Driven | BMW Z4 M40i

While the Z1, Z3 and Z8 BMW’s were received well, none of them managed to live past one generation. Step in the G29 generation of the Z4 and we are now on the third generation of the much-loved roadster.

We had the current range-topping M40i offering which means under the hood sits a turbocharged 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder (shared with the new Supra) developing 335 hp (250 kW) and 500 Nm. This is enough grunt to sprint to 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds as it revs to 7,000 rpm with more than enough pull to push you right into your seat.

The Z4 certainly has visual presence befitting a sports car, but it definitely also possesses both good and bad angles. Viewed dead on from the front it is a little odd looking with the angular headlights and stacked elements rather than BMW’s long-established side-by-side layout. With its muscular haunches and interesting contours, the rear has a visual width that makes this Z4 look bigger and more grown-up than its predecessors and is very easy on the eyes.

Hop into the driver’s seat and you will be greeted with the new-generation BMW interior including the engine start/stop button incorporated into the control panel on the centre console. It features BMW’s latest generation of the iDrive, a high-resolution digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster display behind the steering wheel and a 10.25-inch centre console display.

So what is it like behind the wheel? The driving position is great and you have plenty of adjustments to suit all shapes and sizes. Opening the roof is a breeze and it should be because this is a drop-top sports car after all and a big plus is this has no effect on luggage capacity.

This range-topper features an M Sport differential and adaptive dampers which, unlike on many new models, make a discernible difference to the way this Z4 rides. On rough and pothole-ridden roads, the Comfort setting is more than sufficient to compensate for the surface but when you find some smooth open tar, the stiffer Sport set-up translates to a much firmer and more controlled drive. This is the mode that you will likely use most of the time because you are driving a sports car and it will reward you with the right noises and the much more dynamic drive.

The gearshifts are as rapid as you need in a car like this and although traction levels are good, the 500Nm of torque does make it reasonably easy to reach the end of them, even without switching the electronic aids off. When the limited-slip differential-equipped rear axle does start to wiggle, it’s not scary. Given a bit of space, it has the makings of a wicked drift machine. Turn traction control fully off and you will have some very sideways slidey fun.

It’s a solidly-built, attractive (from most angles) and a very capable cruiser. The Z4 M40i is unfortunately not a Boxster-beater, but next to the aging Mercedes SLC, the Jaguar F-Type and the Audi TT Roadster? I think the BMW stands out as the best all-rounder.

Those who would dismiss the Z4 as a “toy” of sorts are not understanding what this is all about. Like other sports cars, the Z4 is the happy result of a belief becoming increasingly rare, where once the sun shines, the intimacy that comes with motoring top down along a country backroad is celebrated. Enthusiasts still desirous of such human and machine interaction will find the BMW Z4 M40i a pleasing partner which is capable of lapping the Nurburgring faster than the M2.

Base price sits at R1,030,500 but with a few options like our test car had, this price goes over the R1,1 million mark fairly easily.

PRO’s

  • Powerful
  • Handles well
  • Build quality

CON’s

  • A little on the heavy side for what it is
  • Slightly high wind-noise with roof on
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