What Car? says...
“Do not try to do everything. Do one thing well.” So said Steve Jobs, the late boss of Apple – and as this BMW Z4 sports car shows, he had a point.
Why? Well, while it might seem to make more sense to cater to the tastes of a wide range of car buyers rather than a smaller segment of the market, the Z4 suggests otherwise. To explain exactly what we're on about, we need to look at the model's back catalogue.
The first-generation car was a focused, lithe sports convertible. It was a proper little driver's car, and was a huge success.
But when BMW made the second-generation version more user-friendly to broaden its appeal, it dulled the model's shine. The main problem was its folding metal hard-top roof. It was great at keeping out the elements, but also very heavy, and it ruined the car's handling.
Luckily, this third-generation BMW Z4 appears to have gone back to basics, with a greater focus on driver enjoyment.
It has a lighter fabric hood, which lowers the car's centre of gravity, and completely redesigned suspension to make the car corner with greater aplomb. Straight-line performance is dealt with by engines that include a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol, plus a butch, six-cylinder motor in the range-topping M40i.
It sounds like a convincing package, but what's it like in reality? Well, in this review, we'll tell you what the BMW Z4 is like to drive and how we rate it in all the important areas against its rivals. They include the well-rounded Audi TT Roadster at one end of the price spectrum and the dominant Porsche 718 Boxster at the other.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
You’ll find a 194bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine under the long bonnet of the entry-level BMW Z4, the sDrive20i. It picks up well from low revs and puts down its power easily, officially sprinting from 0-62mph in 6.6sec. That’s a little quicker than the Audi TT Roadster 40 TFSI but not a patch on the entry-level Porsche 718 Boxster (5.1sec).
Unfortunately, while BMW pitches the Z4 as a sports car it fails to shine with this engine equipped. It doesn’t have the zingy, free-revving attributes of the 2.0-litre petrol engines in the TT. Nor does it sound as exciting, letting out a dreary, monotonous drone. Its sluggish eight-speed automatic gearbox doesn't add to the sports car theme either. Unlike the TT or the closely related Toyota GR Supra coupé, there's no manual option, and the grabby brakes aren't intuitive to use in stop-start traffic or for fast road driving.
Mercifully, the range-topping M40i is better. When you plant your right foot on the accelerator pedal, its 335bhp 3.0-litre straight-six responds with virtually no turbo lag, pulling hard from low in the rev range. It sounds much more invigorating than the four-cylinder engines, with a smooth, free-revving nature that suits the M40i’s more focused demeanour.
You still get an auto gearbox, but the M40i’s eight-speeder is impressively snappy. Beefier and more feelsome M Sport brakes also help instil more confidence when taking on country roads, while the bespoke, electronically controlled limited-slip differential helps put down the power successfully on the way out of corners.
Speaking of corners, the Z4 doesn't actually feel that sharp in bends. The standard suspension fitted to the sDrive20i feels tuned more for motorway cruising comfort than canyon carving, allowing more body lean than in a TT or Boxster. And because it's quite soft, the Z4 feels rather bouncy and wayward at the back end over B-road bumps. The optional M adaptive suspension improves things if you stick them in the firmer Sport mode.
Once again, the M40i is better. It comes with the adaptive suspension as standard, so it's more stable and does a better job of absorbing mid-corner bumps. Its hefty kerb weight means it's not as nimble as an Audi TTS or Boxster, but if you're going to buy a Z4, it's the one to go for.
In either spec, it won't steer as well as its rivals. The steering is vague around the centre position, so you find yourself making lots of adjustments that wouldn't be needed with the beautifully connected steering of the Boxster. Then there's the speed of the steering. It's a variable ratio rack, so to start with it's quite slow, but past a quarter of a turn of lock, the rate it turns the wheels at suddenly ramps up. That makes it difficult to get the car placed accurately on the road.
It's not all bad, though. The Z4 is quite cushioning over most surfaces, including urban town roads and motorways. At 70mph, there’s a relative lack of wind and road noise (with the roof up) so it’s much quieter than the Boxster. If you open the roof (which takes around 12sec with the push of a button) there's a fair amount of buffeting, even when the optional wind deflector is in place.
The interior layout, fit and finish
While the BMW Z4’s driving experience might not be compelling compared to its rivals, its interior is. The dashboard is angled towards you, creating a driver-focused environment that's backed up by a purposeful, low-slung seating position. The driver's seat is reasonably supportive, while lumbar adjustment and full electric seat operation are standard on the M40i, and optional on the sDrive20i.
Everything is within easy reach and all the controls are clearly structured and labelled. It's also impeccably finished, from the stitching on the standard leather seats to the sections of chrome and piano-black trims, and everything is beautifully incorporated. It's nigh-on as robust to the touch as the Audi TT Roadster and looks plusher than the Porsche 718 Boxster inside.
The good news continues with the infotainment system: the BMW iDrive system is without a doubt the best on the market. It’s responsive, intuitive to use and easy to operate thanks to the rotary controller on the centre console.
It’s far less distracting than prodding the Boxster's touchscreen while you’re bowling along the motorway (although you can use the Z4's 10.3in screen as a touchscreen if you want). All versions come with sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.
It's quite tricky to see the end of the long bonnet or what's behind you with the roof up. That's no great problem, though, because all models come with front and rear parking sensors, and there’s the option of a rear-view camera. You get bright LED headlights as standard and can upgrade them to adaptive LED headlights as part of an options pack.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
If you're very long in the leg you'll be more comfortable leg room wise in the BMW Z4 than in the Audi TT Roadster or Porsche 718 Boxster. Likewise, it’s wider inside than the TT, so you won’t be rubbing shoulders with your front-seat passenger quite as much. That said, there’s slightly less head room than in the rivals, although it's not particularly tight in that area.
The door pockets are a good size and there’s a handy covered cubby in front of the gearlever where you can charge your phone wirelessly, plus a decent-sized glovebox for extra bits and bobs. The cup holders are mounted inside the central armrest, which means you have to drive around with the armrest open if you make a pit stop for coffee. There’s a small amount of storage behind the seats and a cargo net with just enough space to shove a coat or spare pair of shoes.
Most impressive of all, though, is its boot. You get more capacity (281 litres) than in the TT Roadster and the Boxster, and its size remains unchanged when you drop the roof. We managed to fit in five carry-on suitcases (the same as the VW Golf). There’s a ski hatch in between the front seats.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
As a cash purchase, the entry-level BMW Z4 20i will cost you somewhere between the same as the Audi TT Roadster and the TTS Roadster, while the more powerful M40i will cost slightly less than the TT RS and the Porsche 718 Boxster T. Resale values are predicted to be similar to the TT's, but not as strong as the Boxster's, and insurance and servicing costs are competitive.
If you pay company car tax, you’ll be pleased by how the Z4 20i’s official CO2 emissions are comparatively low. Fuel consumption relatively palatable too.
Keeping things simple, there’s only one trim level available with each engine. The entry-level sDrive20i M Sport comes with plenty of standard equipment, including 18in alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and leather seat trim. The M40i is based on the M Sport but adds bespoke sporty tech, brakes and electric seats, plus 19in alloy wheels.
We can’t say for sure how reliable the Z4 will be because it wasn’t included in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey. What we do know is that BMW came 16th out of 32 manufacturers, above Audi and Porsche.
In terms of crash protection, the Z4 achieved the maximum five-star rating when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2019. It’s hard to compare it to the rivals, because the TT’s rating has expired and the Boxster hasn’t been tested.
It comes packed with safety kit, including front collision warning with automatic emergency braking (AEB) and a lane-departure warning system. You can add a Driving Assistant Package for more driver aids, including a clever bit of tech that can detect traffic crossing behind you as you’re reversing out on to a road, lane-keeping assistance that steers you back into line, traffic-sign recognition and adaptive cruise control.
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It depends which engine you choose. The sDrive20i has a 197bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine and accelerates from 0-62mph in 6.6sec. The M40i has a 335bhp 3.0-litre petrol engine for an impressive 4.5sec. The official top speed of the Z4 is 155mph.
Our favourite version is the M40i – which is the quickest, sounds the best and is the most involving to drive. Standard equipment includes lightweight 19in alloy wheels, a more aggressive bodykit and electrically adjustable seats.
The main difference is the engine under that long bonnet. Other than that, both are well equipped with M Sport suspension, cruise control, heated M Sport seats and parking sensors all around.
Excellent. It has a 10.3in infotainment touchscreen that you can operate using the iDrive rotary controller on the centre console. It also has built-in sat-nav, Bluetooth, DAB radio and smartphone mirroring.
The Z4 has a boot capacity of 281 litres, which is impressive for a two-seater sports car. What Car? road testers managed to fit in five carry-on suitcases and you don’t lose any storage space when you put the convertible roof down. A ski hatch between the seats is available as an optional extra.
|RRP price range||£44,490 - £58,890|
|Number of trims (see all)||3|
|Number of engines (see all)||2|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||34.9 - 39.8|
|Available doors options||2|
|Warranty||3 years / No mileage cap|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£3,153 / £4,277|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£6,306 / £8,554|