With the roof tucked away in the boot and the 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six snarling away under that long hood, it’s easy to feel special in this car. That’s the thing about this new Z4 Roadster – its classic roadster looks (long hood, short boot) makes you ache to drive your favourite road, arm on the door, shades on, every time you look at it.
That it feels this way is a huge part of this second-generation Z4’s appeal. The other, almost as significant part of its appeal, is with the roof – the proper hardtop that electrically folds into the boot at the touch of a button. Because it is so capable at swapping its feel between open-top sportster and snug coupé, all questions about the practicality of convertibles in India are left locked outside the tight-fitting roof. Or are they? Remember this is still a two-seat, low ground clearance, low-profile tyred, Rs 61.2 lakh rich boy’s toy. It’s on sale in India, we’ve got our hands on it and there are a few crucial questions that need answering.
Firstly, does it go as fast as it looks? Answers come flying at you when you hold the car on the brakes, give it full throttle and jump off the brakes. The launch control system activates, the revs build up, the seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox dumps clutch and you’re shot down the road with a very satisfying scream and two long strips of tortured rubber. Driven like this, the Z4 sDrive 35i (that’s the official first name and surname) will hit a 100kph in just 6.18 seconds, breach 200kph in an equally impressive 22.68 seconds and slam into the speed-limiter at 250kph.
Even more appealing is the way the Z4 behaves on the main street. The motor pulls cleanly and very linearly almost to its redline. It may not have the ballistic top-end of BMW’s naturally aspirated sixes, but the fantastic midrange more than makes up for this. The thing is, it’s so linear that you sometimes forget how fast you are going – it’ll sneak up on 180kph when you’re not paying attention and then sidle up to 220kph if you hold onto the throttle for more than a bit.
The gearbox is quick and it is evident that it’s not hindered by the same safety net that BMW burdens its regular auto ’boxes with. It’ll downshift when you ask it to, and the noise it makes, oh man! From the crackle at start-up to the metallic-edged bark when under load, the Z4’s exhaust makes all the appropriate sounds. That’s the first question answered.
Question #2: Does it handle like it should? The way it goes around corners is impressive. There’s plenty of grip, there’s little body roll and you can even indulge in lots of tail-out action with the traction control switched off. The steering is like most BMWs – razor sharp and with zero slack – and the compact roadster darts into corners with remarkable ease. The tiny dimensions, instant throttle response and brilliant chassis balance make it a breeze to chuck around without fear of ending up in the scenery. The only grouse we had was a bit of scuttle shake especially on rough roads. The Z4 doesn’t have the torsional rigidity of a full-fledged coupé and that’s what takes away from the ultimate precision we have come to expect from a BMW. The Z4 understeers initially despite having a claimed 50/50 weight distribution and this is accentuated by the DSC or BMW’s stability control system which plays spoilsport constantly. That’s why I would recommend driving it with the DSC switched off to balance the car with the throttle, which is surprisingly easy to do.
The ‘Sport’ and ‘Sport+’ modes on our test car weren’t working, but there’s no doubt the car will be a better animal in these modes. There’s no faulting the high levels of grip or the fantastic brakes though. For its corner-carving abilities, it doesn’t ride too badly. Sure, there are sharp vertical movements over bumps, and it crashes through big ones, but given that this is a sportscar, it’s something that owners will put up with.
For all other purposes, the Z4 is practical. Roof up, it is surprisingly roomy and the visibility out is good despite the low seats. However, in hard-top mode, you realise that it’s a cramped cabin and headroom is in short supply. Quality is top-notch and all the controls are intuitively laid out, except for the paddleshifts whose ‘push for downshift, pull for upshift’ action can get confusing when you are attacking corners.Purists might also prefer the mid-engined handling characteristics of a Boxster, which is ultimately the better driving machine.
Still, the Z4 makes a pretty strong case for itself. It’s well built, it’s got genuine dual-purpose ability and the engine is nothing short of fabulous. It seamlessly blends modern-car practicality with classic roadster appeal and that’s why we like it.