more recently on the Z3, and it was quite practical and beautiful sometimes) or a retractable hardtop (like almost every manufacturer does today), it would have been more in the spirit of the times. Even if it adds weight, which the new Z4 is not lacking.
Finally, I would have been happy to find a manual gearbox in that car. The good news is that BMW has just announced its upcoming launch. Awesome!
What if smoothness is the key?
After spending two days and nearly 800 kilometres in the new Z4, I questioned myself a lot. What if I’ve been on the wrong track all this time? Presumably, we will not have lighter cars in the future, since the Z4 embodies the brand’s latest technological standards (and this is only the beginning) and customers are becoming more and more demanding when it comes to comfort equipment.
So let’s take the modern cars as they are. That’s what I did, and hold on tight, I have to tell you something very important: I preferred the BMW Z4 M40i’s handling in comfort mode. More supple, healthier, smoother, the movements mentioned are less violent and we find here a behaviour closer to the old roadsters that we all loved. A rigid body that leans a little under the effect of the curve: you have a less efficient car (which is not very important for a roadster) but a much more fun one.
Two regrets, I can’t get the stronger steering feeling and I can’t use the full range of engine grades in Comfort mode. But there is a solution: the manual Sport + mode of the ZF gearbox that greatly changes the driving pleasure. One cannot have everything.
#FunToDrive Score: 73/100
The BMW Z4 M40i is a surprisingly versatile car. Thanks to a joyful (almost bewitching) engine, a well-designed chassis and a good overall balance. It’s modern, fast, efficient and comfortable. It can be smooth, it can be nervous : this car will probably meet the needs and demands of many. However, by dint of wanting to satisfy everyone, hasn’t he lost a little bit of his soul? Will it have conquered both the spirited young and the older epicureans as the Z3 did in its time? In short, is it a new impetuous roadster like the Z8 or a new elegant convertible GT like the 507 Roadster? A cruiser or a little rocket? You tell me.