In Circuito do Estoril, the track where the most important formula 1 race in Portugal was carried out up until 1996, I was not only able to test drive the new BMW 8 Coupé, but also the all new BMW Z4 Roadster!
As I tried to layout in my teaser, it was a rather epic and exciting trip with lots to do and a couple more stories to come! But let’s get started with my favourite of BMW’s current range – as everyone should know by now, I have a hang to small, low and light driving machines, and the Z4 Roadster does somehow fall into this category.
Roadsters also mark great achievements in the heritage of BMW. I mean, some of the greatest and most iconic cars are roadsters, such as the famous 328 or the iconic 507 (one of the most beautiful and timeless shapes out there, even Elvis Presley fell in love). Then of course also the Z1 and Z8, two cars which couldn’t differ more and are yet iconic.
With all that heritage in their pocket it was the only clever way forward to continue this path – and they do! The all new BMW Z4 is one hell of a driving machine, a beautifully shaped modern roadster and has everything to offer one desires.
Going back to BMW’s roadster heritage: I love to draw lines between classic and modern cars. I talk about their heritage, technical innovations and often enough their styling and design relations. With the Z4 BMW cleverly portraits their roadster heritage, shows where they come from and where the stand today – congratulations on that very successful concept!
It is commonly known that the Z8, built between 2000-2003, was used as inspiration for the new Z4, ever since the concept car was revealed. The vertically located headlamps, as well as the rear lights seem to be a reflection of the iconic Z8.
I would go even further and draw direct comparison to the legendary 328, which marks the start of the roadster family. The BMW 328 Mille Miglia from 1939 is equipped with a rather unique front grill, combining vertical AND horizontal grids. The new Z4 grill marks similarities, moving away from the vertical lines of the previous Z4 – a good choice in my opinion!
Design (Exterieur & Interieur)
Both contour lines on the bonnet forwards opening as “a Clamshell” stress the very grown kidney in the vehicle front. The front axle grew about ten centimetres in the width, in the rear axle about six centimetres, resulting in 4.30 metres, while the wheelbase with 2.47 metres results a little shorter – truly designed as a driving machine.
The combination of just a few lines and a clean-cut surface design create a very distinctive take on sporting appeal. A powerfully sculpted front apron with large air intakes, a low, broad BMW kidney grille and headlights positioned at the outer edges ensure the car has its own identity while communicating BMW’s new design language.
The main character line, in German called “Lichtkante”, stretches from the front below to the rear on top throughout the whole flank and provides a varying light play. Across the back & front wheels strong muscles are carefully placed. Those help create a wider rear angle, a statement and give the cars its masculine & powerful look, as I find out during my conversation with Patric Meinzer, the design project lead on site.
Optically the new Z4 differs above all by that absence of the firm convertible roof from predecessors – the Z4 is a real roadster again. A given is that the roof opens and closes in the shortest amount of time while being on the go. What’s rather fascinating is the fact that one wouldn’t be able to differ (immediately) if sitting in a closed coupé or the roadster. The roof doesn’t allow any wind noises, is perfectly fitted without flapping around and generically the car provides enough stiffness that one isn’t feeling the “normal flexibility” a cabriolet would always bring with it.
Also the interieur is to be recognised of the Z4 – in the most positive sense. The driving position is nice & low and both seats offer a well-balanced mixture of side hold and comfort. In front of the passengers the central console with gear selection lever and iDrive control is based, the Infotainment system of the inhabitants of Munich also belongs many years to the best the market has to offer.
Here the Z4 demonstrates the new BMW elegance with high quality materials, digital dashes and basic-renewed iDrive multimedia and operating system.
The whole cockpit is cleverly designed to point towards the driver, whom is now able to concentrate better on road & driving while adjusting or checking whatever is necessary. It offers straightforward, simply outfitted space that stays on point with BMW’s prevailing design themes that favour simplicity and austerity over ornamentation.
On the road
With compact proportions, a low centre of gravity, low weight, perfect 50 : 50 weight distribution, a very rigid body and chassis structure, and optimised aerodynamic properties, the new BMW roadster comes with the ideal credentials for exhilarating, sporty performance.
The top of the Z4 range is offered to us for a whole day of testing: The Z4 M40i with 3 ltr 6-Cylinder-Engine, 340 hp and 500 Nm – a powerful beast and I can’t stop to smile all over my face.
As I get the keys handed I return a cheeky smile and jump into the frozen grey roadster – what a good looking car, such masculine vibrance that I am beyond excited to find out whether it keeps its performance promises and can hold up with its mean looks.
Sampling the final, production-spec Z4 at Autódromo do Estoril in Portugal says something about BMW’s intentions. The circuit offers a broad range of tight, technical kinks, medium-speed corners, and a lengthy straight that culminates in a sharp corner. This is not exactly the stuff of fluffy lifestyle roadsters. With drive modes that adjust the suspension damping, the electronic rear differential, throttle response, and power delivery, the Z4 M40i can be configured quite a bit for different dynamic setups.
In its most aggressive Sport + mode there’s a more pronounced engine sound, some of which is routed through the speakers, as every modern car manufacturer uses technology for their benefits these days. However, racing the Z4 “topless” across track has given one a whole lot of a different experience. I felt free, happy and the sound was incredible – an experience truly breathtaking. But unlike its synthetically enhanced (but convincing) sonic experience, which in my eyes isn’t necessary as the sound truly is amazing on its own, the Z4’s dynamics are honest and gratifying. Even at a challenging circuit such as Estoril.
One can clearly feel the chassis has experienced a lot of work and has been designed and tuned with a very clear objective in mind: to harness the engines’ zest and turn it into unbeatable driving pleasure. The agile handling and dynamic performance potential of the new BMW Z4 is down in no small part to the variable sport steering that comes as standard on all model variants, while the electronically controlled dampers, M Sport brakes and electronically controlled M Sport rear differential fitted on certain models make the car even nimbler on the road.
This combination strikes just the right balance between sportiness and ride comfort. A ceaseless build-up of power enables the car to sprint from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.5 seconds.
A new developed chassis as well as the variable sports steering production in all Z4 – steering strength and steering angle are adapted to the situation, so that one must hit, e.g., in narrower bends less strongly than with a normal steering. This support occurs so unobtrusively and actually that I believe everyone can think “I am an incredibly good driver” :D Maybe one is, maybe one isn’t really – but anyways BMW helps to motivate the drivers ego.
The sports car tuning of the front axle elastokinematics aids the new Z4’s steering precision at the same time as making its lateral handling characteristics more dynamic.
Also I had the opportunity to sit down with the product and project managers behind the new BMW Z4, Andreas Ederer and Michael Wimbeck, to discuss the newest roadster during dinner:
“First of all, the roadster segment is a segment that BMW has always been active in. We do have quite a big number of customers who expect BMW to build roadsters,” said Ederer. Ederer continues “But I can tell you about the Z4. When you compare it to other roadsters or even coupes, one thing that comes to mind, the Z4 for the first time is a very rigid sports car.” Convertibles typically have a bit of shimmy and shake over rough pavement, due to their inherent lack of structural rigidity compared to their coupe siblings. According to Ederer and Wimbeck, the Z4 lacks that shimmy and shake.
And having experienced the Z4 the next morning I couldn’t have agreed more with their statement – it’s not shimmy at all!
“The car is built around the tires (bespoke rubber from Michelin). We have a completely new front axle, that is close to the M4’s, we took the kinematics from the M4,” said Wimbeck. “A lot of aluminum components, especially in the front of the car. The front axle is aluminum. With all of the weight saving measures in the front, and the engine is 70mm closer to the center of the car, we have an absolute 50/50 weight distribution. And these are the perfect genes for a sports car.”
“Something very important is that we returned to the soft-top,” said Ederer. “That has various reasons; weight; center of gravity; trunk volume — that is a big advantage”. That soft top opens in ten seconds as well. “These modern soft-tops are so quiet, the acoustic comfort is even better than what we’ve had in the predecessors,” he continued. Actually, BMW managed to save 40kg from the highest point oft he vehicle by deciding to keep a soft top only – therefore the center of gravity dropped drastically.
In the end, the new BMW Z4 manages to balance its on-track prowess and on-road sense of focus to a degree that none of its predecessors – at least in a tangible, objective way – have been able to conjure. It is a car I wouldn’t think twice about buying. Of course it has a price tag, I would NEED to think a loooong time or tbh not being able to consider it, but I truly believe it is worth every penny in all matters: looks, driving agility & performance, message, diversity, feedback from car people & fans you pass by and so on…
60,950 euros costs of the Z4 M40i, the base variation sDrive 20i is to be had from 40,950 euros, and in between there is sDrive 30i, also with 2 litre four cylinder, but 258 HP, for 48,950 euros. Of all not cheap, but comparably motorised competition models of Mercedes (SLC), Audi (TT) and above all Porsche (718 Boxsters) there is not also in the special offer.
Thanks to BMW for making this special experience come true and letting me experience the full dynamical performance of both the BMW 8 Series and the BMW Z4.
So the BMW Z4 is not just some pretty roadster, designed for one to cruise in style. It’s designed to be a genuine driver’s car, something that enthusiasts will want to own. I am hooked & can’t wait to return behind the steering wheel!
The Gallery: UPDATE!!!!
My own shots:
Shots by Enes Kucevic:
Shots provided by BMW: