Drive Thru: BMW Z4 range

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

Yesterday I spent the morning behind the wheel of BMW’s current Z4 offerings. It was a brief taster provided by local dealership Rolfe Classic BMW. The deal was pretty simple, get existing and prospective customers in small groups to take the Z4 range out for a leisurely drive. We would stop at various points on the drive to swap cars and ensure that everyone got time in each model.

There are currently three options in the Australian Z4 range—all with inline six cylinder engines—the entry level 150kW sDrive23i, mid-range 190kW sDrive30i and the top spec 225kW twin-turbo sDrive35i. In May 2010 the range will have a new hero model, the 250kW sDrive35is.

This was by no means an exhaustive test, but it was a very nice way to spend a lovely Saturday morning. Thoughts on each of the cars can be read below.

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

sDrive23i – from $86,200*

For those that have never driven a Z4 it offers a great example of classic roadster motoring. The archetypal long bonnet, super low seating position and, in Z4 guise, you become nestled in the car, almost as if you are a part of the car, rather than separate from it. Straight away you sense you are sitting way back in the car as the curving bonnet disappears out of sight.

Visibility is quite good, although at 5’8″, I’m never going to suffer from that common convertible problem—the top of the windscreen impeding forward vision. In usual BMW style the interior is a typically teutonic layout. There’s no gimmicks, just well executed design with everything in easy reach.

The normally aspirated 2.5 litre engine is good for 150kW and with the 6 speed auto fitted on the test car BMW reckon it can power the 1505kg sDrive23i to 100km/h in 7.3 seconds. In truth it didn’t feel that fast. As to be expected from an entry level model, the bells and whistles, both in the cabin and under the bonnet, lay further up the food chain so it was no surprise I stepped out of this car wanting more.

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

sDrive30i – from $98,100*

The extra 40kW was a welcome discovery after the lower spec car and the addition of a widescreen navigation screen and iDrive also gave a feeling of being at the wheel of a more expensive model.

With the auto tranny fitted the sDrive30i weighs in at the same 1505kg of the 23i. It would have been great if this car had the standard 6 speed manual. The auto is better suited to cruising around town or on the freeway, where it is very adept. With the extra power offered in this model, a manual box would suffice around town, but would be a more welcome option when exploiting this roadster on the more demanding roads it deserves.

The auto box is good, don’t get me wrong, and with the steering wheel mounted paddles it does offer easy access to manual-like control. However, as with most conventional auto boxes, it is no substitute for a proper manual transmission. That said, I would imagine the vast majority of Z4s sold have the auto option ticked.

BMW say this model can accelerate to 100km/h in 6.1 seconds, and once again, that speed is masked to a small degree. Although, it would be cheeky to say this model is underpowered. In many ways this is the perfect combination for a true roadster experience. The great looks of the Z4, matched with BMW’s definitive six cylinder engine.

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

sDrive35i – from $116,900*

Of course, this was the model I most wanted to drive. With 225kW on offer and a healthy 400Nm of torque, it’s easy to see just what the addition of twin turbos has done to the 3.0 litre straight six. The sDrive35i also comes with BMW’s trick 7 speed dual clutch transmission (DCT). Shifts are punched out with seamless precision and if you can’t have a self-shifter this is the next best thing.

Weight is up quite a bit on the other models, but at 1600kg (with DCT), you don’t notice the extra weight. At least that was the case on this introductory drive. What you do notice is the way this car builds up speed. Again you don’t feel like the car matches its standing start claims of 5.1 seconds to 100km/h, but there is no doubting the twin turbo gathers pace with great ease and smoothness. There’s no noticeable lag, either, it really is a lovely engine.

The ride quality on all the Z4 models tested was quite good on the roads we covered. Sure, it can be a bit firm over some harsher bumps, but this a sports car after all. If you want a plush ride from your BMW, you’ll most likely need to go all the way to the top to the 7 Series. Certainly the ride on the most powerful model available at the moment is well suited to the car’s capabilities.

I was able to drive the sDrive35i over a short mountain pass and the handling was very good. Approaching the limit there was a hint of understeer, which actually seemed more related to front-end grip than any inherent chassis flaws. Usual criticism of BMW’s run flat tyres applies here, I suppose, but apart from this there were no major complaints on the run flats.

BMW Z4 dealer drive day

I’m not sure the Z4 is ever going to be a razor sharp terroriser of winding roads, that’s more the M3’s bag. The Z4 is more of a GT car that can hold its own when the roads start getting more interesting. Having said that, the steering weight and feel from all three models tested was very good.

I’ve never been immediately attracted to open top motoring, but after a very pleasant morning my thoughts are starting to shift. As noted, this was an introductory experience in the Z4 range, but if you’ve got a lazy 100K to spend on an open top tourer thenyou could do a lot worse than  taking a Z4 for a test drive.

Thanks to Darren and Kevin from Rolfe Classic BMW, Canberra, for the invite.

* All pricing indicated is based on launch pricing from May 2009 and does not include all on roads and taxes. Refer to your local BMW dealer for driveaway figures.

Original press release from the Z4’s local launch in May last year…

All–New BMW Z4 Roadster Arrives in Australia

5 May 2009 – The all-new BMW Z4 Roadster has landed in Australia ahead of the scheduled retail launch commencing 23 May.

The new generation of the much-loved BMW sportscar will soon be available for the first time to customers with a two-piece retractable hardtop.

The new BMW Z4 Roadster is powered by one of three highly-efficient BMW six-cylinder engines with the most powerful being a twin turbo 3.0-litre high precision injection engine generating 225 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque. This engine will take the car from 0-100 km/h in just 5.1 seconds.

There is also a normally aspirated 3.0-litre version, as well as a smaller capacity 2.5-litre version to round off the range.

The BMW Z4 Roadster’s trademark performance and agility has been enhanced in this new generation, which also gains a new naming structure: BMW Z4 sDrive.

Thus the Roadster range begins with the BMW Z4 sDrive23i, priced from $86,200, includes the BMW Z4 sDrive30i priced from $98,100, and is topped off by the BMW Z4 sDrive35i priced from $116,900.

Compared with the previous generation BMW Z4, which comprised both Roadster and Coupé models, the new single body style BMW Z4 adds the retractable lightweight hardtop, the option of a seven-speed sports automatic transmission with double clutch for the Z4 sDrive35i, greater cabin space, and a slightly larger bodyshell all round, including larger doors for easier entry.

The bonnet, roof panels and front guards are made from aluminium, as is much of the suspension. The retractable roof stows or unfolds in 20 seconds.

Standard equipment includes Kansas leather upholstery equipped with BMW SunReflective Technology, cruise control with brake function, Park Distance Control front and rear, electromechanical parking brake, electronic differential lock, Dynamic Driving Control, Bi-Xenon headlights, heated seats, through loading feature, engine stop/start button, Bluetooth handsfree technology, AUX-in connection and the handy USB interface.

A large array of options and option packages are available reflecting the strong desire to personalise the BMW Z4 by prospective owners.

The options list includes BMW Adaptive M suspension, a traditional six-speed sports automatic gearbox with steering wheel mounted paddles (except
Z4 sDrive35i which offers the seven-speed sports automatic with double clutch), light alloy wheels up to 19-inches in diameter, sport seats, power seat adjustment, lumbar support, adaptive headlights, TV function, Professional Navigation, extended leather in the standard ‘Kansas’ seat trim, or the option of the Character Package ‘Design Pure White’ which includes ‘Nappa’ leather trim Ivory white, sport seats and fine-wood trim Fineline Anthracite. Some of these features are standard on some models.

The BMW Z4 has always been one of the most dynamic open top two-seater sportscars in the premium class delivering an unmatched mix of front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout, close to 50/50 weight distribution, pin-sharp steering and tremendous grip.

The new BMW Z4 seats its occupants lower and further back for an even more dynamic driving sensation.

The BMW dealer network will welcome the all-new BMW Z4 Roadster in late May.

“The BMW Z4 Roadster exists to deliver an exhilarating driving experience for the enthusiast,” says Stavros Yallouridis, Managing Director of BMW Group Australia.

“We are delighted to welcome this new generation model with its powerful engines, innovative transmission and for the first time on a BMW two-seater, a two-piece retractable hardtop.

“This combination of features will give us the opportunity to make the best case yet for BMW style, performance and safety in a very sporting machine,” he says.