The BMW Z4 is one of the stalwarts of its class.
The drop-top sports car is now in its third generation, having forged a wheel-to-wheel battle with the Porsche Boxster during each. The Boxster has traditionally been the critic’s choice, but the latest Z4 gets closer to besting its rival than ever before.
For this model, introduced in 2018, BMW continued the Z4’s traditional front-engine, rear-drive layout, but it was designed around a cloth roof, which returned for the first time since the initial Z4’s introduction in 2002.
A 50:50 weight distribution and its lighter roof improved handling, while boot space was increased by 50% to 281 litres.
Three engines are available, starting with a choice of two turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrols. The entry-level sDrive20i produces 194bhp while the sDrive30i offers a boost to 255bhp. Not enough? You will want the turbocharged 3.0-litre straight six, then, which pumps out 335bhp and 369lb ft for the range-topping, M Performance M40i. Each engine gets a ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox.
There are three trim levels, all well equipped. Sport kicks off with 18in alloy wheels, cruise control, climate control, heated seats, adaptive LED headlights and BMW’s Live Cockpit iDrive infotainment system.
M Sport brings a more aggressive look by way of revised bodywork, upgraded alloys and Shadowline trim. It also gains M Sport (read firmer) suspension settings.
The top-rung M40i burnishes the car’s sporting credentials with lightweight 19in alloys, adaptive suspension, an electronic differential and upgraded brakes, as well as electrically adjustable seats.
The Z4 sure has pulling power: even the 20i can race from 0-62mph in 6.6sec. But compare it with the Boxster and it’s left behind by 1.5sec.
The M40i shaves the time down to 4.5sec, plus it emits a more inspiring note (especially with the roof down), thanks to that glorious straight six.
As such, and if the soundtrack is what you prize most in this sort of car, go for the M40i, because the 2.0-litre models are rather uninspiring in comparison.
One thing that BMW has never quite managed to perfect is the Z4’s handling. It’s composed and direct, sure, but lighter, more agile roadster rivals such as the Boxster and Mazda MX-5 remain the benchmarks.
However, the Z4’s interior really stands out. It is similar to that of the 3 Series in layout, is adorned with leather and has refined, well-located conveniences.
well-located conveniences. BMW’s superb iDrive 7.0 infotainment system is included as standard with all of the functions you would expect, including smartphone mirroring.
We find the digital dials of the Z4’s Virtual Cockpit a bit difficult to read, so cars with the optional head-up display might be worth seeking out.
Track rods: A safety recall was issued for cars built from 30 October 2018 to 5 July 2019 to stop the track rods breaking in excess temperatures, so check that this work has been completed.
M brakes: On models equipped with M brakes, small stones and debris can get stuck between the disc rotor and the metal heat/protector shield. If this happens, you will hear it. Dealers can remove these stones, but the problem has yet to be rectified.
Connectivity: Some drivers don’t use the Z4’s Connected Drive app so won’t have updated the infotainment system’s software. If you want improved connectivity for your car and some remote functions, update the software through the touchscreen settings and connect to your phone.
Need to know
The sDrive20i is the cheapest version. You will pay anything from £29,000 for a high-mileage Sport variant to £34,000 for an M Sport kitted out with lots of extras. The sDrive30i is available from around £32,000 (fairly leggy) to £36,000 (barely run-in). You will have to put aside between £37,000 and £48,000 for an M40i.
The Z4’s official fuel economy figures are quite attractive, considering its performance, so it’s more than capable as a daily driver. The smallest engine offers up to 39.8mpg (that’s slightly better than a comparable Volkswagen Golf GTI), while the 255bhp unit is capable of 38.7mpg. The range-topping M40i drops to around 33.6mpg, but that’s still not bad for a straight-six-powered roadster.
M40i: Those who covet extra power will have no problem spending more on the M40i. It has all the kit and those M Performance enhancements are enticing, as is the noise of the straight six
sDrive20i M Sport: Hardly wild, but the basic model offers enough poke to excite in the corners and perform well as a motorway cruiser. The weight saved over the M40i is a blessing.
Our top spec
M Sport: M Sport cars are prevalent on the used market, thanks to a good combination of equipment and more aggressive exterior styling. All you need to decide is which engine to go for.
Ones we found
2019 BMW Z4 sDrive20i M Sport, 15,000 miles, £30,480
2019 BMW Z4 sDrive30i M Sport, 25,000 miles, £32,249
2020 BMW Z4 M40i, 2500 miles, £40,000
2021 BMW Z4 M40i, 7000 miles, £46,000