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Driving BMW's tin-top Z4

2009-05-27 08:56
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer BMW
Model Z4
Engine 2.5-litre straight six; 3.0-litre straight six; twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight six
Power 150 kW @ 6 400 r/min; 190 kW @ 6 600 r/min; 225 kW @ 5 800 r/min
Torque 259 Nm @ 2 750 r/min; 310 Nm @ 2 600 r/min; 400 Nm from 1 300 - 5 000 r/min
Transmission six-speed manual (six-speed sport automatic or seven-speed DCT optional)
Zero To Hundred 6.6 s; 5.8 s; 5.2 s
Top Speed 242 km/h; 250 km/h; 250 km/h
Fuel Tank 55 l
Fuel Consumption 9.2 l/100 km; 9.2 l/100 km; 9.8 l/100 km
Boot Size 180 l - 310 l
Steering EPS Electric Power Steering
Airbags head and thorax
Front Suspension Two-joint spring strut axle with displaced caster; small positive steering roll radius; compensation of lateral forces; anti-dive
Rear Suspension Independent; centrally guided axle; separate springs and dampers; anti-squat and anti-dive

Hailey Philander

The experience when driving a roadster is a lot like the crazy urge you get to fling your hands into the air whenever you're on a rollercoaster. Except that, in this case, the rollercoaster is a whole lot closer to the ground… BMW's all-new Z4 Roadster has arrived in South Africa, and we take it for a whirl.

Technically a replacement for both previous generation Z4 Coupe and Z4 Roadster, BMW has decided to call this car a roadster.

Sure, it has the classic roadster qualities of a long sloping bonnet, pert rear end, short overhangs, two seats and a driver's seat position that is low to the ground and relatively far back on the 2.5-m long wheelbase. It also handles like a demon.

However, the one greatest detraction from the "classic" argument perhaps, is that BMW with the all-new car, has bowed to customer demand and this is the first of its ilk to employ a retractable hardtop.

Not quite the classic roadster

Incorporating the added challenge of a practical but bulky roof structure, styling on this Z4 reflects a new vision from BMW. It portrays a grace that was perhaps absent from the previous Z4 while still remaining unashamedly masculine. It's also refreshing to see how Chris Bangle's oft-flamed flame surfacing has evolved to a point where the creases along the flank have been softened so that they now imply fluidity.

This flow continues through the cabin where the interior uses a mix of finishes to provide a real tactile experience. Buttons and dials are prominent without being overpowering and the new iDrive, with its joystick-like characteristics, is easy to master.

As a bonus, along with 3 Series Convertible, the Z4 also comes with leather upholstery that has been treated with sun reflective technology to reduce its level of wear. It also keeps the leather notably cooler when the car is parked outside your favourite beachfront café with the roof down in the height of summer. And the seats with integrated headrests are very fetching.

Luggage space is always an issue where these compact two seaters are concerned and Z4 is no exception. However, it does seem to meet the universal luggage standard of measure by being able to carry two sets of golf clubs.

When the roof is raised, the luggage space is able to swallow 310 l. This shrinks to 180 l with the roof stowed away, but all local cars come standard with a storage package that gives users an abundance of nooks within the cabin in which to store odds and ends.

Since it is a roadster, who cares if the luggage space is a bit tight and a whole lot of 6 Series (particularly in the rear three quarters) shines through? It remains a very attractive BMW.

Everyone is welcome

The more appreciable aesthetic could have something to do with this Z4 being blessed with a softer touch - both its interior and exterior designers, Juliane Blasi and Nadya Arnaout, are female. 

And that's not where the softer references are likely to end. As far as its driving dynamic goes, this car, though still engaging as ever, is not quite as scary as I remember the previous model being. Some people may even appreciate this. However, this was a conscious decision on the part of BMW, it was explained, to give the roadster a broader appeal.

Okay, so the first thing BMW fans would probably be concerned about is how this added weight (about 120 kg) scuppers the brand's fabled near 50/50 weight distribution.

The added weight doesn’t appear to have an adverse effect on performance either. Of course, with the roof up this car is as focused as any sports coupe could ever hope to be.

Squatting low to the ground, it is really good at imbuing an uncanny level of confidence. Even while the flashing lights on the instrument panel would imply that one should be a lot more cautious when tossing a rear-wheel driven sports car about.

Incidentally this new roof arrangement, which is a two-piece construction fashioned from lightweight alloys, drops and is raised in just on 20 seconds. Not too bad for a metal top, hey?

With the roof down, Z4 transforms into a real wind-in-the-hair hell raiser. The ride is hard, but scuttle shake is barely discernible and any degree of body flex is invisible. Torsional rigidity is top class.

The suspension is firm to the point of jarring, but dynamically this car benefits from a lightweight aluminium suspension, high-performance brakes and Dynamic Drive Control.

The DDC system is standard on all models and allows the driver to select one of three stages - Normal, Sport and Sport + - at the touch of a button.

DDC influences the throttle response, sensitivity of the power steering unit, gearshift patterns on the automatic 'boxes and, for cars fitted with the optional Adaptive M suspension, adjusts the damper settings. The system also alters the Dynamic Stability Control's response.

Familiar engine range

Firepower is as imposing as ever and a trio of familiar straight sixes powers the range.

This includes the very impressive 225-kW twin-turbo straight six on the sDrive35i with the option of a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. Magic. Even if BMW's naming structure for the range is rather odd…

The mid-range 190-kW naturally aspirated 3.0-litre powers the sDrive30i while the entry point to the Z4 range is via the 150-kW 2.5-litre sDrive23i.

All models come standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, while the useful six-speed sports automatic is a R20 900-option on the two lesser models. DCT on the sDrive35i costs R28 700 and is worth splurging on just for the super quick and very seamless shifts this 'box affords.

The award-winning engine powering the range-topper produces 225 kW at 5 800 r/min and peak torque of 400 Nm from 1 300 r/min all the way to 5 000 r/min.

While 0 - 100 km/h is fractionally quicker with the dual clutch transmission (5.1 versus the 5.2 seconds with the manual shifter) average fuel consumption is around 9.8 l/100 km. Top speed is limited to 250 km/h.

The 3.0-litre in the sDrive30i has outputs of 190 kW at 6 600 r/min and 310 Nm at 2 750 r/min. The manual sprints from 0 - 100 km/h in 5.8 seconds while the sports automatic covers the same standard in a more lethargic 6.1 seconds. Top speed on this model is also limited electronically to 250 km/h although BMW does offer 9.2 l/100 km as the fuel consumption figure.

Bringing up the rear is the 2.5-litre engine powering the sDrive23i with 150 kW at 6 200 and 250 Nm at 2 750 r/min on tap. In manual guise, this car covers the 0 - 100 km/h dash in 6.6 seconds (7.3 with the optional automatic) although top speed is pegged at 242 km/h. The automatic version hits a top end of 239 km/h only. And fuel consumption on this model, too, is 9.2 l/100 km.

Going greener

However, just because these models have the requisite amount of urge to compete convincingly in the roadster segment, this need not mean they are not kind to the environment.

As with the rest of the BMW range, Z4 subscribes to the manufacturer's Efficient Dynamics programme with its lightweight construction, electromechanical power steering, a gear shift indicator on cars with manual gearboxes, a map controlled oil pump and better aerodynamics.
With Tuesday's Stats SA figures indicating that South Africa is in a technical recession, we don't suppose BMW will have to fight off the suitors clamoring for its Z4's attentions. The company (optimistically perhaps) expects to sell its allotted 500 units this year.

For now though, at these prices, consumers (particularly those considering the range-topping sDrive35i model) have quite a few worthy alternatives to consider. However, in spite of the Z4 Roadster being a superb driving machine, the options list is extensive and once you start tacking them on the pricing could start to appear more and more incredulous.

But, have I mentioned it’s a great car to drive? Oh boy!

sDrive23i - R508 500
sDrive30i - R583 500
sDrive35i - R682 500


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