FIRST DRIVE: BMW Z4

NOTED for its departure from the simple fabric roof format of old, BMW’s current Z4 roadster has become a popular choice among buyers seeking the security of a tin-top fixture and the benefits of roof-down motoring in one neat package.

You better make that one neat and rakishly styled package, as the current generation Z4 is as much about looks as it is practicality. With its long bonnet and stubby rear, the Z4 is not for wallflowers, as it couldn’t be further from the conservative looks of Porsche’s Boxster if it tried.

And that’s partly the point of BMW’s Z4 – with its looks and comfort-orientated features (that roof, plush cabin) it’s not trying to eat the Boxter’s lunch. That said, BMW does offer some pretty potent engines for its roadster-coupe, but the end result isn’t to encourage you to sign up to a track day but offer an accelerated wind in the hair experience on the open road.

Come refresh time, BMW has chosen to stick to this popular and proven approach to top-down motoring. The Z4’s overall appearance hasn’t changed, but you should be able to spot tweaks to the car’s headlights and the inclusion of a little more chrome trim in the cabin.

While the rest of the car has remained unchanged mechanically, the introduction of an entry-level four-cylinder engine has made the Z4 that bit more accessible to those seeking a first step on the premium roadster ladder.

In sDrive18i guise the Z4’s 2.0-litre single turbo petrol motor produces 154bhp and a useful 177lb ft torque, resulting in a respectable 7.9 second sprint from rest to 62mph. And to illustrate the efficiency of some of the Z4’s more powerful engines, this entry-level model posts the same 41.5mph and 159g/km economy and CO2 figures respectively as the more expensive 20i and 28i variants.

A willing and able driving companion, the sDrive18i can be pushed hard without you fearing that a bite on the behind is imminent. Even with the stability control turned down, any momentary slide is progressive and controllable, while the steering delivers a weighty feel.

Make no mistake, this Z4 can deliver an experience that entertains and inspires confidence in equal measure. The whole roof down motoring deal is, on its own, worth a lot.

Then there’s the driving element; it easily caters to both the gentle driver and the enthusiastic pilot without delivering the edgy, white knuckle ride reminiscent of many of the Z4’s more hardcore rivals. All of which is fine if that’s what you want, but that’s unlikely to be the case for the majority of Z4 buyers when comfortably ensconced in a cabin chock-full of premium saloon references such as plush leather, chrome and glossy fascia trim.

And with the roof down you’re cleverly protected from the majority of any wind noise generated at speed, while the engine’s tuneful nature – despite its modest output – ensures a refined and fitting experience of what is a premium level roadster. Of course, if you want to up the volume you simple pick a more powerful Z4 variant, and there’s nothing more fruity-sounding than the flagship sDrive35is complete with bellowing 3.0-litre turbo motor.

As with all BMWs, the Z4 teases you with a wallet-bending list of extras with which to personalise your purchase. Although entry-level, the sDrive18i model isn’t short of standard kit, yet selecting larger alloy wheels and adding the firm’s M Sport adjustable suspension set-up adds another welcome dimension to the car’s character if you count yourself as an enthusiastic driver.

There’s also a wealth of comfort-focused kit available, from sat-nav to high-end audio plus a long list of tasteful trim options to choose from. And it’s here that the Z4 shines the brightest as, regardless of engine choice, at the end of the day BMW’s roadster excels at being a premium-spec, top-down cruiser.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: BMW Z4 sDrive18i, from £27,615 on the road.
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol unit developing 154bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the rear wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 137mph, 0-62mph 7.9 seconds.
Economy: 41.5mpg.
CO2 Rating: 159g/km.