Test Drives

2019 BMW Z4 review: Returning to the fold



The BMW Z4 M40i is a stirring six-cylinder engine that comes with a two-seater roadster

SINGAPORE

There’s a difference between a fun car and a thrilling one, but the BMW Z4 happens to be both.

A fun machine doesn’t have to be particularly fast or powerful, but it needs to possess the ability to make you smile constantly. Likewise, being thrilled in a car isn’t necessarily fun (loosen all the lug nuts holding the wheels on a Mitsubishi Attrage and hit the AYE to see what I mean).

Yet, the Z4 combines the ability to max out your pulse rate while leaving you tittering like a dolphin, especially in M40i trim, like the car you see here.

Until the searing Z4 M shows up, this is the hot one: under that long bonnet you’ll find… an engine cover, but under that you’ll find six cylinders, all in a row, displacing 3.0 litres, fed by turbocharging and happy to churn out 340 horsepower.

That’ll launch the Z4 to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds; for reference, Porsche’s 718 Boxster S can get there in 4.2 seconds, most likely because its mid-engine layout gives it the traction for a cleaner getaway.

Regardless, the Z4 M40i is still fast, like trying to pour water into a cup from a large bucket is fast. It launches from rest a bit gently, but once the engine gets over a bout of turbo lag it wakes up and raises hell.

Everything seems to happen at once — the long bonnet rises, the digital needles sweep here and there, you’re pushed back into your seat, your eyes dart to the mirrors because you never know if a cop car is lurking, and you’re sweating at the thought that you’ve just put your precious licence in mortal peril… And then you do it all over again at the next traffic lights, because hell, performance like this is addictive.

What a gem the engine is, too, spinning with silky, revvy enthusiasm all the way to the redline, and emitting a gloriously tuneful note that would make the birds swoop close just so they can listen.

Engage the Sport Plus driving mode, however, and the engine’s music is punctuated by a thumping backbeat from the exhaust. It pops, crackles and sometimes bangs, like someone put firecrackers up the tailpipe. It’s not quite as fizzy as Mercedes-AMG’s best efforts, but if the Z4’s exhaust doesn’t make you giggle, you need a sense of humour implant.

It’s only right and proper that the M40i should be such a wild ride, since it’s the first “M Performance” Z4 — that means it’s one rung above the regular BMW range but one below the M model.

You can identify it by the painted brake callipers, the satin chrome on the badge, grille, wing mirror caps and elsewhere, and you probably get the general idea: it comes with racy styling bits, a sportier interior, lowered suspension, a tuned exhaust, all that good stuff.

But it’s worth mentioning that the Z4 in general is built to a slightly different recipe from its predecessor, and is closer to that of the first model from 2003.

It’s still a front-engine, rear-drive two-seater, but gone is the folding metal roof. Good riddance, too. All that weight up high in the back of the last Z4 threw its balance off, and made it wiggly and unrewarding to drive fast. I still can’t think of the single car with a folding hard top that’s good to drive.

The return to a folding soft top brings other benefits; converting the car from closed to open (or vice versa) takes only 10 seconds or so now, and you can do it on the move at up to 50km/h.

But it’s the handling that benefits the most; the new Z4 feels much more precise and wieldy than its predecessor, and it’s easier to drive fast, owing to a body that doesn’t squirm around under you so much when you go around corners.

That said, the Z4 M40i isn’t completely immune to body roll, and you can feel the suspension working hard to tie it down if you happen to hit a mid-corner bump. The tyres have prodigious grip, however, and you can rely on them to get you through at a pace that definitely counts as spirited.

It doesn’t quite flow through bends in a way that makes it feel like a part of your body, so you always have to be committed and focused when you’re going for it. What’s actually most impressive about Z4’s chassis is how pliant the suspension is in Comfort mode. It’s possible to relax in the M40i, even if the engine tends to seduce you into going hard all the time, thanks to the way it rolls gently over uneven surfaces instead of crashing over them. This, with lower, stiffer springs that come with the Adaptive M setup, too.

Mind you, this is still a roadster, so don’t expect a huge amount of practicality even though there’s enough comfort for everday use. The boot may be 50 percent bigger than before (for which you can thank the return to a soft top, as well as the fact that the Z4 has quite a big backside), but it’s still only 281 litres in size.

When the roof is up it’s hard to see out of the car (though blind spot monitors and parking cameras take much of the stress out of that), and if you’re not as limber as you used to be, you’ll find it hard to get in or out of the car without groaning. Long doors make that even more challenging if you’re parked in a typically tight space.

Once you’ve made it into the Z4, however, you won’t mind staying. The interior is handsome enough, particularly with the M40i’s aluminium mesh effect panels, and you can imagine a day-long journey somewhere up north in the supportive seats.

The new digital instruments are a mess, however, and if you ask us there’s no way a rev counter with half a needle that swings in the wrong direction belongs in a car like this.

That’s not exactly deal-breaker stuff, and the fact remains that the Z4 M40i is a car with a wide range of talents. It’ll nail a track day, deliver a comfy drive to work, cover a trip to the mountains… pretty much everything you want of a fast, modern roadster, it’ll do with aplomb.

Should you expect the same of lesser variants? The other models — the sDrive20i and sDrive30i — are slower, of course, but even the weakest Z4 gets to 100 in only 6.6 seconds on the back of a turbo, 197hp engine.

Those versions have four cylinder engines, however, so they’re never going to provide the same stirring soundtrack that comes with the M40i. Come to think of it, the same is true of the Boxster S.

If you enjoy your open-top motoring at a fast pace, the Z4 M40i is about as exciting as they come. Otherwise, there’s a good argument for settling for the base sDrive20i, with its four-cylinder soundtrack. That car may not be thrilling, but it’s bound to be fun.

BMW Z4 M40i

Engine 2,998cc, inline 6, turbo
Power 340hp at 5000 to 6500rpm
Torque 500Nm at 1600 to 4500rpm
Gearbox 8-speed automatic
0-100km/h 4.5 seconds
Top Speed 250km/h (limited)
Fuel Efficiency 7.4L/100km
VES/ CO2 C1 / 169g/km
Agent Performance Munich Autos
Price S$351,888 with COE
Available Now

 

READ MORE

Want an open-top BMW with four seats (sort of)? There’s this, the 8 Series Convertible…

about the author

avatar
Leow Ju-Len
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 23 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.