BMW’s Z4 front-engined, rear-drive sports car is an old-school delight, but it’s a less engaging driver’s car than a Boxster

The BMW Z4 has been a great success for the company over three generations, and while the previous model felt a bit more like a boulevard cruiser with its folding hard-top, the latest version has reverted to a traditional canvas soft-top. It’s a format that suits the Z4 which is quite old-school in its execution, featuring a big engine up front under that long bonnet, rear-wheel drive and a two-seat only cockpit. It works here as well as it ever has, with plenty of power and impressive road manners to back up its sporty style.

That said it’s still quite a heavy machine, and it’s not as light on its feet as a Porsche 718 Boxster or Alpine A110. We'd go for one of the two four-cylinder models, as they feel more agile and fun to drive. All versions can put a smile on your face, but some buyers will miss the option of a manual gearbox and better steering feel. Build quality and specification are hard to fault, and as sports cars go, it’s relatively practical too.

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BMW Z4 sDrive20i M Sport

The BMW Z4 is a two-seater convertible sports car with a traditional fabric folding roof, a range of powerful engines up front, and a reasonably sized boot at the rear. There’s no coupe version, although if you desperately want a fixed roof there are plenty of alternatives – including BMW's very own 2 Series. Of course, you can buy a removable hard-top for the Z4 at extra cost.

There are three trim levels: Z4 Sport, Z4 M Sport and Z4 M40i. The first two are available with a choice of turbocharged four-cylinder engines as the Z4 sDrive20i and Z4 sDrive30i, making 194bhp and 254bhp respectively. The Z4 M40i is the sportiest version, and has a 3.0-litre 335bhp six-cylinder engine that’s good for a 0-62mph time of just over 4.5 seconds. All three engines are available with an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, though a manual is due soon. All powertrains are rear-wheel-drive only.

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All Z4 variants are well equipped, as befits their prestigious image. Z4 Sport models get 18-inch alloys, an impressive Live Cockpit Professional infotainment system with smartphone connectivity (but no Android Auto), heated seats, two-zone climate control, cruise control and LED headlights. Next up is the Z4 M Sport, which gets different 18-inch alloys, Shadowline exterior trim and M Sport bodystyling, M Sport suspension settings and an M Sport-branded steering wheel.

Punchy performance is guaranteed whichever model you pick, but the driving experience can be a little bland
Fuel consumption should be reasonable, but insurance and maintenance will be less so
Sporty exterior design is undermined by a dull interior, but the Z4 impresses under the skin
The Z4 offers greater day-to-day usability than rival two-seaters, but a 2 Series Convertible is more practical
There’s plenty of safety tech as standard or on the options list, and BMW has recently improved in our customer satisfaction survey

The range-topping M40i adds even more kit, with 19-inch alloys, adaptive suspension and an M Sport differential, as well as bodystyling and interior upgrades including electric seat adjustment.

The Z4 takes on quite a few interesting rivals, although not all of them are roadsters. At the more driver-focused end there’s the Porsche 718 Boxster S/Cayman S and Alpine A110, while it’s most obvious direct competitors are the Audi TT Roadster and Mercedes SLC (formerly SLK). The latter is getting rather old, and so is another potential contender in the shape of the Nissan 370Z. Finally, there’s the Toyota Supra, which actually shares its running gear with the Z4, but is only sold as a coupe.

There have been ‘Z Car’ roadsters in the BMW line-up since the late 1980s when the Z1 arrived with its strangely configured retracting doors. That was followed by the Z3 from 1995 to 2002, while the first model badged Z4 arrived in 2002.

Last updated: 
14 Jun, 2019