BMW has a long history of making ‘Z’ roadsters – beginning with the quirky Z1 that debuted in 1989, and then with the Z3 of 1995. But by 2002 it had settled on the Z4 name. In the past, the line-up has spawned coupe variants, while the second-generation version also made a switch to a metal folding hard-top.
But this latest third-generation Z3 sees a return to form, with the fabric roof being reintroduced, along with all the other hallmarks we’ve come to expect from a BMW roadster – the long bonnet, low set-back driving position and cool styling. Though larger than its predecessor, it remains a two-seater sports car and a very good one at that.
We’ve already tried the top-spec M40i model, but here’s our first go in the four-cylinder, entry-level ‘20i’ model. It could be the purest BMW Z4 available, but does it impress?
So while this Z4 might be the base engine, its performance doesn’t feel that way.
This sDrive20i version utilises a 2.0-litre petrol engine that still produces 194bhp and 320Nm of torque, which is able to send the Z4 to 60mph in 6.4 seconds and onto a top speed of 149mph.
All Z4s now feature an automatic gearbox, and while you might mourn the loss of a manual shifter, this eight-speed Steptronic Sport gearboxes is one of the best around. It also remains real-wheel-drive – a hallmark of a great roadster, and something that allows the Z4 to be very enjoyable behind the wheel.
Ride and handling
With this entry-level option being a full 130kg lighter than the M40i, it unsurprisingly feels far more agile than the more powerful car. It feels much lighter than its 1.5-tonne kerbweight would suggest, and is impressively nimble. The engine also sounds rather good for a 2.0-litre, too, though should you fancy a more refined and leisurely drive, the Z4 can certainly deliver.
A bit of extra power wouldn’t go amiss, but largely this a brilliantly enjoyable drop-top that would be just as suited to a weekend thrashing as it would a Monday morning commute.
Interior and equipment
Despite this sDrive20i being the entry-level Z4, its interior certainly doesn’t feel that way. With a large touchscreen and a great digital dials system, the quality feels just as good as it does on BMW’s saloon models. The infotainment system is one of the best around, too, as it’s both impressively easy to use and crystal clear with its graphics.
The quality is also to the levels you would expect, with plush materials used throughout – it’s really little different to the 3 Series. While that’s good if you like your creature comforts, a bit of extra drama to show its sporty credentials wouldn’t go amiss.
Choose a Z4 with this engine and you can have it in either ‘Sport’ or ‘M Sport’ grade. Entry-level equipment is generous, as it comes with climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, LED headlights and the fantastic 10.25-inch infotainment system.
M Sport models will be the most popular, though – adding revised 18-inch alloy wheels, gloss black styling, a sports steering wheel and revised suspension.
Prices for the Z4 sDrive20i start at £38,165, though we reckon it’s worth spending that bit extra for an M Sport grade – these are available from £39,915. Given the standard equipment levels, we also reckon there’s no need to splash out on any optional extras as the Z4 comes with just about everything you’d need.
We also reckon it offers the best value in the Z4 range, with the sportier ‘30i’ available for £4,000 more, and the top-spec M40i a hefty £12,000 extra.
This model could also be more efficient than you might expect, too. BMW claims it’ll return 40mpg, with CO2 emissions of 162g/km, which are good for a sporty convertible.
If you’re wanting a fun-to-drive roadster, but like a bit of luxury and your creature comforts as well, the Z4 is the car for you. Combining agility with a premium look and superb interior, it ticks a lot of boxes and is a drop-top that would be very easy to live with on a daily basis.
While lacking the power of the hot M40i version, it's significantly cheaper and arguably more fun to drive as well. It certainly seems like a return to form with this latest Z4 for all the right reasons.Enquire on a new BMW Z4