Car Test   R0340
 
June 2003
First Drive BMW Z4
Printer Friendly Page Featured model: 3.0i
There's nothing very subtle about BMW's model nomenclature. In this case, for example, the fast, fun but flawed Z3 has been replaced by… yup, the Z4 - simple as that.
  
   Except for its 3-Series-derived suspension and a pair of familiar engines, it's and all-new model cloaked in a curiously curvaceous 'double waistline' body, at which, it seems, you either grin or grimace. Either way, it's said to be almost three times stiffer than the Z3, and the considerable bracing and reinforcing certainly make the body impressively free from any quivering scuttle shake with the hood down.
  
   Such torsional stiffness pays dividends in the handling department, as well, and, combined with the wide track and low c of g, gives the well-balanced Z4 confidence-inspiring grip and entertaining driver involvement. The more so, in fact with the enthusiast's Sport button pressed. This not only sharpens up the throttle response, but also reduces the level of assistance to the electric power steering, to give more feedback through the wheel. A good idea in theory, but the steering still isn't as informative and 'talkative' as a well-sorted hydraulic PAS system.
  
   Press-on drivers will also enjoy the benefits of the 3.0i model's 15mm-lower M-Technic sports suspension, that's an option with the smaller engine. The ride is agitated at lower speeds on poor surfaces, but exhibits just the high amount of taut compliance when you begin pedalling in earnest.
  
   And that's no sooner said than done, thanks to the sparkling performance of the two six-cylinder engines on offer: the 2.5i (recently names as an International Engine of the Year) and the 3.0i, both already seen in other BMWs. Joyously revvy, smooth and responsive, they're said to post 0-62mph times of 7.0sec and 5.9sec respectively. They power the rear wheels via quick, slick gearboxes (a six-speeder in the 3.0i) and sound subtly melodic in the process. But what a pity they both suffer from a tiresome baritone boom below about 2000rpm. Did the IE ot Y judges miss this, we wonder?
  
   The cabin, or at least the dash panel, appears plain (stark, even), but a reach-and-rake adjustable wheel and generous manual adjustments (electric plus leather in the 3.0i) give a comfortable driving position. The contoured sports seats are on the firm side, though. All the frequently used controls are within easy reach, but rearward vision is narrowly restricted by the two prominent roll-over hoops.
  
   It's a tad claustrophobic with the hood in place, but BMW claims that the Z4 has the fastest electric drop-top in the business. Simply push a button and within 10sec you can enjoy al fresco motoring - it's a completely hands-free operation. There's a barnet-ruffling backdraught at speed, but the optional windbreak quickly knocks that on the head. Shutting up shop is equally simple and the hood (complete with a heated glass window) fits snug and tight.
  
   There's a reasonably roomy boot behind the seats. BMW says it will take two sets of golf clubs with the hood up, because the 'roof' of the boot can then be raised to increase the volume by 20 litres.
  
AT A GLANCE
  considering size, price and rivals
Controls/displays
Handling/steering
Comfort
Space/practicality
LIKES ...
  • front panel of hood acts as tonneau cover when folded
  • reversing aided by view of boot lid spoiler
  • well-spaced pedals with sensible left footrest
  • useful armrest/handgrip for passenger
  • well-protected door sills
and GRIPES
  • handbrake lever not ideally placed for a decent pull
  • sun visors won't swing to the side
  • door pockets pretty useless
  • fussily calibrated speedometer
  • Sport mode warning light tiny
VERDICT
BMW has built some impressive roadsters over the past 60-odd years and the Z4 proves the company hasn't lost its touch. This latest model entertains keen drivers with exhilarating performance, rewards them with an accomplished chassis and cossets them within a comfortable, high-quality cabin. This Z4 is so much better than the Z3 that it puts it in much closer contention with its similarly priced compatriots, the Audi TT and Porsche Boxter. Those looks? Well, you decide.


BRIEF SPECIFICATION
engine 2979cc, 6-cylinder petrol; 231bhp at 5900rpm, 221lb ft at 3500rpm. Chain-driven double overhead camshafts, 24 valves
drive 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive. Mph/1000rpm in 6th: 27.6. Stability and traction controls
suspension front: independent coil spring/damper struts, anti-roll bar
rear: multi-link Z-axle with coil springs and telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar. M-Sport suspension (lowered by 15mm) standard on 3.0i (optional on 2.5i)
wheels/tyres 8in alloy with 225/45R17W run-flat tyres; no spare
brakes ventilated discs front and rear with ABS and cornering brake control
0-62mph* 5.9sec
official mpg§ 20.9/42.8/31.0
CO2 emissions 221g/km
* maker's figures  § urban/extra urban/combined

THE Z4 RANGE
size and type premium-priced, two-seater roadster   trim levels according to engine size
engines petrol: 6 cylinder/2.5 litre/192bhp, 6/3.0/231
diesel: none
  drive rear-wheel drive. 2.5i: 5-speed manual. 3.0i: 6-speed manual (6-speed sequential manual or 5-speed Steptronic automatic optional)
notable features available 'world's fastest' fully automatic soft-top (hard-top available late 2003), variable soft-top storage compartment, run-flat tyres, choice of three transmissions, electric power steering, Sport button for sharper throttle response/weightier steering


SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
  in centimetres (x)
  steering
   
  easy to park/garage?
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