Car reviews - BMW - Z4 - sDrive20i
True sportscar poise and handling, understated and cosy cabin, head-turning looks
Room for improvement
Synthetic engine note, boot access and space with roof open
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5 Nov 2013
Price and equipment
At $79,900 before on-road costs and, despite a recent price increase of $2400, the BMW undercuts every offering from the competition in the prestige sportscar segment.
Mercedes-Benz offers a very similar but more expensive proposition in the $83,450 SLK 200 with similar performance and a folding hard top, while Audi’s $81,600 TT roadster is a competitively priced ragtop that doesn’t quite fit the traditional sportscar mould.
At the other end of the spectrum Porsche would nominate the Boxster but at nearly $110,000 it’s hardly a fair comparison.
The entry-level BMW comes with a good level of recently updated equipment including rollover protection, 17-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tyres, heated side mirrors, cruise control with auto braking, front and rear parking sensors, bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime runners, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, heated leather seats, dual-zone climate control and Bluetooth with audio - all packaged in a strikingly styled skin.
You won’t find a reverse camera on this Z4 because, with such a short boot and a seating position so close to the back, the drivers eye is situated very close to where a camera would reside.
It’s priced right, is full of toys and looks great. A good start.
An all black leather interior with brushed aluminum highlights gracing the dash and centre-console contrasted the Imola Red exterior paint and gave an eye-catching look, while remaining understated and classy.
Space is in short supply inside the Z4, but thanks to clever design and BMW’s rationalising iDrive controls, the dash is uncluttered and pleasant to look at with distinct retro influences somewhat reminiscent of the delicious Z8.
A limit on cabin volume wasn’t uncomfortable for our 188cm tall reviewer with deep foot-wells swallowing gangly legs and highly adjustable seats providing very good support and comfort.
Larger (not taller) drivers may find the slender seats a little unflattering, but generally speaking, with the folding roof in place, the Z4 interior was cosy, comfortable and ergonomically well appointed.
If the interior felt a little claustrophobic, a simple press of a button and a 20-second wait transformed the interior from snug to unlimited.
Our test car had very effective heated seats and made even a typically mediocre Melbourne spring day a viable top-down proposition. During a week of driving the roof was closed only a handful of times.
The folding roof mechanism cleverly folds in to the boot space quickly and easily but once stowed, boot space is very limited with access equally diminished.
The hardtop provides excellent weather-resistance for year-round use but the cloth-top of the original Z4 occupied much less space when tucked away.
With the roof in place the boot space is generous for a car measuring just 4239mm by 1790mm.
Engine and transmission
As Mazda has consistently proven year after year since it introduced the MX-5 (and then again more recently by Toyota and the 86), just because a sportscar has a relatively small engine, it doesn’t necessarily result in an uninspiring drive.
On the contrary, lighter small capacity engines with fewer cylinders can be situated further back in the chassis providing better weight distribution, actually improving handling.
A look under the long bonnet of the Z4 reveals that the BMW is no exception, with the compact four-pot turbo sitting hard up against the bulkhead creating a large void of empty space between cylinder-one and the radiator.
Compared to its gutsier siblings, an output of 135kW/270Nm may sound a little lackluster but let’s not forget that the Z4 weighs (a not exactly portly) 1420kg and that translates to a sub-seven second zero to 100km/h time.
That respectable figure may be thanks in part to the very quick acting and close ratio eight-speed double-clutch gearbox, which is a pleasure to operate with the steering-wheel paddles and releases the full potential of the turbo engine.
That said – we would still prefer the full sportscar interaction experience which can only come with a manual gearbox (available as a no-cost option).
Upshifts on full-boost provoked a satisfying exhaust burble as is common to very quick-shifting gearboxes of this design, and the noticeable whistle from the twin-scroll turbo was delightfully contrasted by the occasional tail-pipe pop and splutter on overrun.
Some of the engine noise is ‘piped’ through to the cabin via the sound-system and, while it is the genuine sound of the engine amplified, we found it sounded a little synthetic and not quite believable.
BMW states the combined fuel consumption at 6.8 litres per 100km, but we found the enticing performance provoked a more enthusiastic driving style and so will you. We managed a respectable 7.2l/100km.
Ride and handling
Love or hate the unmistakable Z4 looks, question its power output or criticise the practicality if you like, but we found arguably the most important element of a sportscar hard to fault in the Z4 – its road manner.
The combination of low centre of gravity, quick steering, fine suspension tuning and seats positioned on top of the rear-axle resulted in superb handling with excellent feedback through both the steering and the flank-grabbing seats.
The low-slung BMW stayed flat and composed through both high-speed turns and slower sweeping bends with the seats keeping passengers pinned, allowing full enjoyment of the passing scenery no matter how wintry it was outside.
Positioning the pointy snout was effortless and the sharp steering responded rapidly to even tiny inputs aided by the perfect 50:50 weight distribution and light engine up-front.
Despite a relatively firm ride, negotiating uneven surfaces was not an unreasonably harsh experience – a quality partly attributable to BMW’s ‘Flex Ray’ damper control system.
The system uses front suspension sensors to detect violent imperfections in the road and almost instantly softens the rear-axle suspension so that the occupants aren’t subjected to the same impact.
Hopping in to the Z4 was like slipping on a glove comfortable, well fitting and responsive to even the smallest instructions. With a handling package like this the engine is of secondary importance.
Safety and servicing
In addition to four airbags and commonplace safety systems such as all mandatory electronic stability programs, the Z4 also has an occupant protection system, which ejects two weight-bearing hoops from behind the seats if the stability management system detects a roll-over is likely.
It might only be the entry version, but BMW’s Z4 sDrive2.0i still has a very competent and enjoyable engine under its unmistakable nose.
The balance of power, grip and pin-sharp handling is irresistibly good offering a complete package for those who regard the traditional formula of front-engined, rear-wheel drive two-seaters the last bastion of purists driving.
More expensive 28i and 35is variants offer much improved performance and more standard equipment, but if you are after an involving motoring experience within the confines of the law, then the entry-level 20i is good value without compromising on fun.
Moving upwards in price from the dynamically brilliant Mazda MX-5 the BMW Z4 sDrive2.0i is the next port of call, which we think makes it a pretty good deal.
Porsche Boxster (From $107,500 before on-road costs).
It’s a big step-up in price to get in to the entry level Porsche, but for the extra investment you get an extra two cylinders (2.7-litre flat six), which sit between you and the rear axle for the ultimate in mid-engined sportscar handling. Porsche looks and the gold badge are included in the price, while its roof is fabric rather than the folding metal type.
Mercedes SLK 200 (From $83,450 before on-road costs).
With over half a million SLKs sold worldwide, the little Merc has more of a following than the BMW, but other than an approving nod from other owners, the SLK doesn’t bring much more than the BMW to the sports car formula for the extra cash.
Audi TT Roadster 2.0 TFSI quattro (From $81,600 before on-road costs). The closest in price to the BMW, Audi’s convertible TT brings four-wheel drive traction, two (albeit tiny person sized) rear seats and comparable performance to the BMW, but it can’t quite provide the same allure of a true two-seater sportscar.
MAKE/MODEL: BMW Z4 sDrive2.0i
ENGINE: 2.0-litre in-line 4 turbo
LAYOUT: Front engine, rear drive
TRANSMISSION: eight-speed double-clutch automatic
TOP SPEED: 232km/h
EMISSIONS: 159g/km CO2
BRAKES: Vented discs
PRICE: From $79,900 before on-roads
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