Should you choose to describe yourself with phrases such as car fanatic, enthusiast or petrolhead, you’re no doubt familiar with the simple, uncomplicated recipe that makes a sports car: front-engined, rear-wheel drive and two seats in the middle. Robert’s your mother’s brother. Should you actually go out in search of such a thing, you’ll find the cupboard set aside for unadulterated sports-car thrills to be worryingly bare nowadays.
Thankfully, BMW, in a bout of socio-mechanical engineering – yes, it’s almost a real word – hasn’t forgotten about you. Its new car is called the BMW Z4 Roadster M40i, and it’s a very special thing. In fact, based on the reactions of passersby, you’d swear it was the most stylish new car of 2019, and it’s even better looking than the old Z4, which majored in poise and elegance. Except this one comes with a dollop of aggression that the man in the street can revel in and not secretly hate you for.
Pop the electric folding top and the new cabin is exactly the same class act it’s always been, comfortable and livable, except the layout is sporty and more aggressive than before. The quality and (no doubt optional) specifications such as satellite navigation, digital driver display and adaptive driving modes are top notch. BMW has insisted on softening everything off, though, and this makes it a pleasure to pilot on a day-to-day basis. But it’s much more than a comfortable shopping trolley for mooching around the high street.
With 250 kW and 500 Nm (50 Nm more than before) from an uprated direct-injection turbo 3.0-litre straight six, there’s plenty of joy to be found out there, thundering along the blacktop. And with BMW’s adaptive drive modes and superb 8-speed ZF gearbox, driving the Z4 can be as incidental or as interactive as you wish. Where you want predictable revs and crisp power delivery, this motor provides just as it should. The eight-speeder kicks down hard and massages your kidneys with sharp changes in Sport+ mode. Sporty paddle shifters sprout out at you from behind the steering wheel, demanding driver interaction, and while the gearbox is sharp enough in manual mode, its real benefit comes when you slip it into drive, and save yourself the pain and tears of wearing out your fingertips shifting yourself. It’s that intuitive.
In here, you’re basically Bruce Wayne and the car is Alfred, either arranging everything on your behalf or somewhat reluctantly letting you have a night out. It’s majestically unobtrusive, making it compliant, exciting and flattering to drive at the same time. All you need do is turn the steering wheel and floor the throttle to get around corners, and that’s no hardship, let me tell you. Most BMWs nowadays feel a bit heavy and snappy at the apex moment, as if they want to kick into a big, lurid tail slide. Not the Z4, because, thanks to its perfect
50:50 weight distribution, the steering feel is absolutely stunning; the car grips and pivots around your hips with the most delicate of inputs.
Don’t think this nimbleness makes it a bit of a VO5-mobile, or hairdresser’s car, in other words. The soft cruiser in the range is the 2.0-litre sDrive 20i, which has about half the power, but is only 20% less expensive. Nope, the M40i is the long-bonneted bullet you’re after. The boosted in-line six is a hissing, spooling troublemaker when you nail it, and by the super-powerful standards of today, its usable amount of power can be exploited almost everywhere with your foot absolutely breaking through the firewall. 0–100 km/h is dispatched in 4.5 seconds, with a dip and a snort from the whole chassis as you charge ahead.
You’ll keep charging to a governed top speed of 250 km/h. Like all M40i engines of this generation, the exhaust bellow is purposeful, but not the last note in sonorousness. The chassis is set up for comfort, and provides plenty of pitch and roll to go with that lovely pivoting feeling all around you. Other sports cars feel stiffer, more rigid, and that may or may not be to everyone’s tastes; however, on Michelin-shod rims, the Z4 has unflappable levels of grip. It should be applauded for making its performance so easily accessible to a wide array of drivers.
Because the Z4 Roadster qualifies as a niche model nowadays, it’s built by specialists Magna Steyr in Graz, Austria – the same facility that builds the Jaguar I-Pace and Mercedes-Benz G-Class, incidentally, two of the finest cars in the world at the moment. And true to form, the Z4 is also one of the most accomplished and well-built cars in recent times.
Powerful, specialist sports cars are a dying breed, that’s for certain, but when the end comes, and the world is washed away into the sea, this Z4 will be remembered as one of the very best.
For more information on the BMW Z4, visit bmw.co.za.