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Model: BMW Z4 sDrive 3.0i
Bodystyle: two-seater roadster
Engine: 3.0-litre single turbo six-cylinder petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Gallery: BMW Z4
What is it?
BMW's roadster, plain and simple. The range started life back in the 90s with the Z3, whose questionable looks earned it hairdresser status - despite it being a decent drive. The previous Z4, which arrived in 2003 was a much more handsome beast and quite a stirring ragtop.
This latest Z4 has veered away from Porsche Boxster territory to take on squarely the likes of the Mercedes SLK in the middle of the road. The list price of the car is £32,665; with options, our test car came out at just over £36,000. Crucially, for the first time the BMW becomes a hard-top convertible, joining the Mercedes.
Where does it fit?
In that growing, carefree part of the car market where only two seats are needed and driving fun and swank is required. The Boxster and SLK are the obvious premium rivals, but one certainly shouldn't discount the charms of the Audi TT roadster either. The only other real rival is the Alfa Romeo Spider, which is amusingly priced in broadly the same range as all the rest, despite being far inferior.
Is it for you?
Roadsters are far from the most practical cars in the world. What one hand gives in lithe looks and classy handling, the other takes away in space for either people or luggage. So only two seats for starters; excellent for singletons or young couples - but not so good for when babies arrive, or indeed you want to give someone a lift.
But roadsters are inherently un-sensible choices - and are all the more glorious for it. I for one adore roof-down driving. If you do too, a classy German sportscar equipped with a silky smooth six-cylinder petrol engine as in this car could be exactly what you want.
What does it do well?
For one thing, the Z4 is a handsome devil. For another, it's great being able to see the bonnet. The Z4 has a very long nose which harks back to the glory days of ragtop driving. Being able to see your bonnet from the driving seat is rare in modern car design - and I love it. But the highlight of this car is the wonderful verve of the 3-litre straight-six cylinder petrol engine, good for 258hp, 0 to 62 in 5.8 seconds and 155mph tops.
To really unleash it, you need to switch the car into Sport mode, which does various good things to the car: it tightens up the suspension and reduces body-roll, and remaps the throttle and engine response to a noticeable degree. In 'normal' it's fine, but in sport you will just want to ride the revs up to its glorious 7,000rpm red-line as you thread the car through your favoured B-road curves. The car also has a 'Sport Plus' mode that hardens things up still more and switches off most of the traction controls.
What doesn't it do well?
It's not very comfortable, especially with the £475 sports seats fitted to our test car. Even in normal mode, you are constantly aware of the fact that this is a sportscar, not a tourer. Which might be fine if the car more tightly held on to its sporty credentials.
The steering is fine and accurate but it does not give you the precise precision feedback offered by the class-leading driver's car in this segment, the Boxster 2.7. The car is up against the Audi and Mercedes, and BMW seem happy to leave the sporty end of the market to the Porsche. This is a shame, but perhaps the newly announced S versions of the Z4 will fix this.
What's it like to live with?
The controls are all decently built and reasonably obvious and easy to use. Our car was not equipped with sat-nav, so we had no iDrive to contend with, though that system is much improved. Instead, we had the more old fashioned, button-led approach which takes a bit of getting used to. My test car proved incapable of receiving any Medium Wave radio stations, for some reason, so no 5 Live for me.
Standard equipment levels are decent enough and include dual-zone climate control, six airbags, LED rear lights, DSC stability control, Xenon headlights, and an MP3 player socket. Front and rear parking sensors are £590, heated seats are £280 and a wind deflector is £205. The latest - and very high quality - BMW sat-nav system is an eye-watering £2,135 extra - an outlay which you will not necessarily get back at re-sale time in this class of car. The steel roof is easy and quick to operate, and of course has security advantages for those in urban areas.
How green is it?
The combined MPG on this car is 33.2, which is good in this segment. CO2/km is 199. Both numbers are better than their Porsche (30 and 222) and Mercedes (30 and 220) counterparts, and much better than the Audi (27 and 250) and Alfa (an awful 25mpg and 272g/km CO2).
Would we buy one?
The best previous Z4s were the four-cylinder models, which combined a revvy, engaging drive with low running costs. Sadly, these are now gone from the Z4 range, presumably because that tin roof adds so much weight and BMW fears they could not cope.
We would buy today's six-cylinder Z4, if only because it does most of what you want very well. It also has a sportier image than the Mercedes; the Audi TT has the best interior though. If, however, we wanted a proper, hardcore open-top sports car it is impossible to ignore the Boxster, especially as it is no more uncomfortable than the Z4.
Compare the BMW Z4 side-by-side with all its competitors
Driven: BMW Z4 sDrive35i
Driven: BMW Z4 sDrive23i
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