BMW has responded to powerful new rivals with updates for the M5 and M6 - including a racy new 575hp Competition Package option
BMW Z4 sDrive35i review (2009 onwards)
What – BMW Z4 sDrive35i
Where – Alicante, Spain
Date – March 2009
Price – £37,060
Available – May 2009
Key rivals – Audi TT, Mercedes SLK, Nissan 370Z, Porsche Boxster
Evolutionary looks sum up the new BMW Z4 well; it is an enhancement of the fun original, improving on the good bits and rounding off some of the flaws. Brakes apart, it's excellent.
We like – Terrific engine, intense torquey speed, matured style, economy, taut sophistication
We don’t like – £5k price jump from sDrive30i, faff to access boot roof-down, weak brakes
The BMW Z4 has come home. BMW's Audi TT-rivalling rear-drive two-seater has, until now, been built in a US outpost, and has never quite scaled the heights of other BMWs.
But this all-new one has been taken under the paternal wing - and become a much better car because of it. Despite the familiar looks, one change is obvious. The BMW Z4 now gets a Mercedes SLK-style folding hard-top roof, which lowers in 20 seconds.
BMW has integrated it well into the beefed-up new Z4 style, with the 6 Series rear enhanced, not compromised, by its presence. It's a tasty blend of roadster and BMW's iconic M Coupe.
The severity of the original BMW Z4's lines have been filled out here. The curves are no less stylised, but there's more fluidity to them. It's more grown up and urbane; the sharp nose is particularly striking.
Inside, 7 Series finish sets off the appreciably roomier cabin, which eschews the old Z4's clunky gadgets for latest-gen iDrive wizardry.BMW launches the Z4 in May, initially in high-end trim, with fast engines. In time, there will be a cheaper petrol.
By smoothing away the old car's rawness, the company aims to draw a wider cross-section of buyers. Appealing to the TT set to whom the old model was too hardcore. Has it succeeded?
The new Z4 gets BMW's latest generation of high-output six-cylinder engines, driving the rear wheels. We tested the high performance twin-turbo 306bhp sDrive35i - an absolute gem of an engine that is virtually impossible to criticise. It hits 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds with the six-speed manual. The optional Double Clutch Transmission auto cuts this to 5.1 seconds.
Manners are impeccable, with creamy smoothness and superb throttle response. You wouldn't believe it's turbocharged - well, you wouldn't, if it wasn't for the huge slug of pulling power, particularly in the mid-range. This gives fearsome acceleration in response to your right foot, and why you're always going faster than you think.
A meaty manual gearbox is more traditional, but the seven-speed DCT is more in the BMW Z4 spirit. It means jolt-free shifts and unbroken acceleration. You are aware of gearshifts, not because you feel them, but from the rasp and cackle of the exhaust, and the change in resonances which flood the cabin. Terrific. And the noise? Pure concert hall pleasure.
At low speed, the exhaust dominates - all the more reason to have the roof down. It blares at higher revs, like on a racer; every bit the classic BMW noise. In town, you can even hear the click of the DCT gearbox solenoids. Brakes are the only weakness. Nice at low speed, they're too soft when used hard.
Ride and Handling
BMW sticks to the front-engined, rear-wheel-drive layout that's served it so well for 75 years. It is a classic sports car approach, enhanced here by high-tech electronic controls that alter the steering response and stability systems. Really, they're good, but window dressing, for the fundamentals are of a much-improved new car.
The old BMW Z4 had sprightly handling but a very hard ride. It also tramlined - following the surface of the road - much too readily. Advances in run-flat tyres mean the former is improved on the new Z4. Yet it retains the familiar agility, the front-end precision and bite. It's also tremendously well balanced.
In normal model the steering is light and lacks directness. The ride is also, if anything, too soft, body lean noticeable. In Sport it gains weight, becomes the sharp, eager machine the original was but without the harshness. Sophistication is the word; you drive it with brain and wrists. A Porsche's last edge of dynamism is traded for everyday comfort.
BMW debuts Adaptive M Suspension on the new Z4. This is an electrically controlled system that has three modes, from standard to Sport +. Our test car had it; so should yours. It's brilliant, with flawless body damping and control. It's supple yet precise, agile yet anything but harsh and jostling.
Now it is built in Germany, the interior is much better quality. Finish of plastics is richer, and it feels more expensive. It is also larger all-round, and bluster free roof down, although the feeling of being sat right over the rear wheels, long nose powerfully ahead, remains. We also liked the many design cues from BMW's classic Z8 Roadster.
The aluminium roof fills the boot when down - keeping it raised realises 310 litres (bigger than a Fiesta). There is also a fold-through hatch between the front seats for carrying long items, and handy, if restricted, stowage space. Beware, though. Accessing the boot roof-down demands it be half-raised. A maddeningly laboured process...
Economy and safety
306bhp sports cars that do more than 30mpg are rare. Yes, it's yet another highly efficient BMW. CO2 emissions of 219g/km mean it escapes punitive tax rates. The 258bhp sDrive30i, which averages 33mpg, is even better, emitting below 200g/km. Naturally BMW says the new Z4, complete with standard head/thorax airbags, is also safer.
A sign of the times is that Z4 sales halved last year. May's launch prices are thus similar to before, despite this model's folding hard top and bounty of standard kit. Base sDrive23is start at £28k. This top-line sDrive35i is £37k, though. That's a £4,400 jump from the also-six-cylinder sDrive30i, which is greener and almost as fast...
The MSN Cars Verdict
The new BMW Z4 is the real deal. While it is larger, smoother-riding and more comfortable, the addition of a folding hard top hasn't spoiled the searing performance or driving fun. These are better than ever, too; a sophisticated, intriguing and genuine Porsche rival.
Need to know
Petrol engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo
Power (bhp): 306
Torque (lb ft): 295
0-62mph (sec): 5.2
Top speed (mph): 155
Combined economy (mpg): 30.1
CO2 g/km: 219
Ride and handling: *****
Fuel economy: ****
MSN Cars verdict: *****
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