June Neary revels in BMW's Z4 roadster
Will It Suit Me?
As a second car, BMW's Z4 is hard to beat if you simply want a roadster for fun in the sun. It comes with the kind of image that you either love or hate: fortunately, I've always found this American-built car rather appealing. The latest version has one of those trendy metal folding top roofs and looks more dynamic than ever before. The only problem of course is that this is reflected in the asking prices..
Every Z4 I've tried has been screwed together as impressively as a top 7 Series. In truth, the Z4 could afford to be nothing less than perfect in this respect. Its job is as an image-maker for cars like the 3 Series, many of whose mechanicals it still shares. You'd expect the change from fabric to metal-top roof to have altered this Z4's appearance a good deal more than it has. There are no awkward looks, no tell-tale bulky rear end. In fact, you've to look twice to recognise this second generation car, despite the fact that it's slightly wider and 120mm longer than its predecessor. Of course, clever as BMW's designers are, they couldn't do miracles. As you'd expect, the solid roof has brought a heavier kerb weight (up by 185kg) and a reduction in boot space (to just 180-litres with the roof down). Still, it's no worse than its arch-rival, Mercedes' SLK in this respect and the Z4 has the advantage of being able to boost its 310-litre roof-up capacity via an optional ski-flap in the boot. Thus equipped, you could carry either a couple of sets of skis or, more ambitiously, a couple of sets of golf clubs. You won't really want to drive a car like this with the roof up any more than you actually have to. And once you fold back that top (in just 20 seconds), it's funny what fresh air does for you. Other likes include the positive steering, the snappy six-speed manual gearbox on the version I tried and the excellent roadholding and grip. There's hardly any space inside of course - but then practicalities aren't much of an issue when you're considering a roadster. This is, after all, hardly the most logical means of conveyance. Roadsters are evocative, nostalgic and emotional. But they're also cramped, noisy and short of any kind of serious carrying capacity. As you'd expect for the premium money being asked, everything is beautifully built from the highest quality materials. Plus the extra head, shoulder and elbow room that have been built into this MK2 Z4 model give it a far airier cabin feel than rival Audi TT or Mercedes SLK competitors.
Behind the Wheel
All five petrol engines certainly satisfy on the aural front, whether you choose the 156bhp 1.8i, the 184bhp 20i, the 245bhp 28i or the 306bhp and 340bhp twin-turbo 3.0-litre 35i and 35iS variants. From the crackle at start-up to the metallic-edged bark under hard acceleration, this Z4 sounds race-bred. Better still, the inherent good looks of the first generation version haven't been unduly harmed by the adoption of a folding aluminium roof that weighs only 30kgs and therefore doesn't unduly harm performance that sees the sDrive 35i model race from rest to sixty in just 5.2s on the way to an artificially limited top speed of 155mph. That's on a par with a Porsche Boxster S if you're interested.
Value For Money
List prices suggest that, allowing for a few well-chosen extras, you'll probably be paying somewhere in the £28,000 to £45,000 bracket for your Z4, the same kind of money Mercedes will ask of you for a comparable SLK and much the same as you'd pay for a fabric-topped Audi TT Roadster. If you're comparing pricier versions against Porsche Boxsters, you'll also find there's not that much in it. In other words, for this kind of cash against rivals this strong, BMW had better be good.
Could I Live With One?
Of course I could - and so could you if one appeared in your driveway. No, in terms of pure handling, it's not the best roadster you can buy. But people like me - and I suspect you - don't buy roadsters just on the basis of handling. BMW have recognised that there are far wider issues at stake in the purchase of a car like this and have designed the Z4 to suit. As ever, they've done the job brilliantly.