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BMW Z4 sDrive 23i review (2009 onwards)
Model: BMW Z4 sDrive 23i
Engine: 2.5-litre petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual
What is it?
The first thing you'll notice about the new Z4 is that BMW has ditched the fabric roof for a contemporary metal one to chase after those Mercedes SLK buyers who prefer the security, rigidity, refinement and safety of a tin-top-roadster.This of course adds a lot of weight. Comparing like for like, the old 2.5 weighs 145kg less than this new entry-level 2.5-litre 23i model. But that roof not only makes the Z4 more secure, it actually looks like a proper coupé, not a convertible with a tin toupee. And of course, you still get the classic long bonnet and low-set seating position that just screams sportscar.
Where does it fit?
Rivals are plentiful in this sector. Porsche Boxster, Mercedes SLK and Audi TT are the big players, with the BMW Z4 slotting in at the more performance-orientated end of the market and offering a retractable two-piece roof that slides back in just 20 seconds.Compared to the old Z4, the new car has been pitched as more of an all-rounder and is larger as a result; 148mm longer and 9mm wider for more cabin space. However it hasn't gone completely soft; the Z4 will still delight on the road thanks to near-perfect balance and sharp controls in the form of brakes, steering and throttle response. Make no mistake; the Z4 is still a driver's car, just one that has matured around the edges.
Is it for you?
The latest generation Z4 has been designed with old Z4 owners in mind. You see, BMW consulted its previous customers to ask how it could be improved. So as well as that metal roof, the new Z has been softened for better touring comfort, while the previously gaunt curves have been filled out to give a more mature and handsome profile.Inside, it's plusher - even the bottom-rung model we tested was noticeably better appointed than the old one - and in terms of dynamics and thrills, the Z4 still ekes out a considerable margin over the SLK and Audi TT. The perfect all-rounder? It certainly looks promising.
What does it do well?
The flagship Z4 35i with BMW's extraordinary 3.0-litre twin turbo petrol is an absolute weapon, especially with the seven-speed M-DCT gearbox which works well with these faster BMWs as you can keep your hands on the wheel and concentrate on driving.However, for me the real pleasure was in coaxing the best out of the lesser-powered 23i over the magical roads twisting through the Scottish Higlands. With 100hp less, the 23i was substantially slower, but in a good way because you can enjoy the car without risking some reflection time at Her Majesty's pleasure.
The 23i is still a fun car to drive; that 2.5 engine loves to rev hard so it feels like a proper workout to get its best, the steering is sharp - although mildly artificial feeling because of the electric assistance - and the rear end full of grip though it's easy to get it sideways if you switch all the traction aids off. However, with the systems on they are too keen to rein in any rowdy behaviour.Our car also had BMW's adaptive M Sport Suspension system at £930, which lowers the car by 10mm and three damper settings - Normal, Sport and Sport+ - for a sportier drive depending on the road conditions. The Z is noticeably softer than the old car, but even in Sport its suspension soaks up bumps and grooves perfectly, while it tunes the throttle response and steering for a more involving driving experience.
What doesn’t it do well?
The range will no longer consist of cheaper four-cylinder engines such as the 2.0-litre of before. BMW insists that latest new Z4 has been positioned as a six-cylinder car, but it's more likely that the weight would blunt the performance and rob the Z of its sportscar thrills.Also, you might initially get confused with BMW's new nomenclature for its rear-wheel drive roadster models - sDrive - but it's part of a new rebranding exercise to differentiate these models from the rest of the range, just like how four-wheel models are now called xDrive. Also, a diesel Z4 looks unlikely. BMW's primary market is the US - with 35% of sales compared to the UK's 10%.
How green is it?
BMW's EfficientDynamics system has been fitted to the Z4, which regenerates energy lost through braking and cuts carbon emissions and enhances economy. Sadly, there is no stop-start function as fitted to many other Beemers.As a result, the 23i manages 33.2mpg on the combined cycle and emissions of 199g/km - which is decent for a heavy sportscar. However, annoyingly the sDrive 30i at only £4k more has the exact same emissions and economy, while the 35i is only marginally less healthy with 30.1mpg combined and 219g/km emissions.
Would we buy one?
The old Z4 was pitched squarely at the Porsche Boxster. Now BMW is chasing profitable Merc SLK sales. Predictably enough the latest Z slots neatly in the middle. That hard-top roof and roomier cabin mean you get all the refinement of the Mercedes but with more than a good dollop of BMW thrills.The 23i is the sweetspot of the range, providing a smooth six-cylinder driving experience with respectable running costs and a great soundtrack. And at £28,645 it is well priced. But for the ultimate driving machine you will want the mental 35i at £37k.
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