Z is an extremely significant letter for BMW. The latest iteration of the Z4 has caused something of a stir, not for its 340hp twin-turbocharged 3-litre straight-six TwinPower unit, not for the 7min 55sec Nurburgring lap time, but because of an automotive icon called the Toyota Supra. The previous generation of the Z4 may have suave looks with its swooping lines and artsy interior, but the driving experience left enthusiasts wanting more. The same cannot be said for the last of the Supra that was unveiled way back in 1993, the year in which I was born. BMW and Toyota have developed this new Z4 in partnership with the forthcoming Supra, a project which allows a saving in cost and shared engineering knowledge and expertise. This is good.
Enough of the background, what’s the finished product like? Well, I’ll have to wait to comment on the Japanese Coupe offering and try the topless option that is the Z4 for now. There will be a handful of four cylinders soon, but for now it is the range topping Z4 M40i that is on offer for me to get my grubby mitts on – no complaints. You’ll probably know what comes with the M40i badge by now – the good old straight-six 3-litre with 340hp and 500Nm, pretty potent, but this is no Lotus with a weight of 1,480kgs, thankfully the 50:50 weight split helps mask it a little.
I am in Lisbon leaving the opulent Penha Longa resort the the roof down in search for some testing roads for the Roadster. First impressions are burbly with the M developed power unit clearing it’s throat on start up and gargling at every given lift off the throttle and downshift. It’s not just the acoustic pleasures that make the Z4 feel quick, the acceleration swells and the 4.6 to 100km/h time would is more than convincing. The 8-speed steptronic transmission is lightning fast and smooth. That is where the feel, unfortunately, seems to come a premature end.
The steering wheel doesn’t wriggle with feel in the palms and communication to the tires at either axle is fairly muted. For a sports car these are elements that are fundamental to the driving experience. It makes it difficult to gauge where the limits of adhesion are and where the understeer ends and the snap oversteer begins. Ease off a little and things make a lot more sense – soak in the views, listen to the pops and bangs, enjoy the blue skies and the wind running through you bald patch – life is good. The ride is brilliant courtesy of adaptive dampers. Even in Sport mode there is a softness to the suspension that is refreshing.
The cabin is great with pleasant ergonomics and the iDrive system is still fantastic. However, the horrible trend of making everything touch screen and making buttons touch sensitive continues to bug me. The screen carries nasty fingerprints that smear and show up in the sun and the touch buttons are annoyingly difficult to feel when you’re on the move focusing on the road.
What was ever wrong with an old fashioned button to change drive modes? Sorry to sound like a broken record, but the new digital dash might look badass to your 5 year old son, but the dials are a challenge to read without a needle, the new space displays information that is all then projected onto the heads up display. I digress – on a more positive note, the cabin does look cool and cohesive, it is a nice place to sit.
To my eyes, the good looks continue on the outside. Yes, it is not as dramatic as the concept car we all fell in love with, but production models rarely are. It looks muscular and imposing with the ever growing kidney grilles dominating the front end. There are nice details in the LED headlamps and it looks like a premium product. Speaking of premium products…the Porsche Boxster is undoubtedly going to be compared to the offering from BMW.
The 718 is only available with a 4-cylinder that has taken a beating as it had huge shoes that the 6-cylinder Boxster left to be filled. The M40i has a strong engine but the mid-engined Boxster is very alluring to sports car fans. As mentioned earlier, when you’re cruising or driving around town, what I imagine Z4s will spend most of their lives doing, the BMW is a compelling proposition and a fantastic cruiser. I would not be disappointed to own an Z4 M40i, just do not expect it to pump your veins with adrenaline or make you laugh with out loud with glee.