The Z4 is back with some real aggressive styling and missing the hardtop roof. We find out what’s it like to drive.
WHAT IS IT?
It’s been a long time coming! The previous generation Z4 launched a decade ago and was discontinued in 2016. This, the third-generation Z4, has been under joint development with Toyota (for the Supra) since 2013; but it's finally here. First unveiled in August 2018, the new Z4 uses BMW’s Cluster Architecture (CLAR) and it’s got a raft of changes. The curves of the earlier car have given way to edges and angles, there’s a host of technical changes – and of course, the motorised hardtop has given way to a fabric roof.
WHAT’S IT LIKE ON THE OUTSIDE?
Compared to the old car, the styling is a completely different and it has a very fresh approach. Even the traditional vertical bars in the kidney grilles have given way to a diamond-patterned mesh. When doing a complete overhaul like this, it’s easy to get things wrong but thankfully the entire makeover has been done very well. The aggression works, and proof in the pudding are the lively reactions we got everywhere we went. Of course, the red paint job did help (as did having the top down) but the sharp headlights, angular-cut bumper and creased bonnet were all certainly a big draw.
From the side, you realize that while it’s still very much a roadster, the classic long bonnet, short rear stance is a little less pronounced, this time around, thanks to a shorter firewall to front axle length, and the now vertical air vent that breaks visual length, it looks sporty and signals power though, and on our car it was done in a neat contrasting black. The soft top is a very neat one and fits nice and taut – but of course, the Z4 looks best with it down. The fabric hood doesn’t really look as neat as a hardtop but BMW say the soft roof is to save weight and lower the car's centre of gravity for better handling. The angular surfacing carries on at the rear with a very aggressively cut rear bumper and very slender sporty looking taillight units.
WHAT’S IT LIKE ON THE INSIDE?
The insides, too, have seen a huge change in design and unlike the exteriors, not all of it is nice. Gone are the twin dials and in place is a screen – that sadly, does not offer a twin-dial display. What you see instead, are angular elliptical gauges that have small needles floating about. What makes it worse is that in Sport mode the needles disappear, and the speedo and tacho display resembles some sort of elliptical battery gauge with two very small bars rising and falling to indicate change in pace. I know this may sound pedantic, but watching needles race skyward as you accelerate is all a part of the driving appeal for a car with sporty intentions.
Coming to the rescue, is the entire dashboard that has all the controls and displays nicely tilted towards the driver, leaving you feeling cocooned and ‘in-control’. Furthering this are the bucket seats, which are very comfy and supportive, too. It’s a nice feeling from behind the wheel; recline the seat back, a bit, and you’ll feel like Luke Skywalker in his X-Wing fighter, ready to take on the dark side. Come bad roads, however, and all illusions will vanish. You’ll want to sit a bit higher and more upright in a bid to get a better view outside, as the seats are set low and the windshield is quite narrow. Seated this way, I found the top of my hair lightly ruffled in the wind; for reference, I’m 5ft 8in – which brings me to cabin space. If you're around my height and with a small frame like mine, you’ll find space quite adequate. If you're any bigger, though, and it will be a tight fit.
Space for knick-knacks isn’t great, although for things larger like a backpack and handbag there is a small cargo net behind the seats. Boot space is 281 litres and importantly, it’s deep enough to take in one large check-in suitcase. In case you’re wondering: the soft top folds into its own little recess and doesn’t eat into boot space; what will, however, is the space-saver spare.
Cabin quality is great and typically BMW, and as far as equipment goes, the Z4 has a lot; like a head-up display, twin-zone climate control, auto parking and wireless charging for phones – although pay attention to the brochure, as a lot of them are optional extras. Though the fantastic i-Drive system is standard and comes with a 10.25-inch touchscreen, of course. For certain functions you’ll find it a lot less distracting to use the rotary controller instead with which it’s pretty simple breezing through the intuitive menu system.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
The new Z4 comes to India in two versions – the sDrive20i, which has a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine making 197hp; and the M40i, with a larger 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-petrol engine that pumps out a far healthier 340hp. Both cars have an 8-speed transmission and are rear-wheel driven. The M in the M40i means the car gets sporty bits like the M Sport differential, the M Sport brake and 19-inch alloys – but some of these can be opted for on the smaller-engined sDrive20i too.
We drove the 3.0-litre car, and its sportier intentions are immediate, as soon as you fire it up. The engine comes alive with a growl and the exhaust lets out a nice, deep rumble. Get going, and the soundtrack only gets better; it’s also possible to induce some sweet lift-off exhaust burble. Throttle response is great and power comes in early, at around 1,700rpm and then stays strong and linear. What’s impressive is that all along, the engine feels really smooth like it can rev hard all day long. Importantly, it’s pretty quick with the numbers too; we tested it at 4.8sec for the 0-100kph dash and 2.77sec for the in-gear 20-80kph run. The best part is that whatever way you drive, you’ll rarely find yourself out of the powerband, making overtaking absolutely easy and fun.
Of course for a car with such sporty intent, this isn’t surprising; what is, though, is the ride. Yes, it’s lumpy over broken surfaces, but it never really feels harsh. There are drive modes on offer, but even in the sporty ones, the springs will crash through on only the sharp edges.
Handling isn’t that strong a hand though – make no mistake, cornering is fun and there’s plenty of road grip; but the steering is neither all that feelsome, nor does it have a very uniform rate of turn. The Z4 is not very nimble and perhaps the Boxster is still the champ, here. On the whole, it comes across as more cruiser than sports car
SHOULD I BUY ONE?
The new Z4 is really an excellent car. It looks sharp, is a fun drive, is well-equipped and the M40i’s engine is a real gem – the highlight of this car's driving experience. It isn’t that sharp a handler, though, and as said before, comes across as more of a cruiser than sports car; which is why the smaller engine sDrive20i could also figure in your list. At Rs 64.90 lakh, it will save you about Rs 15 lakh over the M40i (Rs 78.90 lakh) and will offer you the same open-top motoring joy while still getting you all the appreciative stares.
With the launch of the Z4 then, what BMW India have done is given you three different choices in performance cars: the sDrive20i – potentially a fine dressage stallion; the M40i – a thoroughbred racehorse; and of course, the bucking bronco M2 Competition.
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