Driven - The All New BMW Z4

clifford chow
14 May 2019

The all new Z4 makes a return to the BMW car lineup. BMW’s new roadster loses its hard folding roof option for a good reason. We meet with Christopher Wehner who served as Head of Product, during the development of their compact roadster, at The Mitchelton Hotel in Victoria, Australia.

Wehner explains to us that BMW’s new compact roadster will only utilise a fabric roof as they not only save on weight. Even with the roof up, the lighter construction ensures that the effects on the Z4’s centre of gravity is relatively left unchanged. The other reason why BMW made this decision, was that with hard folding roofs, cars had to be designed around the roof mechanisms, resulting often with some awkward compromises in styling (a good example being the Lexus IS250C).

BMW’s third-generation Z4, like in previous Z4 cars features a large componentry count which has little-in-common with existing cars in the BMW stable. Great when you want to own something quite unique, without buying into a niche brand.

Feeling LUK-y the Fourth Time

The car’s stunning exterior is penned by no other than Australian, Calvin Luk, one of the company’s youngest designers. Known for his work on the X1, X3 and 1 Series LCI; his fourth car the Z4, takes inspiration from the Z8 Bond car.

The Z4 represents a bold step in breaking away from BMW norms, yet retaining the brand’s unique identity. New stacked LED headlamps are a first for the brand, encased in sleek lenses; and flank a wide and flat signature kidney grille, sporting a 3D mesh design. Its elongated bonnet takes inspiration from the stylish 507 Roadster from the mid ‘50s, which itself was the inspiration for the Z8. From the side, a large breather, boldly cut into the bodywork, complete with fins to stabilise airflow… and they are functional, helping to channel air out from the front wheel arches for added stability.

A pinch in the sheet metal on the car’s side profile, which rises above the door handles, visually keeps the Z4 low-slung; and terminates well behind the fin-styled tail lamps, which is the current styling element adapted for their coupe and sedan cars.

The rear quarters of the Z4 echos the stylised front end, with an integrated wing, and rear vents cut into the bumper (ok… so this time, these do not work). So there is plenty of heritage going into the car’s design study, but we like that BMW kept the Z4 fresh instead of “Modern-Retro-Passé”.

That soft top roof mentioned earlier, folds down in just 10 seconds, and can be operated in silence, and at speeds of up to 50km/h; among the quickest available. Black is standard and Anthracite Silver effect is an available optional extra.

Strong roof fabrics ensures effective acoustic insulation when the roof is closed, and it stows away without affecting luggage space. Speaking about luggage space, the new Z4 offers an impressive 281 litres, a whole 50% more than its predecessor.

The higher transmission tunnel hints to how low you are sitting in the new Z4. There is a slight tilt of the centre stack to face the driver, allowing easier viewing of the 10.25” Control Display, which features BMW’s new 7.0 operating system. The new interface displays customisable tiles, which is more intuitive, versus the card style interface previously used. A head-up display is also a first for the Z4, offering users customisable key information. The Z4’s standard Connected Package Professional includes a comprehensive suite of Remote Services, Real Time Traffic Information, wireless Apple CarPlay and Concierge Services, and Wireless smartphone charging and Extended Bluetooth connectivity.

Behind the wheel, BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional offers a 10.25-inch customisable instrument cluster, which allows greater flexibility in displaying information. We like how when the SatNav is activated, the route you are on lights up between the dials. Coupled with the nature of the Australian roads, it almost looks like that Course Map you get when playing Gran Turismo.

Singapore gets all three engine options. The entry model sDrive20i utilises a twin-scroll turbocharger, and is good for 194Bhp and 320Nm. Maximum twist is delivered from between 1,450rpm to 4,200rpm; and does 100km/h in 6.6 seconds.

The middle-of-the-pack sDrive30i model also utilises the same 2.0, but gets a bump up in power and torque, with 254bhp and a delicious 400Nm of twist from between 1,550rpm to 4,400rpm. Century sprint timing on the higher-powered 2.0 is at 5.4 seconds.

Topping the Z4 range, the BMW Z4 M40i utilises a 3.0 straight six turbocharged unit (highly recommended for the BMW purist). A new water-cooled exhaust manifold is integrated into the cylinder head, with a direct fuel injection system, which delivers fuel at a rate of 350 bar pressure. For a car which weighs in at 1,535kg, 335bhp and 500Nm from 1,600rpm to 4,500rpm we learned, makes for an exciting drive. 0-100km/h is achieved at only 4.5 seconds.

All cars are offered with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and launch control is fitted as standard.

While the new car is 85mm longer than the car it replaces, the wheelbase has shrunk by 26mm. Combined with wider front and rear track widths of 98mm and 57mm respectfully, BMW’s compact roadster does feel extremely agile.

According to Wehner, the driver’s seat is also set further forward from the rear wheel, placing the driver in a more centralised position. Wehner explains that in doing this, it makes the car just that little bit easier to gauge around turns over the previous Z4.

Also new is a five-link rear axle, which combines lightweight aluminium with steel in its construction for improved wheel control.

An electronically-operated limited-slip M Sport Differential comes standard for the M40i model, which locks the rear axle when needed for improved traction and stability.

Driven top down, there is a sense of intimacy, similar with only a few roadsters out there. How the steering feels, the way the brakes bite, and there is that signature 50:50 balance… just so BMW!

The ride may be firm but never jarring, all thanks to the crucial decision made, not to utilise runflats. The best experience here would be from the range topper’s straight-six, which delivers simply sublime performance. The four-cylinder models may be more ‘affordable’ offerings, with sufficient grunt for our roads here, but once you go six, you never go back.

The new BMW Z4 is priced at
$281,888 for the sDrive20i Sport
$304,888 for the sDrive30i M Sport
$351,888 for the M40i

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